Great Dixter has an incredible plant nursery. Not only do they sell top notch plants, most of these plants are grown in the gardens at Dixter or started from seed (and often the seed is collected from the garden). Of course this is the way most nurseries operated, but as with most of the good things in life, this down to earth way of doing things became less and less cost effective.
At Great Dixter the gardening and nursery staff work in tandem and often there is much overlap; gardeners will dig and divide plants, bring the divisions to the nursery to be potted up for sale. Perennials are divided, trees and shrubs are propagated, and seeds are sown- all from the Great Dixter gardens. This same type of work is also put into growing on plants to use in the garden. The gardeners seed thousands of seeds, prick them out, pot them on, etc. to eventually be planted out as annual or biennial bedding. This is the real secret to the glorious self-seed biennial show seen at Great Dixter! Seed is collected (or seedlings), brought to the nursery to be sown or potted. They will be transplanted and nurtured, sometimes for over a year, before they are planted out in the garden again.
There is a lot that goes into this process. First of all is the soil mixture. Yesterday Emma and I mixed two new experimental batches of soil mix, one with some sort of fiber added and the other with charcoal, as alternatives to using peat. Then we pricked out Nicotiana mutabalis into four plug trays (that is 384 nearly microscopic seedlings), two with regular potting mix, one with the fibrous mix and the last with the charcoal mix.
Above: The Long Shed potting bench where the students and I sowed seeds all Saturday afternoon
Students James and Yannic sowing seeds
After the seeds are sown, places are found to put them. Here they sit in the hot house, waiting to germinate.
A few days later....
Each day everyone eagerly checks in on how the seeds they sowed are doing. Starting from seed really helps you learn your plants, you just have so much contact and interaction with the plant from the very beginning.
The hot house is coveted real estate so more often than not seedlings are placed in one of these double frame cold frames.
After the seedlings are big enough they are potted on to plug trays, once they have out grown this size, they move on to bigger pots.