Harrells Hardy Plants

The home of rare and unusual
Hardy Perennials


A New Enterprise (or Momentary Madness)

Have you ever wondered about your own sanity? I did when I first surveyed an acre of uncultivated, weed infested ground and realised that I had just bought the Evesham custom lease to it, in partnership with my equally insane sister Liz.

It had seemed such a good idea -well, perhaps more like a dream come true- when we had been offered the land. Just think, an acre of land (with two greenhouses!)  to lay the foundations of a nursery which we could develop as a retirement project. Like Stalin, we had a Five-Year Plan.

We looked around the place before signing on the dotted line, but we sort of looked at it and saw lots of SPACE. (You have to garden in a tiny plot to appreciate what I mean). It was a dry sunny-ish day in late February and we had a guided tour by the outgoing tenant. We stood at the end of the greenhouse with glass in it and stared out at the sloping land and….sort of …lost our minds. “We’ll take it”

 The plot, reached by a lane handily sited almost equidistant between our two homes, consisted of a large wooden shed, ten rows of very old and very large gooseberry bushes and the aforementioned two greenhouses, one being 100 ft x 15 ft, glassless except for pieces of jagged broken glass along the sides. There were rows of dead stalks from last years runner bean crop suspended down the entire length on green nylon string and the whole length of the greenhouse floor was infested with knee-high weeds. Greenhouse 2 being 60ft x 20ft was filled with tins of nails, tools in boxes, bits of wood, pieces of tin and angle iron, frames of greenhouse windows, (without any glass), two old cast iron baths, a pair of wheelbarrow bodies, buckets of STUFF that smelt like chemicals, a mountain of cardboard fruit trays, rusting spades and forks…didn’t that man throw anything away?

 Outside there were two more old baths acting as water butts, two very elderly and frail chicken houses masquerading as sheds and finally the remaining acreage which sloped fairly steeply down towards the river meadows separated from them by a narrow band of trees and a hedge.

Now, friends, I realise you are all shaking your heads and thinking what naïve fools we were. Well, you’re wrong – and yet you’re right……..

 ……. the first thing we discovered was, that when it rained, both greenhouses leaked. Now, it was to be expected in the one without a roof, but the glazed one? Yes the glazed one let in more water than the open one! It poured in through the spans and pitter-pattered through every little nook and cranny and that’s when we realised why there was so much moss under the spans!

 However we did have SPACE! We began to fill the glassless greenhouse with our seedlings and all the bits and pieces of plant life that had previously been shoehorned into our respective gardens, greenhouses and windowsills. They began to trickle into all that SPACE and were joined by more and more plants, the trickle become a river and then a torrent, as, like caged birds suddenly released, Liz and I realised we had room to sow anything and everything. We sowed vegetable crops galore, anything and everything we had ever dreamt of.. Oh and incidentally, we discovered that although our land was only 20 foot away from the end of Liz’s rich black loam garden soil, our soil was nearly all solid clay!

 Easter arrived with its torrential rain and venturing onto the ground become like a Tarzan adventure. Wellies stuck as if they had been cemented in, or else grew to twice their size by being coated in wet clay- we struggled on, pricking out seedlings potting on last years babies and checking through catalogues to compare the price of Mypex, pots, labels etc. We weeded the glassed greenhouse and stuck every watertight receptacle we could find under the leaks. We weeded the open greenhouse, just the first 25 foot, then another 25 foot and finally the lot! Liz’s husband, David replaced all the jagged glass with single panes, at ground level only since the wooden framework was to rotten to support the weight of glass higher up! Looking down the length of it, we wondered how we would ever fill it all with plants. We looked out across the empty sweep of ground beyond the greenhouses and wondered if we would ever be able to plant it all up…. Had we taken on too much?…….. Well watch this space!!                                                                                                     Kate Phillips


Weeds, Weevils, Woodworm and Winds

Part 2 of an ongoing saga


We take up the story in September 2000, as Liz and I tentatively dipped our toes into the world of horticultural entrepreneurialism.

That summer had seen us expanding our stock beds and keeping our plants well potted, whilst dreaming of bigger things. Only about one eighth of our total acreage was actually in cultivation

We had asked the Electricity Company to connect us in April. Now here is where we stumbled upon the fatal flaw in our plan, the electricity company needed the address and postcode of the property where the supply was to be connected .The large field overlooking the river Avon, now called Harrell’s Hardy Plants, didn’t have an address or postcode. We told them. Then we told them again. And again. And again.  In desperation we invented an address for the little lane that connects us with Rudge Road and grafted on Liz’s postcode. Then, with all the assurance of a good con-artist, I phoned them, passed on our address and postcode and we had our very own electricity supply within eight weeks which was pretty swift considering this was now September and we’d been waiting for four months already.

In late autumn our plants, which now completely filled the 120 foot by 16 foot glassless greenhouse, were abandoned to their fates. We moved indoors to study seed catalogues and greenhouse brochures.

 The development of Harrell’s Hardy Plants continued quite rapidly in 2001. We dismantled the glassless greenhouse, which, if you have been concentrating, you will remember contained our entire plant stock. So in the Easter holidays the entire Harrell clan descended on the nursery to carry trays, boxes and, in the end, just any old container of pots of plants out of the doomed greenhouse and onto the lovely new sales area we had made for them. The greenhouse duly stripped down to metal poles and wooden posts was removed and replaced by a spanking new greenhouse.

My daughter painted the flaking green shed a rather splendid shade of dark blue and Liz’s son removed 60 overgrown gooseberry bushes with a brushwood cutter and heroic effort. The rose arch went up at the entrance to the display beds and “Emily Gray” is well on her way up it. The bog garden was completed and the pond nearly so.

We have solved a potential problem with vine weevils by watering in nematodes, and the weed problem was solved by covering them with carpet. As for the wind that sweeps in from the west with great regularity and the woodworm that infested the old greenhouse……well we solved those problems eventually. In late autumn 2001 we had the wooden greenhouse dismantled at vast expense and in late summer 2002 we surrounded our ever-growing plant sales area with wonderful Para-web which doesn’t keep out the wind but filters it.

 Nurseries are never trouble free, what was our next challenge?


                                     …………. watch this space.

Filming for Channel 4 - Open Day in aid of St Richards Hospice

Sunday, 12th June 2005 was The Big Day at Harrell’s Hardy Plants when we opened our nursery gardens to visitors in aid of St. Richards New Building Hospice Appeal, raising £289 on the day.

People were very interested in the gardens; the planting and the design all drawing many favourable comments. We got to talk plants, plants and plants with others as fascinated by them as we are. Who could ask for anything better!!

The whole day was filmed by our faithful shadows! – Alexis and Greg, who blended into the scenery. Just look!

We have had 5 months to get used to the camera recording our thoughts and deeds.

  It all began when we volunteered to share our experiences of taking on new careers late in life with a film production company. On an exceedingly bleak day in January we showed a film crew around our nursery, with nothing to see but bare earth and a few dead stalks. Since then they have become regular visitors, faithfully recording our daily lives. They filmed right through until September 2005 then the film was edited over the following 3 months and the finished film of our adventures, along with those of several other people around the U.K. was handed to Channel 4 and put on air in April 2007


Here is the nursery on our open day, Sunday 12th June 2005.  Alexis and Greg (the camera crew) are taking background shots unaware that the camera is turned on them !

The view of the top or our gardens looking over the display beds towards the cricket grounds and the river


The queue to buy plants developed early ...........


...... as the sales area started to fill with plant hunters


Alexis and Greg couldn't resist interviewing visitors about their plant choices


Finally the view over the lower gardens showing the developing colours of early summer