Meet the team - Jim
We all know Jim Bradley as the owner of Mid Ulster Garden Centre, but do you know that among his ancestors is the 19th century plant hunter, Augustine Henry, who brought a range of plants such as clematis and honeysuckle from China to Europe? Between customer consultations and plant care, Mrs Bloom grabbed hold of Jim for a chat on the trends that are shaping gardening both as his life-long hobby and business.
Mrs Bloom: Understanding that Mid Ulster is a family business, what is your personal relationship with gardening?
Jim: If I have to summarize everything in a few words, I would describe my relationship with gardening as "fresh" and "emotional". Gardening is an spiritual undertaking: You can see, right away, the natural bond between some customers and their plants. I know a lady who bought a plant from us 20 years ago; it is still living, and we are still talking about it. And I remember the first plant I sold, especially the moment when I handed it over to the new owner. Can you see the emotions we tie to our plants?
Mrs Bloom: Not unlike the attachment between a pet owner and his dog!
Jim: This would indeed be a valid comparison. Of course you can't see the immediate, visible response from your plants that you can from a pet. This takes me to "immediate intimacy": A trend I see over the last decade is the preference for bud-and-flower specimens - plants who are in the process of doing exactly what the tag says they would do at the point of purchase. Customers in the old days tended to do more research beforehand and can understand a species' hidden potential, whereas nowadays our customers want to see results straight away.
"A trend I see over the last decade is the preference for bud-and-flower specimens - plants who are in the process of doing exactly what the tag says they would do at the point of purchase."
Mrs Bloom: This is certainly part of a larger lifestyle trend we are seeing everywhere.
Jim: Yes! These days 70-90% of plant purchases are made by casual shoppers who browse around the garden and buy something they like; in other words, the purchase is often an unplanned one. This is a stark contrast to folks in the old days who walked into our shop armed with a list of specimens they had done homework on and decided to buy. On a related note: More than 90% of visitors who come through the door are not gardeners, but home designers who appreciate the aesthetics of certain plants they see on the spot. The ultimate trend is one of people enjoying the sun, barbecuing in the garden, and doing some gardening on the side as part of the more outdoorsy lifestyle.
Mrs Bloom: So "reduced time spent" and "immediate results" seem to be the key. How does Mid Ulster Garden Centre address this?
Jim: Given the preference for bud-and-flower plants among the casual gardeners, we have a year-round supply of exceptional plants: Exceptional in the sense that they have a long flowering period, come back year after year, are relatively pest-resistant and require little pruning. An example is Geranium "Rozanne": It starts to flower in May and don't stop till November. The dyer's chamomile (also known as Anthemis tinctoria 'E.C. Buxton') has equally long flowering period. On the other hand, you still have the veteran horticulturalists who have specific requirements and high standards. For these customers, we strive to source plants that are not traded online and are unavailable in this country, sometimes going overseas to source plants on demand.
Geranium "Rozanne"; courtesy Google Images
Mrs Bloom: I also see that you colour-coordinate your specimens.
Jim: Yes. Some customers have a specific colour scheme in mind so a colour-oriented layout will help them choose. Gardening is as much a planning and design issue as it is a horticultural one. If you pay so much attention to interior colour mix and match, why not do exactly the same for your outdoor area? My personal favourite is purple: It is rich, luxurious, and combines well with silver. A lot of people like yellow but I think it sticks out too much.
The purple corner of the garden centre
Mrs Bloom: Speaking of "favourites", what is your favourite species then?
Jim: Dicksonia antarctica! It is a tree fern that grows wild in eastern Australia and can grow to 4.5–5 m. Its shape and form radiates absolute geometrical perfection.
Jim's favourite plant pictured in his own garden. Dicksonia antartica, £249.99.
Jim is a regular contributor to BBC Radio Ulster’s Gardeners' Corner; check out his latest post here.