Home Gardening What’s it like to run a small garden nursery?

What’s it like to run a small garden nursery?

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Ed Nugent

Garden designer Andrew Staib talks to Ed Nugent from Garden Sage Nursery in Hassocks about the joys and difficulties of running a nursery.

It was a great leap of faith three years ago when Ed Nugent and his wife Josie decided to set up their own nursery in Hassocks.

It was 2015 and they knew both they were in the shadow of two large commercial garden centres and despite a life time working in retail horticulture, they had never had to put their own savings into such a venture.

It was a risk that has paid off, despite working their fingers to the bone. During the summer Ed starts work at 5.30am and doesn’t finish sometimes until 8pm. Josie, who works as a professional gardener during the week, comes in to work on the weekend.

And they have kids! Hasn’t the hard work of running a nursery orphaned their children. “Luckily they are still at an age where they can run around and have
adventures here!” The sacrifice is worth making.

“I’m lucky” Ed says, taking a sip of tea as we sit in the nursery cafe, “I earn an income from the thing I love the most – talking about plants. It has been my whole life. I have been around plants since I was 16 and I’ve worked for all the major plant nurseries as well as doing the plant arranging for Chelsea and
Hampton Court displays.”

“Our goal here is to offer something very different to other nurseries. Give excellent advice to members of the public about which plants to buy that will suit their garden and how to care for them. People come in here ready to invest in their garden and we take that responsibility very seriously. We don’t sell people plants because we have a lot of a particular plant in stock. If we don’t have the plant that we think will be the right one then we will order it.

“Yes that’s it” Ed continues, “we sell good plants with good advice. That’s our ethos. I have worked in lots of big garden centres and it becomes all about squeezing money out of people. I was fed up with the commercial aspect and wanted to do something different. It is for this reason I will only employ people with a solid horticultural knowledge and an appetite to learn more”.

Ed takes me on a tour of the nursery. It is a delicate maze of paths with well presented plants in interesting combinations, so different from the rows of the same plant arranged in alphabetic order in a typical garden centre.

“One of the things we do here is concentrate on unusual species like Helwingia chinensis and sometimes this means returning to old varieties that have gone out of fashion like the green Ophiopogon. We make sure we have plenty of standard plants in stock but it is exciting to offer unusual plants to the public not just designers.”

The cafe is a work in progress and the coffee and food is of unusually good quality.

“We will also bend over backward trying to source unusual plants. It takes way too much time to do this and I don’t get paid for it but, at the end of the day it is not the time it takes but not wanting to be beaten. I get obsessed with trying to find particular plants!” He grins. Ed comes over as a very hard working but gentle and honest man and you have a feeling that the plant choices he would give you would be spot on.

“We would like to expand over the next ten years but not get too big. I’m worried we would loose our ethos.” And Ed would loose the very thing that is dear to him- talking about plants and caring for plants all day long!

They are open all throughout the winter from 8.30am to 5pm and on Sundays from 10-4pm.

Where to go in December

It is the time of Christmas fairs – Horsham Sunday Christmas market plus the Uckfield Festival of Christmas Trees are some you can visit. There is also Arundel by Candlelight and ice skating at the Pavilion in Brighton, which are just a few things to do! Happy Christmas everyone and give your back a well earned rest.