Provender produces peat-free Lavenders at Hadlow College

22 March 2021
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Provender produces peat-free Lavenders at Hadlow College

With some Xylella fastidiosa susceptible plants becoming increasingly difficult to source from Europe, Kent-based wholesaler Provender Nurseries has begun producing its own Lavenders. Working with Hadlow College, the company is growing the crop peat-free and the project is proving to be a success for all involved.  

An independent wholesale supplier of plants, soils and related horticultural sundries, Provender Nurseries operates a busy cash and carry operation at Swanley - a conveniently-located 17acre site in North Kent.  With easy access to the M25, M20 and M2, it is ideally positioned to supply the landscape and amenity sector in London and the Home Counties and offers a wide selection of trees, hedging, shrubs, specimen plants, bamboos, grasses and topiary - as well as popular herbaceous lines.

“Buying finished plants from UK nurseries and carefully selected suppliers from mainland Europe, we tended to maintain rather than produce plants,” explains Provender nursery and biosecurity manager, Stuart Tickner.  “As a responsible supplier, we work closely with Defra, APHA and Fera to ensure all the plant material we handle on site is clean and has passed through the correct procedures.

Stuart Tickner - Credit Provender Nurseries

“Some Xylella-susceptible lines - such as Lavenders and Rosemary - are becoming harder to import due to plant health restriction.  With biosecurity rules set to become more challenging, we took the decision to start producing our own.”

Working with Hadlow College and its staff and students, Stuart set up a trial in 2019 producing several thousand Lavenders in Levington Advance growing media.   

“In 2020 - responding to industry trends and customer demands - we decided to switch to ICL’s peat-free growing media Levington Advance Sustain and grew the crop in bright blue, 100% kerbside recyclable, 2 litre pots.  Dealing with 300-400 different plant suppliers, it is difficult to manage these aspects in our current supply chains. However, growing our own we can improve continuity of supply and achieve the quality we require.

“We sell lines such as Lavender and Rosemary in high volumes – 20,000 Lavenders and 5,000 Rosemary in 2020. Growing them in-house we have complete control over the supply chain.  For instance, we can hold our own crop back and start supplying it when other supplies have run out.”  

At the project outset, having had experience of using peat-free growing media in the past, Stuart admits he had a few reservations.  “The peat-free product I had trialed many years ago had a very fine composition.  It didn’t feel or react like peat-based mixes – I suppose I just didn’t feel comfortable with it.”   

Before starting the trial in 2020 Stuart sat down with ICL’s Steve Chapman to discuss and devise a bespoke peat-free mix for the Lavenders.

“Incorporating the right balance of our Fibagro Advance woodfibre and bark it has a texture very similar to the peat-based Levington Advance mixes Stuart and his team are already using to pot on stock,” explains Steve.  “To help optimise crop management, we’ve recommended including our H2Gro water management granules and Osmocote Exact High K. This fourth generation NPK controlled release Osmocote fertilizer, contains high potassium promoting compact growth.”

Commenting on the results, Stuart says; “while we had a few issues with the College’s irrigation system in the initial peat-based trials - in 2020 the results using peat-free Levington Advance Sustain have been brilliant. 

“Lavenders prefer to be grown on the dry side so I went to look for a free draining compost.  Our bespoke Levington Advance Sustain mix is free-draining and the crop has performed really well.  The plants are stronger than in 2019 and we’ve seen great uniformity – consistency is crucial with any growing media mix.

“Working with Hadlow College is proving mutually beneficial.   The horticultural students benefit from having access to a commercial crop on-site, while Provender has a ready source of labour for tasks such as potting.  

“Steve’s knowledgeable advice has once again proved invaluable,” says Stuart.    “He had already helped me streamline and improve our nutrition programmes. By helping train our production staff, he has played a part in inspiring them to take ownership of these programmes - which has proved crucial to their success. With his background as a grower, Steve’s knowledge is second to none and he’s prepared to go that extra mile.

“Peat-free growing medias tend to be slightly more expensive than peat-based - Levington Advance Sustain is no different,” says Stuart.  “While we can’t increase the price of our peat-free Lavenders, we are producing a premium quality product.  Selling it at a trade outlet we get a fair price.  By promoting the provenance of this stock - at the end of the day we are offering a fairly unique version of a product and customers seem to appreciate it.”  

Following on from his successes with peat-free Lavenders, Stuart is looking to expand production to include other valuable lines to Provender - including Prunus, Pinus, Betula and Griselinia on other production sites.