Hepple WI were pleased to welcome visitors from Netherton and Whittingham WIs to their September meeting to hear a most interesting and informative illustrated talk by Simon Thompson, of Northern Ark Nurseries, Longhorsley.
Simon started up the business together with his wife, Tracey, in 2007, basically growing hardy perennials, shrubs and herbs, and selling them. They have one full-time helper, Elizabeth, and the business takes up all of their time, all year round.
In spring, their time is spent primarily in the potting shed, sowing seeds in cell trays, which are then pricked out, by hand, into small pots, and lastly into larger pots to be sold. Selling starts usually in February, and throughout the year they attend all the local farmers’ markets, such as Morpeth and Hexham.
In March, they begin to attend plant fairs in an area stretching from the Borders to Lancashire, usually attending two to three per week.
Preparation for each market or fair takes around three-quarters of the previous day and setting up the stall on the day takes a further two hours, meaning early starts and late finishes.
Other parts of the business include designing and planting other people’s gardens on request, most often supplying all the plants, or sometimes sourcing them from elsewhere.
They also sell plants wholesale, for example, supplying the National Trust at Wallington, Cragside, Gibside, Lindisfarne and Housesteads.
August is the time for maintenance work at the nurseries, and recent projects have included the renewal of the polytunnel and laying new paths. In autumn, a lot of time is taken up with collecting seeds, placing them in envelopes and labelling them, as well as taking cuttings.
Northern Ark Nurseries has a website and some plants are sold by mail order, although this method of sale is very time-consuming.
At Christmas, the business concentrates on wreath-making, and also runs courses for this, for instance at Wallington.
Simon stressed that although running the business was hard work, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, he nevertheless enjoyed attending all the markets and fairs, and selling his carefully-tended plants.
The role of a welcome cup of coffee or tea in their daily routine could never be underestimated!
The competition for the evening for a decorated horseshoe was won by Bessie Rogerson.