Profile: Planting the seeds of a sound idea

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Neil Bromhall, 50, fell into business by accident. Quite literally. When the wildlife cameraman broke both legs and an arm in a fall, he found himself unable to work in the field. But typical of his entrepreneurial spirit, Bromhall decided to bring the field into his studio. His new focus on time-lapse photography and close-up macro work with plants proved successful – he was awarded an Emmy for his camera work on David Attenborough's Private Life of Plants BBC series.

Studying a succession of plants generated two by-products: a library of photographs and a surplus of plants. The photographic library had obvious commercial value but the plants were simply relocated to his garden. Not all of them thrived. "I'd learnt a lot about how plants grow from the time-lapse work," says Bromhall, "but I knew very little about how to care for them in the garden, especially the need for pruning."

Many plants have evolved in response to being grazed by herbivores, so that pruning is often a requirement, rather than a cosmetic luxury, for success. Bromhall sought expert advice on his growing plant collection and realised that, as he'd found it difficult and time consuming to source that advice, other gardeners must have the same problem. By combining his library of digital photos with expert commentary he was able to develop an interactive suite of programmes and create a "plant identification, selection and pruning encyclopaedia". Complete Gardens CD ROM Ltd was born.

The CD-Roms now offered by Complete Gardens allow users to identify or select garden plants by colour of leaf or flower, soil type, aspect, height and name. And by linking when the plant is at its best to a calendar function, the user can create a garden design with year-round interest.

Bromhall has recently co-developed a version of this software on a memory card for PDAs and mobile phones.

"The PDA format allows anyone to take our interactive encyclopaedia into the wild or just to the garden centre," he says. And the versatility of the system means that specific groups can be catered for: versions for allotment holders and indoor plant growers are already being planned. But can the range be extended further? "Absolutely," says Bromhall, "we haven't even started on the international versions yet."

Complete Gardens CD ROM Ltd(01865 512561;

Jargon buster

Working Time Regulations

A set of rules that governs the maximum working times for employees. In general, employees aged over 18 should work no more than (i) six hours without a 20-minute break, (ii) 48 hours in one week and (iii) six out of seven days and 12 out of 14 days. Employees should also have 4.8 weeks of leave per year – four weeks to be taken as leave with 0.8 weeks, either paid in lieu or rolled over into the following year.

Recognise, Record and Reward

Many managers operate an annual appraisal system in which they review, with the employee, things that went well or otherwise over the year. This is bad management. Learn to recognise what an employee does well, or otherwise, and set aside five minutes to record that every week. Take corrective action immediately for things that don't go well and be prepared to reward employees for things that do go well. Discuss performance with employees every month... not just once a year!

Questions please

Send your questions to Russell Smith at Selected questions will be answered each month. Answers are for the general guidance of owner-managers only; always seek professional advice. Professor Smith is the founder of Oxford-based Business Boffins Ltd which, in collaboration with Oxford Brookes University Business School, delivers support programmes to small businesses nationwide. Independent and Independent on Sunday readers can enrol on the university-accredited programme at a discounted rate