Gardening: Now for a French nursery tale

What does it take to transplant a business? By Anna Pavord

Removal vans have never played much of a part in my life. We've only ever had two houses and when we moved into the first, from a rented hovel 200 yards away, we shunted our few possessions down the hill in a wheelbarrow. The pram helped, too. In our lives, babies and house moves seem always to have gone together.

So it was with a sense of awe that I listened to Carol Strafford and John Worrall who, at the end of this month, are packing up not only home, furniture, books, cooking pots and cats, but also an entire plant nursery. They are moving to France, to a small village just north of Saumur in the Loire valley. With them will come 3,000 stock plants, dug up from their present site near Wimborne in Dorset, and about 5,000 pots of plants for sale, which will form the nucleus of the new venture.

Archangel Plants specialises in interesting perennials: good aquilegias, old wallflowers such as `Bloody Warrior', fine monardas, phlox, salvia, poppies (including the sumptuous dusky `Patty's Plum') and red-hot pokers. For the last four years, all the propagating and most of the selling (apart from weekend stints by John) has been done by Carol. Now John is giving up his job as a prison counsellor and they are going to run the nursery together.

Which came first, I asked? The desire to go to France or giving up the counselling? As it turned out, neither. The story starts with a fortune teller who read Carol's palm and told her that France was John's spiritual home. Carol looks slightly sheepish telling me this, as sensible people do when admitting to something as deliciously irrational as having their fortunes told.

But it all seemed to fit. The nursery needed to expand. There was no possibility of buying extra land close to their present site. They had looked in vain for another smallholding in this country that they could take over. And although Carol says she can't speak a word of French, John, indeed, does confess to a kind of unspoken affinity with France and the French.

How will she cope? "As long as I've got plants, I don't care what goes on around me," Carol replies. "It's not going to be that different from my life here. And it's odd, but everything seems to have gone our way since we made the decision to go."

Earlier this year, they took a week off to look for their future in France. To a certain extent, the area chose itself. They didn't want to go far south, because it would be difficult to continue to grow the plants they like. They wanted to remain within striking distance of this country, so that they could do a few shows in the south of England each summer and keep their name alive with their English customers. They wanted to be near a good local market in France, where they could sell plants regularly.

After only two days of searching, they left their hearts on a D road at Mouliherne. La Pommasserie (I saw the photographs) is a low, colour- washed house with three acres of land and the possibility of renting more. There are two lakes, a stream, plenty of wild euphorbias (which was a good guide to what they could expect to grow), and soil fast draining over tufa rock. Most of the nursery ground is presently covered in couch and bramble. But there is a gite attached to the property which could provide an income while the nursery is finding its feet. "And there are wonderful deciduous oaks. A bit of pine ..." says John dreamily.

The area is full of small market gardeners. If vegetables grew well there, they reasoned, so would their plants. Nobody in the area seemed to be growing garden plants for sale, so they do not feel they will have much competition.

What will they do differently in their new nursery, I wondered? "Watering," said Carol instantly. At the moment they haul a hose around from a single standpipe outside their back door. In France, they will put in automatic irrigation. "And a mechanised trolley?" said John, in a way that was more of a question than a statement. Carol made a face. The trolley is evidently still a matter for negotiation.

Given the incredibly long hours, the sudden deaths caused by harsh winters and drought summers, the difficulty of earning an income that approaches even the minimum wage for agricultural labourers, you wonder why anyone ever wants a nursery of their own. But it has been one of the marvels of the last decade that, alongside the growth of the garden centre, there has been an equal growth in the number of small, specialist nurseries such as Archangel Plants.

The nursery was a dream that Carol and John had 15 years ago, when they were both students of horticulture at Cannington College in Somerset. Carol went on to work at Kew and then joined a wholesale nursery. John went first into horticultural therapy, then into even more demanding territory, rehabilitating drug addicts and alcoholics.

Carol set up her own nursery, she said, because she "didn't like being told what to do". That makes her sound much more bullish than she generally appears. But it was also the only way she could get to grow the plants she liked best. Fortunately those also happened to be the plants that are most in favour at the moment: herbaceous perennials. Growing plants, she says, is the easy bit. The part she hates is the selling. That is where John comes in.

So wish them luck this summer, as they unpack their crates of campanulas and anemones, sages and sedums, and settle them into French soil. And pay them a visit if you are going to the Loire valley. They will be at La Pommasserie, 49390 Mouliherne, near Saumur. Look for them on the left- hand side of the D279 on leaving Mouliherne.

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Recruitment Genius: HGV Class 2 Lorry Driver / CPC and HIAB Training Provider

    £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A HGV Class 2 Lorry Driver is required t...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum