On June 20th 17 members of Quester 9 gathered at The Hillier Nursery complex near Ampfield for a ‘behind the scenes’ tour with Kevin Hobbs, Wholesale Nursery Director. Kevin outlined the history of The Hillier Nursery explaining that initially it was a mail order company, nurturing and exporting well known and specialist tress and plants world wide, this thrived until WW2. Their catalogue was world famous and still is today. During WW2 the nursery specialised in growing trees for camouflage. Following the war the mail order business declined as garden centres developed. The nursery now supplies many of the UK’s leading Garden Centres.

Sir Harold Hillier, a great plant and tree collector, was the founder of the nursery. It has remained a family owned and run business and is currently under the leadership of the 4th generation, Robert Hillier as Chairman and John Hillier as President.

Kevin took us on a fascinating and exceptionally informative 2 hour tour of the plant nursery operation. The 70 acre site includes 51/2 acres under a glasshouse. A 600 acre site nearby specializes in growing trees in containers for export nationally and internationally. The plant nursery specialises in growing high quality shrubs and hardy perennials. They buy in top quality seedlings and plug plants which they nurture to exacting standards in outside beds, under plastic tunnels or under glass before distributing to garden centres at the point of flowering. No bedding plants or bulbs are grown. Hillier is known for growing a wide variety of both well known and unusual, less common varieties of plants. Many of their competitors grow only one type of plant. Kevin explained it is a very tough market place where profit margins are tight, competition for business is high and production conditions unpredictable due to the huge influence of the weather in any given year.

Throughout the tour attention to detail, within highly efficient work practice, was constantly in evidence. Top quality care, using environmentally friendly initiatives, are a high priority. The nursery has developed its own reservoir for the recycling and cleaning of all water. Climate controlled automated watering in the glasshouse minimises usage and specially designed beds capture water for reuse. Composts are constantly under development, for the National Trust, to whom they supply plants; they have developed a successful peat free compost. Wherever possible automated methods of production are used.

Kevin was an inspirational and exceptionally knowledgeable speaker whose love of plants and their need for gentle nurturing was evident throughout this hugely enjoyable tour.

Helen White June 2015