ISSUE 5  |  Potting Sheds

Garden Visit: A Peek Inside the Potting Shed at Coton Manor

February 09, 2014 11:00 AM

BY Kendra Wilson

At Coton Manor, in the middle of England, there is a ravishing garden. The potting shed, center of operations for the year-round nursery, is in the middle of this garden. It has the best views of the property and I am glad to be stationed by the window once a week. 

Allow me to be your tour guide:

Photographs by Kendra Wilson.

Above: The first thing you notice on walking into the potting shed at Coton early in the morning is Rodney the parrot, sitting on his perch in front of Winston Churchill. In the spring and summer, he spends the day outdoors socializing with visitors.

The potting shed is like Kings Cross for plants. As the borders are combed through in the winter by the garden’s owner, Susie Pasley-Tyler, and her team, plant material finds its way onto the potting bench. It is cleaned up, divided, re-potted, and labeled before being sent to the mainly outdoor nursery.

(Looking for a potting bench of your own to dirty? See 10 Easy Pieces: Potting Benches.)

Above: A view of the shed from the wintry Rose Walk, with the Herb Garden to the left. The windows above the potting bench reveal a scene of exotic and domestic fowl roaming around the Goose Park.

On very dark, wet days the potting shed is the place to be. Not warm and not cold, it’s a good idea to remember a hat, wrist warmers, and thick socks because the work doesn’t involve much moving around. That is, until you find yourself propelled outside with a wheelbarrow, trying to find the right destination in the nursery for trays of newly created potted plants.

Above: A two-pronged fork is the most useful tool here, indispensable for combing out matted clumps like this Campanula punctata. Caroline Tait, the nursery manager, was so keen on her vintage fork that she asked Jaap Sneeboer (of the Dutch tool company Sneeboer) to make some more, of which this is one. Sneeboer calls this the Greenhouse Weeding Fork. It retails at about €26.

(See Shopper’s Diary: Vintage Tools from Garden & Wood for more on the value of well-loved garden tools.) 

Above: With its bespoke handle carved by head gardener Richard Green, this tool is also known as a “large knife.”  Useful for dividing tougher knots, for example the roots of Vernonia, shown here.

Above: Sedum spectabile, post-division, pre-potting up. Plants should come in from the garden with a label, even more crucial than the two-pronged fork. For someone like me, it is instructive to know from which part of the garden the plants hail, as this determines where in the nursery they will be housed (whether shady, full-sun, etc.). The plant labelling system includes codes which tell you this (if you can understand the code).

Above: The best way to label plants discreetly: black label, silver pen (a Black Label Gift Pack Set includes 80 labels and silver pen; £25 Coton Manor Garden online). All the plants in the garden are labelled by the owner, Susie.

Working in a nursery with unusual plants is a good way to learn about varieties as well as their habits. When winter turns to spring there will be more work outdoors, maintaining stock in the selling area and taking cuttings in the garden for future stock. It is all cyclical.

Above: The potting bench, with Aconitum (flowering in the garden now) in the foreground. The garden is open to the public for the annual viewing of Snowdrops and Hellebores (as well as aconites) for two weeks in late February and early March. The relentless rain is of some concern however (not to the plants but to the paths), so it would be best to check before planning a visit.

Above: Coton Manor in Northamptonshire, on a February morning.

Coton Manor is open to public from Tuesday to Saturday, from 12:30 -to5:30 pm (last admission at 4:45 pm), from April 1 to September 27. Daily admission fees are £7.50 for adults and £2.50 for children.

See the garden location, Coton, Northamptionshire, NN6 8RQ, below:

For more of Coton Manor, see The Trouble With Chickens (and Ducks, Donkeys, and Flamingos).