"Although Brexit is producing its challenges, which everyone in the industry is experiencing, the one primary benefit of Brexit for us is that customers are seeking out an established UK supply chain," says Simon Earley, owner of Earley Ornamentals. This Thirsk, North Yorkshire-based young plant producer is growing 180 million young plants, made up of 1,700 varieties, its 12-acre site, supplying growers all over the UK. In this article, Simon Earley tells us how 2020 went, how 2021 is going so far, what the trends are, how they've changed over the years and what the expectations are for 2021.
Young plants in the greenhouse
Challenging but pleasing 2020
According to Simon Earley, 2020 has been a challenging, but pleasing year. "As for everyone, 2020 was a very challenging and different year what with the pandemic and added commercial complication of navigating Brexit. But, I’m pleased to say that as a business, we turned it around and it proved to be an exceptional year in terms of sales with a boost in customer numbers too."
Ensuring the team stayed safe, positive and motivated was the company’s priority, he explains. "We made sure our processes were COVID-safe quickly and took a more flexible day-to-day approach with everyone having the extra challenges of self-isolating, home school and the change to working from home for some of our staff.”
Also staying in touch with customers has been key. "Our sales team and marketing activities keep our customers up to date. We’ve used the website to support our customers in different ways, our e-news has also seen an uplift in sign-ups and Earley’s social media following has grown too - technology has been invaluable in keeping everyone in contact."
Earley Ornamentals Mike Martin Production Manager. Simon Earley: "We know we are busy when Mike (our production manager) uses his bike to get around the site as quickly as possible!"
2021 is very good so far
Following on from 2020, 2021 has had a good start. "Although Brexit is producing its challenges, which everyone in the industry is experiencing, the one primary benefit of Brexit for us is that customers are seeking out an established UK supply chain. As a UK-based young plant grower, with an extensive range that crosses all-season bedding and perennials, we’re in a great position."
What are the busiest times of the year?
"It's busy for most of the year as we are either growing or selling or both! Our busiest production period is January through to the end of April and then from June through to December. We stay in contact with our customers all year round and work with many of them to plan ahead for the next year."
At the moment, what keeps you occupied?
Besides Brexit, which is keeping Earley Ornamentals busy, the Earley team is also working hard to maintain an effective supply chain with its European partners. Also, currently busy researching and developing the range, the team is sourcing new commercial young plant growing options for 2022 and beyond.
On top of that customer liaison and management is a key focus, explains Simon Earley "Providing proficient customer service at every stage is important to us and we’re always looking at ways we can enhance the service we offer."
Growers who adapted to the need for change thrived
According to Simon, the customers that adapted to the need for change during 2020 have thrived. "They got resourceful finding new ways to sell and we’ve been able to support them with the right service."
Also, Earley is finding that there is a growing trend for plants that suit 'key trends'. "Each year, based on research, we put together the Earley Ornamentals Trend Highlights and have just revealed five trend groups for 2021-22. Each group features a selection of bedding and perennial plants and colours from the Earley Ornamentals range to reflect the trend. It’s another way of supporting our customers with plant selection."
Growers looking for multi-options for multi-season
"With more and more grouping of products at retail level, growers are especially looking for multi-options for multi-season. This is achievable within the Earley range, as there are many product categories across bedding and perennials with many varieties in each,” he says, on top of that, Simon mentions that growers are looking for young plants of the highest quality. "They want fresh, strong plants that transplant easily and grow on successfully. We do everything to make this happen."
Impatiens SunPatiens® Vigorous Lavender Bicolor
Each year, 180 million young plants made up of over 1,700 varieties, are grown at the Earley state-of-the-art 12-acre North Yorkshire site. But which plants are highly popular and why? "The core best sellers are the ever-popular retail bedding plants such as Petunia, Pansy, Viola, Geranium and Primula. Our own Viola Vibrante range is one of our bestsellers as the colours have been specifically selected for flowering time uniformity, ensuring all are ready to flower at the same time. Another bestseller is the all-rounder Pansy Premier, which is a large-flower series suited to autumn, winter and spring cultivation."
Clockwise: Geranium Green Leaf pac® Candy Pink, Petunia, Crazytunia, Moonstruck[CRM1], Primula Rubens Cream, Primrose Sparkly Mix
"Other popular garden plants include our Nemesia, Fuchsia, SunPatiens® and Begonia collections. We’ve also seen growth in perennials due to the longevity they offer and the opportunity to add garden structure often with low maintenance benefits."
* Picture: Bella Fuchsia® Bianca The Collections product group. To make product selection easier for growers, Earley Ornamentals has decided to present a range of its products in a new format - Collections. And so far, it’s proving popular.
Shift in demand
Simon Earley has definitely seen a shift in the type of plants being ordered with growth especially in the mid-range, multi-type plants that offer added characteristics over and above colour, be that in terms of fragrance, performance or specific suitability. "Such as Nemesia and Fuchsia."
More interest in colour and garden trends
And there seems to be more interest in colour and garden trends. Therefore, for a number of years now Earley has been compiling trend updates to help their customers with colour and plant selection and have just launched our: Trends Highlights 2021/22. "To give you an idea of the upcoming trends in our 2021-22 trend highlights, there’s the Pantone-inspired Happy Energy, the colourful Lights to Brights group and the Relaxed Nature selection. This includes gentle comfortable colourways and plants that create a more deconstructed garden look. Cottage is a mix of plants and colours that offers a timeless, nostalgic style, and Pure is the clean and uncluttered group.
"Ensuring we’re on top of the consumer tastes and home designs that inevitably spill out into the garden means that we’re not only growing the right coloured plants for our customers as well as meeting changing growing opportunities and garden sizes."
Clockwise: Geranium Cloud Nine, Nemesia Lady Penelope, Pansy Premier Blue w Blotch, Viola Vibrante Mix
What makes Earley Ornamentals special?
It is owner-managed, Simon says immediately. "We’re one of few large-scale independents remaining in the UK, which I believe makes a difference in terms of the products we are able to offer as well as the service. We’re a team of experts with years of knowledge and experience and want to do the very best for our customers. Being independent means we get to select the best genetics from the world’s leading breeders. This ensures our customers have access to a wide portfolio of commercial varieties. Whilst we offer an expansive but core range of products, range development and new introductions keep our offer current. Above all, being independent makes us agile; we can take decisions quickly and adapt fast for the benefit of our customers – a definite advantage last year especially."
Earley Ornamentals TTA Gapping Machine
Expectations for 2021
According to Simon Earley, the UK market is predicting a gardening boom. "And our sales uplift mirrors this, although some of this should, without doubt, be attributed to Brexit. The post-pandemic environment inevitably means outdoor spaces are valued more than ever! With new gardeners discovering the likes of balcony gardening and creating patio pots, and experienced gardeners enjoying more time in the garden, the increase in gardening popularity and the anticipated 2021 uptake, will bring gardening front of house once more – it’s going to be a busy year.”
What are the future plans for Earley Ornamentals? Simon: "Continuous development is a part of the Earley Ornamentals ethos. With an ongoing progressive programme of investment, innovation and development in place, the technology behind our site is evolving constantly. We’re always looking at ways to do things more efficiently and more sustainably, for example, we’ve upgraded our production facility with investment in a new gapping machine that will contribute to productivity enhancements. Another example is our investment in the latest heating technology with our biomass heating system. It delivers our energy requirements and gives us the opportunity to save 664 tonnes of CO² each year."