Who Am I?

I have worked in horticulture for the past 35 years since leaving school.  I grew up  in a family who gardened and grew their own food so I learnt the value and good taste of home grown food from an early age. My career has been varied, covering many aspects of horticulture, starting with training with the National Trust for Scotland at Inveresk Gardens. I then went on to study at Threave School of Gardening near Castle Douglas, this 2 year course resulted in a Diploma in Horticulture and various other qualifications including the RHS Certificate in Horticulture.

After leaving college I worked at Dougal Philip’s Walled Garden  centre working in the gardens and garden centre. From here I moved to a 14 acre private estate near Aberdour in Fife, there at The Murrel I started as assistant gardener before becoming head gardener. I managed the woodland gardens, water gardens, rose gardens, a walled garden, rockery and vegetable garden ranged around a house designed by a student of Edward Lutyens in his style.  After a short break to have my eldest son I became head gardener at Annet House museum in Linlithgow where I worked for 7 years. I was given the remit of designing the gardens to reflect plants and gardening in Scotland from the 1500’s onwards. This was a great combination of my interest in Scottish history with plants and gardens, developing fruit beds, herb and vegetable potagers, a cutting garden and writing a small book on the garden and it’s plants.

From Annet house I moved to Binny Plants doing nursery work while my children were young to eventually becoming head gardener  running the gardens and with responsibilities in helping run the nursery and working on show stands. I worked there for 12 years until November 2014 when I decided it was time for a change. I made decision to take a year out and see where I wanted go and what I wanted to do in life.  This, it turned out was Quercus Garden Plants!

In early spring 2015 we were given the chance to buy Quercus Garden Plants. We continue to grow and sell many of the plants on the original stock list and are continually adding our own favourites and new plant ideas as we develop the nursery. These plants have to be hardy and able to grow well in our often challenging garden conditions here in the nursery and scottish gardens. I enjoy finding unusual plants, trialling them in the nursery gardens and then offering them to our customers for sale.

Within the grounds we have a huge opportunity to develop gardens on three terraces that wrap around the Whitmuir shop building. This gives us a fantastic shop window and a chance to create and develop interesting and innovative gardens that display the plants we sell; old favourites, unusual and tough herbaceous perennials, native plants, plants that encourage wild life and insects and that have many uses in the home and kitchen.

We have created a wild life garden, native plant borders, a wildflower meadow, a stream garden, herb garden, scented garden and mixed  and themed borders to exhibit what can grow in these conditions and that visitors and customers can easily re-create in their own gardens. We also grow and supply plants for the National Trust for Scotland, Borders Forest Trust and Butterfly Conservation East Scotland Branch.

All contents  and photographs ©  Rona Dodds, unauthorised reproduction & use of these images is strictly forbidden

Our enviroment and recycling policies

While we are not registered organic, we are on an organic farm and work as organically as we can. We are committed to encouraging wildlife and helping our insects, pollinators, bugs and beasties, so we have lots of areas within the nursery and gardens especially for them. The bankings between the terraces have been maintained and improved with many varieties of wildflowers , which provide food, shelter and interest all year round. On the middle terrace we have left one area as a wildlife meadow, again this has become a real haven for bugs and beasties with over 40 species of  wild flowers throughout the year.

We use no insecticides in the nursery,and because the surrounding farm has been organic for many years the balance of  pests and their predators is balanced and we have very little problems with pests or diseases. Our frogs, toads and newts keep on top of  slugs and snails. The abundant bird population eats plenty of pests from the plants and soil. Hand-picking caterpillars from the brassicas and gooseberries is done if I have time, if not they win and get a plentiful feed!

Hand weeding and hoeing is a big job in the nursery, but necessary to keep the weeds at bay. Removing weeds before they seed is crucial to break the plant cycle. It’s a good way of keeping an eye on plants in the borders and stock beds while I weed, and making notes of other jobs that need done.

We compost all our green waste from the gardens and nursery in our compost area. It goes through a series of bins for 6 months at a time, eventually after 12 to 18 months the compost will be used to top dress borders with poorer soil or in new borders I am digging over.  Compost for potting is sourced in to maintain a consistent quality for our plants  for sale. I boost the base fertiliser in the compost with an organic slow release fertiliser, in spring, giving the plants plenty nutrients to get them through the season.  In 2020 we will be introducing peat free compost both for sale to customers and for potting our plants.

One of the biggest problems nurseries face now is the use of plastic. We are looking into using pots that can be recycled. For now we re-use our pots and trays over and over until they finally fall apart. While the problem still exists on how to get rid of it at the end of it’s life we know we’ve made full use of it. I will be trialing cardboard pots that customers can take their plants away in, leaving the plastic pots at the nursery for us to re-use. We will also be encouraging customers to return the pots they got from us so we can again re-use them.  We are using biodegradable carrier bags, again not perfect but  we are always looking for better ways to help our environment as products are developed.

97% of our plants are propagated and grown on site. They are propagated from the plants growing in the nursery and gardens. So I know they are from healthy strong stock. The few plants I do buy in are from other Scottish nurseries thus reducing their carbon foot print and the risk of introducing pests and diseases to the nursery. This is vitally important, given how many devastating diseases are now on the move through Britain. Almost all our plants stay outside all year so they are very hardy and strong, reducing losses and waste through weak plants.

We are always on the lookout for other areas we can improve and reduce our impact on the environment. In 2020we took the step to start moving over to using peat free compost. This is a big investment for the business as peat free compost is still significantly more expensive than peat based compost. But I feel it's an important step to make. The plants are certainly doing well in it and it is lovely to work with. We are also selling more and more peat free compost to our customers. It's a continual journey to strive to do better as a nursery, garden and business and one we hope our customers will join us on.