Long House Plants Newsletter 2024

Thank you to everyone that supported our Open Garden days last year.  We raised over £7000 in all.  We were able to send over £2500 to the National Garden Scheme, their beneficiaries include Hospice UK, Marie Curie and the Carers Trust.  Harold Hill Salvation Army raised over £3000 and we sent £1500 to Macmillan Cancer Support when we opened the garden at the end of September.  Thank you to everyone for their support; helping in the tea shed, garden, selling tickets, bringing cakes and organising the car park.  We couldn’t do it without you.  Thanks also to all of you for visiting the garden and eating cake here and then taking cake home to eat. 

The cake competition on the Macmillan day gave some interesting results – lemon drizzle is always near the top but the limoncello and mascarpone was at the bottom but it always sells out really quickly.  The Alma Arms in Navestock kindly supported our catering last year by providing quiche and have offered a contribution again this year.

Experimental cakes at the end of 2023 included dark chocolate walnut brownies, chocolate, date and orange cake, which are both lovely and a banana cake with passionfruit icing which I can’t comment on because there was none left over!

We had a wetter year in 2023 – 33.15 inches (842.5mm).  The average rainfall for 2006-2023 was 28.03 inches (711.75mm).  The ground was so saturated in the winter that even when we had a short shower, there was nowhere for the rain to go and it looked as if there had been a huge downpour.  The wind was a nuisance but at least we didn’t have such a cold early spell as we did in December 2022.  Let’s hope the weather in 2024 is kind to us gardeners.

The garden will be open to the public in aid of the Salvation Army between 11am and 4pm on:

Saturdays 29th June, 13th July, 17th August and 14th September 2024

The garden will be open to the public in aid of the National Garden Scheme between 11am and 4pm on:

Wednesdays 3rd July, 7th August and 4th September 2024

The garden will also be open to the public in aid of Macmillan between 11am and 4pm on:

Saturday 21st September 2024

Please add these dates to your diaries – all the admission and refreshment takings go to the respective charities and I know these donations are important to them.

We have changed the nursery hours slightly; from the beginning of March to the end of June, the nursery will be open as usual.  From the beginning of July to the end of September, the nursery will be open on Saturdays only.

The opening hours for the nursery are from the beginning of March to the end of June, every Friday and Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 10am-4pm and Bank Holidays 10am – 5pm

From the beginning of July to the end of September, Saturdays 10am-5pm

or by arrangement; via the website www.longhouseplants.com


or 01708 371719

I wanted to reflect on the changes to my industry since I started working in horticulture as well as changes at Long House Plants.

When I first was working, plants were not sold in pots.  Bedding was grown in wooden trays and customers were given their plants wrapped in newspaper.  Herbaceous perennials and shrubs were sold mainly in the autumn, bare root with very little packaging.  Customers did not see perennials in growth.  Plants are now sold in pots and mostly in the spring.  The pots are changing from black to grey or beige for recycling purposes but I have noticed that these pots are very fragile, often only lasting a couple of months, so I would question what use they are when they have such a short life.

All of the effective chemicals I used are no longer available.  Replacements include nematodes (tiny parasitic insects) which are tricky to apply because the weather conditions have to be perfect when you apply them otherwise they die.  Too dry, they die, too hot they die, too cold they die, too sunny they die.  If it rains after application they are washed out and once you have received them, you have a limited time to apply them or they die.

The biggest challenge for the nursery now is the accelerated banning of peat.  It changed from 10 years to 3 years and now this seems to be uncertain.  I have not had enough time to experiment and plan for the future.  For amateurs, at the time of writing this, 2024 will be the last year peat will be available.  I know a lot of you have struggled to grow young plants in peat free compost.  I have tried many alternatives but have yet to find any product that has qualities similar to peat.  Nothing else is sterile or absorbs as much liquid.  I have experimented by filling pots with my own peat reduced compost mix and different peat free composts and can then see how much water they hold.  Some of the bark based mixes do not hold much water at all. 

Many of the alternatives to peat such as coir (which is imported from areas that can grow coconuts) do absorb some water but nowhere near as much.   I have noticed with the plants I have grown in peat free compost mixes that the plants dry out much more quickly.  Once they are dry, they are very difficult to re wet (the only way I have found is to submerge them – which is not possible on a commercial scale).  With peat free compost you need to water more often and when you water more, the nutrients leach from the growing media more rapidly and the plants suffer stress because they have dried out and because they are hungry.

In the growing area I use capillary matting where you soak the matting and then the water is available to the plants.  This is a very water efficient way of watering.  However, the new composts do not allow the establishment of good capillary contact so I will have to change this system.  I may have to stop producing some plants if I am not satisfied that they will do well in peat free compost mixes.

Plants come in and out of fashion.  Conifers and rhododendrons were once very trendy, bedding is not as popular as it was.  Perennials are our biggest seller now rather than shrubs.  When the nursery opened I had a handful of grasses, now I have got lots and they feature in the garden.

A change throughout the retail sector has been the move away from cash.  Although we take very little cash now, I will never be a cash free business.  I think it is important to give my customers a choice of how to pay.

When the nursery opened, I had about half a dozen images of plants which I had taken with my first digital camera.  I am now able to label most of the plants in the nursery with a photographic label, I have a huge library of plant images.  When the nursery opened in 2006 I did not have a paper catalogue and have never offered one.  Our website opened in 2009 and the catalogue can be found there.  I have had a Facebook page since 2015 and usually post every day.

The other big change was opening the garden.  The first open day was in 2016, when I really didn’t know what to expect.  How many people would come?  Would anybody come?  Would they enjoy it?  Would they like the garden?  How much milk did we need?  How many and what cakes should we have?  Would they like the cakes?  Would we be sitting there alone all day?  I thoroughly enjoy the open days, they are very sociable, everyone seems to be happy, we are raising money for some really good causes and of course there is cake!