Beeches Nursery: A gardener’s treasure chest
PUBLISHED: 12:08 24 October 2016 | UPDATED: 12:08 24 October 2016
Beeches Nursery, at Ashdon near Saffron Walden, offers a tempting collection of plants to suit everyone and is the perfect place for an education in horticulture, as Philippa Pearson discovers
After teaching horticulture for many years in schools, Alan Bidwell decided to turn his attention to the practical side of growing plants by getting his hands dirty and starting a nursery.
‘I had the opportunity to try something different,’ says Alan, ‘and starting a nursery seemed a good idea. I wanted to see if I could make it work.’
The new business venture began at his parents’ garden at Ashdon near Saffron Walden and at first Alan concentrated on selling seasonal bedding plants, a popular choice for gardeners in the early 1980s.
‘I started off quite small,’ says Alan, ‘with a little greenhouse and selling plants on a table at the roadside.’
Word soon spread about Alan’s good selection of plants and gradually the roadside sales table expanded into the garden, and Alan diversified into a wider range of plants.
In the early years, many plants were grown from seed and Alan even wrote his own computerised programme which detailed sowing and planting times throughout the year. He took on staff to help with the expanding business and also acquired more land to accommodate the growing selection of plants offered. Kevin Marsh joined him in the 1990s and is still there today.
‘Kevin originally came from a banking background,’ explains Alan, ‘and then worked in small nurseries and garden centres, and has a particular interest in perennials.’
From its original offerings of bedding plants, the nursery diversified into perennials, shrubs and roses, and much more, and soon began to get a reputation for offering a comprehensive range of special and unusual plants.
The exceptional range of plants is the heart of Beeches Nursery along with the knowledge and experience of the staff.
‘Kevin is like a walking plant encyclopaedia,’ says Alan with a smile, ‘and our colleague Phil worked at Langthorns for many years, so between the three of us we have more than 80 years of horticulture experience, knowledge and enthusiasm to offer gardeners.’
Plants are mostly sourced from UK growers and the team regularly source choice and unusual species from dedicated small propagators. As well as more than 200 different trees and a great range of shrubs and climbers, you’ll find lots of heritage apple varieties and unusual fruit trees. With over 2,500 different varieties and species of perennials, grasses and ferns, there’s more than a good choice and you’ll find old favourites as well as rare and unusual plants.
‘We propagate as much as we can from cuttings and divisions,’ Alan explains, ‘and use responsibly sourced seed from all over the world. Currently we are using peat free compost.’
Roses of all sorts are in abundance at the nursery, with many varieties sourced each autumn from one of East Anglia’s finest rose growers. Opposite the nursery is a wildflower meadow where nursery visitors can walk through mown paths. Alan has been tending the four acre meadow for 15 years and his philosophy is never to spray chemicals and to allow plants to seed and develop.
The meadow is cut once a year and the cuttings removed. This is essential so that nutrients don’t go back into the soil as wildflowers thrive on poor soil. The meadow is surrounded by native hedging and is a good habitat for birds and other wildlife, and has lovely views across the surrounding, gently rolling Essex countryside.
Beeches Nursery’s reputation for an outstanding plant collection together with excellent plant and growing advice has seen it named as one of the top ten nurseries in the UK by Gardens Illustrated magazine. The nursery also supplies plants to the Royal Household, the National Trust, English Heritage, private estates, garden designers and gardeners of all ages and abilities. Where better to look for the perfect plant for your garden?
Autumn: The best time to plant
If you are looking to renovate a border or add to existing beds, autumn is the best time to plant. The soil is still warm from summer and this gives roots a good chance to grow before winter, allowing plants a head start in spring when the weather improves. If you need to transplant and move existing plants, the best time to do this is once plants are dormant, usually from November, which is also the time when new bare root plants such as hedges and roses become available.
You should also improve your soil in autumn by digging and enhancing the condition by adding organic matter such as well rotted farmyard manure or other soil conditioners. Try and condition your soil before you put in any new planting.
Essex CB10 2HB
The nursery is open seven days a week through the year, except for a few days over Easter, Christmas and New Year. From October to March, the nursery opens Monday to Saturday, 8.30am to 5pm, and Sunday, 9.30am to 4.30pm. From April to September, it’s open Monday to Saturday, 8.30am to 5.30pm, and Sunday/Bank Holidays from 9.30am to 5pm. Mail order and nursery gift tokens also available.