Good enough for the Queen: Jekka McVicar's herb farm is a firm favourite of the royals


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The Independent Online

I am not sure just what percentage of you spend mid-week catching up with the latest from Grazia magazine, but just in case any of you missed it, in the last issue they actually name-checked a horticulturalist. Quite exciting, because you may be shocked to learn that it's not all that often that gardeners get discussed in Grazia. But this week was a positive turn-up for the books, because Jekka McVicar, herb grower and expert, got a mention in an article devoted mainly to comparing Kate Middleton's talents as a wife to Kate Moss's. Evidently the Queen gave Kate a copy of Jekka's herb cookbook, it being a royal fave.

And that, in a nutshell, is proper customer satisfaction. One customer likes you, and recommends you to another – though it's a process that isn't always as straightforward as it sounds.

For example, there are plenty of small nurseries in the UK down plenty of small lanes selling intriguing-looking plants. But sometimes you travel a long way to talk to a nursery owner who doesn't seem that interested in actually selling you anything. Who won't sell you the best thing out of their polytunnel, but will fetch selling plants from somewhere else, which don't look quite as good.

Or you order from a tempting-looking catalogue, but receive an order of slightly misshapen, neglected-looking individuals in sizes just beyond "rooted cutting", too delicate to be planted out. In the end they expire on a window sill, a pretty good reminder never to order from that catalogue again.

All gardeners should be passionately interested in rewarding good customer service. For example, is one of the biggest horticultural companies in Britain and doesn't need that much help advertising its wares, but an order from Crocus, in my experience, comes invariably safe, sound and, most importantly, bushy. I have never received a wilty delivery from them. And you always open a gigantically large box to find a satisfactorily large plant inside.

Avon Bulbs is another company whose customer service can be highly recommended. Last time I ordered from them, explaining it was a birthday present and wondering when it would arrive, their packer moved my order to the top of the pile so it would make the crucial date. (And, needless to say, it was quick and all in the best of health. Which isn't always the case with bulb orders.)

I love hearing from other people when service has been good. Let's single out Raymond Evison Clematis for special mention here: one of the greatest breeders of clematis there has ever been, he himself still often answers the firm's telephone. A reader was astonished to get the man himself on the line when she emailed a question about her clematis. "It was like ringing Buckingham Palace and finding out you were talking to the Queen," she said, still bowled over.

I'm not saying nursery owners need to be charming; I don't mind it if they're grumpy, even taciturn. I like a character. But it's even better if they are nice. Drive to Jekka's Herb Farm near Bristol, and you will be sure of a number of things: quality stock, kindly advice and cat chitchat a-plenty. At her open day, it's her husband organising the parking and her daughter selling beautiful prints of herbs. And Jekka is there to give advice. Advice now officially endorsed by Grazia.

Three to rely on

Nursery at Great Dixter

Staff are very helpful at this East Sussex nursery when you're searching out unusual plants – though are sometimes distracted by sheep-herding duties.

Nursery at Beth Chatto

A brilliant nursery in Essex, with incredibly knowledgable staff. If you have queries, ring early, before the day-trippers arrive. Will not despatch plants now until September.

Crûg Farm

A fantastic small Welsh nursery in Carnarfon with a growing reputation. Really helpful, especially with recommendations.