Harborough Nurseries, just past Icklesham on the A259 towards Guestling, is not like the large, commercial, chain garden centres, thank goodness. We met Tony Howard, who, along with Sebastien Haywood began this business last year on a site which had been run as a nursery by the same family for 90 years. So why is it different? Tony himself is full of enthusiasm for plants and garden design. His extensive experience covers working at Great Dixter with Christopher Lloyd, a spell of formal learning at Hadlow Horticultural College, head gardener at Fairlight Hall, the Gallivant Hotel in Camber and the prestigious Bicester retail centre, all inspired by childhood gardening experiences while growing up in the north east of England.
There is an eclectic sourcing of plants (labels not all in Dutch as so often seen!), and this is an aspect Harborough is developing as it repairs more polytunnels and establishes more ground for propagation. There are no rows of glass fibre pond linings or artificial plants, and no shelves full of garden poisons. There is, however, a room full of glorious garden and interior ornaments, although that word does give them full justice. Another connected business – Barnstar – is on site and a similar collection of unusual furniture and bric-a-brac is for sale.
But I would not wish to give the impression that the focus of the business is not plants. As well as tools, compost and some treatments there is a large selection of plants which give colour at this time of the year such as cyclamen, pansies ready for winter and a variety of grasses. Not only are these seasonal plants for sale, but there is a spectacular permanent planting of miscanthus “morning light” (the biggest I’ve ever seen) and euonymus elatus, with a verbena bonariensis emphasising the autumn colour. This would be a sumptuous grouping for a corner of any garden.
On December 3-4 Harborough is holding a Christmas Fair with a collection of visiting stalls in its large polytunnel. You can pick out a Christmas tree from a selection growing in their field. It will be labelled and cut down to your order. This freshness results in minimal needle drop.
Tony was full of enthusiasm for future plans, such as the development of a café, and further development of planting. We left him about to plant up 28 winter hanging baskets and wish his venture all the best.
Photos: Heidi Foster