Stewarts Office Plants

We supply many businesses across the South, from Sussex and Surrey, through Hampshire and Dorset to Wiltshire and Somerset. For more information about the services we offer visit our home page, or contact us here. In this blog you'll find news, interesting snippets, stories and pictures of our staff's adventures out on the road.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What does my plant want for Christmas?

This is one of those photos that doesn't require any comment. Seen at one of my own maintenance contracts in Swindon:

Some plant food? A nice bag of new slate top-dressing? I'm all out of ideas!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Good things come to those who wait

As the picture above shows, we get some great, modern looking planters delivered at Stewarts, and as I've said before, because they are hand made from scratch you can have any colour you want - if you know the paint code, we can match it. We can even order pots to match a colour sample you supply.

We also order all our stock fresh from Holland as it is required - we hold very little stock at one time. Normally, anyway...

The only negative side to this is that our lead time for new orders is around four weeks from order to delivery. At busy times like Christmas Tree delivery time, it can be longer. Increasingly we have clients ringing up three days before they want the plants in place ("but we need them for our opening night...") and wondering why we can't do it.

Our way of getting round this - if it's an issue - is to lend new clients a few plant displays to keep them going until the 'real' planters turn up. But we still like to remind potential clients that the best things in life are worth waiting for.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

What houseplant should I put here?

When we are asked to go and look after people's sick plants that they have sourced themselves, one of the frequent reasons why the plants are sick is that they are completely wrong for the area.

As anyone that has been supplied with new plants by me will know, I can be extremely awkward about letting people have the plant they want. Unfortunately, everyone wants something colourful, preferably flowering, but this is rarely appropriate. This is know as "flowering cactus" syndrome, after a famous sales call I did to a Southampton Tex-Mex restaurant that, despite being pitch-dark and very warm insisted that I sell them flowering cacti. I flatly refused, and didn't get the job as a result. Flowering cacti would have been a mushy mess in a few months at the most.

Clients also have some fairly difficult briefs to fulfil - I recall a client that wanted "slender but bushy" plants  - but that's another story.

When choosing plants without expert advice in a garden centre it doesn't help that the plant labels tend to all say the same thing, namely:

"Plenty of light but avoid direct sunlight, never allow the compost to dry out completely".

So here's my little guide to what plants to put where, based on the two most important criteria: light and temperature.

Yucca Elmila
Cold and light

By which I mean cold some of the time, maybe hot at others, so think conservatories, windowed porches etc.

The classic choice here is the Yucca, either the straight 2/3 stem ones you see a lot or the lovely branched type shown here.

You can also try Nolina Recurveata, or as a small plant Chamaedorea (Parlour Palm) will do ok.

Cold and dark
Kentia palm

There's one plant that makes our profession possible: the Kentia Palm. This will survive low light and pretty low temperatures with reasonable ease. That's why we use them so much.

If you're talking dark and completely unheated, this is where you want to look at shade-tolerant plants that are also outdoor plants in the UK. The two that come to mind are Aucuba Japonica and Fatsia Japonica. Both will happily live in unheated indoor spaces. Though as I kill Fatsias, I'm a fine one to talk.

Sansevieria Laurentii 
Hot and dark

This is the worst combination, surprisingly, but it describes a lot of modern office buildings' environment.

Mother-in-Law's Tongues (Sansevieria) will cope with this well if you keep them nice and dry.

Also most of the darker-leaved Dracaenas (Dragon Trees) will cope pretty well.

 Hot and light

The world is your oyster! This is generally the best combination and all the plants above would do
Ficus Amstel Gold
fine here if adequately watered. However - as I'm often reminding my staff - if you can use a high light plant do so, as you can't use it somewhere else.

The number one choice has to be the Ficus family - with the exception of the Rubber Plant, all the Ficuses need medium to high light, and while they can survive lower temperatures than some houseplants, they don't like cold draughts.

If anyone wants more information, I have a more extensive table of plant suitability that I use for staff training purposes, contact me at the email address below and I'll send one to you.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Forklift safety at Stewarts

As I've blogged before, we take safety very seriously at Stewarts. Which makes this completely un-posed picture of Lauren from Goods In operating the forklift all the more troubling.

Suffice to say, all is not quite what it seems...

Thursday, October 03, 2013

How to trim tips off dead leaves

We often get asked about brown tips on dead leaves: why they occur and whether/how to remove them.

The answer to the first bit of the question is "lots of reasons". Dry air, too much water, low light, etc.

Once you've been doing maintenance for as long as most of my staff, you can tell by the particular nature of the tip a lot of the time, but the upshot is that tips are ugly and need to come off.

As far as I am aware they don't do the plant any harm so you are cutting them off for aesthetic reasons (don't forget, the plant is there to make your home or office look nice). There is an argument that cutting the leaves accelerates the tip die back, but that's above my pay-grade. They are ugly and they have to go.

Now, the plant we have here is an ex-rental Dracaena Massangeana that I was hoping might find a new home somewhere, but as you can see it's developed a nasty attack of Red Spider Mite, so has to go to the "Great Greenhouse in the Sky". So it was a good plant for me to demonstrate this on.

The leaf on the left shows how not to do it (and how staff at some other firms do it!). At Stewarts we teach our new staff on day one to cut dead tips off in one long diagonal stroke, as in the example in the picture below. The leaf cut in this image runs all the way from front right to back left. Over a few weeks the cut edge may go a bit brown but it's easy to trim that little bit off. It looks much more visually appealing than the "french manicure" style on the right.

Three final tips (sorry):

1. Make sure your scissors/secateurs are very sharp. Not only will you achieve a better cut but the leaf will be less likely to turn brown again.

2. You might think it would look more convincing to cut the leaf symmetrically from both sides to a central tip but it really doesn't. You just end up making the point too blunt however hard you try, and the leaf doesn't 'hang' right.

3. If you cut too much off the leaf it will look too short and stubby, so just cut the whole thing off; it'll grow more!

Happy trimming.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

How much should I water my plant?

Apart from our maintenance customers, we also do a lot of supply only contracts too. Last week we put eighteen planters in a private house north of Bournemouth. All the indoor planters we sell are waterproof, so watering takes more skill than one with drainage holes in, as any excess doesn't just fall out.

So the question we always get asked, and have to do our best to answer is, "How much should I water it?".

The problem is, the answer isn't a simple one, but most people want a simple one, so for example my reply will be "You need to feel the soil every time, but I would imagine it'll drink up to half a watering can in a fortnight in good weather".

What the client hears is "Blah blah blah half a can a fortnight blah blah". They will then proceed to put half a can on religiously each fortnight until the plant drowns. So here's as simple a guide to watering as I can:

1. Always test the soil first
It doesn't matter how well you know the plant, always, always scrape a little of any stone top-dressing there may be on the compost away, then stick a finger in the soil to see how wet it is. If you are a lady (or man!) with nicely manicured nails, use a knuckle. But always do this, then if it feels wet, don't water it!

2. Water at regular intervals
We water most of our maintenance contracts fortnightly, and this suits most plants. But most importantly, this routine means the plant is likely to get consistent water delivery. A tip to remembering this is to make "plant watering day" the same as another fixed point in your diary, e.g. the day you put the bins out.

3. Don't take too much notice of plant books, the plant's label or what people tell you about how thirsty your plant is
All of my very experienced staff will tell you they have numerous plants that don't behave how they should. I have a row of (usually dry loving) Mother-in-Law's Tongues at a contract in Swindon that drink like fish. A colleague used to have a big Ficus in a sunny porch (should need at least a can a week) that drank virtually nothing. See rule 1. If it's wet don't water it, if it's dry, do. Knowledge of plant species is a useful predictor of how much they will drink and a guide to how much to put on a dry one, but it does not trump testing and experience. If you have a plant that seems to want to drink more/less than knowledge tells you it should, let it!

4. Learn from your mistakes
You will probably find that your watering style oscillates a bit from too wet to too dry. Everyone's does this - I've been doing this professionally for fifteen years and mine does. If you ever dig an old plant out, take note of how wet the deep soil is, this can be a useful guide to whether you're getting it right.

5. If looking after other people's plants, try and copy their watering. 
This might sound silly, but if you look after someone else's plants for them you have to do it the same way (even if they are doing it wrong!) or the plants will suffer. The explanation is complicated and involves different types of root growth, but trust me, it's true.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Large new contract just installed

We've just arrived back from carrying out a 34 planter installation in Basingstoke.

Even though the building isn't occupied yet, the furniture was all in place so I got to take this nice shot of a lollipop Rubber plant in an orange pot surrounded by colour coordinated furniture.

That's the advantage (as I keep saying) of the bespoke glass fibre pots that we mostly use: if the client buys furniture (for example) by RAL colour,  they can do the same thing from Stewarts. Most companies know the code of their corporate logo - we can match that too.

If the look of this display seems familiar, it's the same organisation that we did our biggest installation in recent years for, with the plants being specced by the same team of people. A loyal and happy customer of ours, it would seem.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Burgundy Rubber Plants

Another 'look at my lovely new plants' blog post I'm afraid!

Just had our fortnightly plant delivery from Holland which includes about thirty plants for an existing client in Bournemouth, who are having new planters.

As a long-standing rental customer, they can have all new plant displays at no extra cost (in exactly the same way you can have a new phone at intervals without paying money up front), and they've gone for some lovely bright coloured planters.

Anyway... at my suggestion they are going to have these stunning burgundy rubber plants, known as Ficus Robusta Abidjan, on their landings, in tall S-shaped planters.

As the photo on the left shows, we've used these 'bush' rubber plants before. My team's maintenance skills deserve a big shout here, as the one in the pic and the one just out of shot are still going strong after four years.

We've also had burgundy rubber plants before. But these are the first bush burgundy rubber plants we've had, and I love them!


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

It’s National Plants at Work Week this week (July 8-13). This is an event organised by our industry’s European trade federation to highlight the benefits of having plants in the workplace. There’s a mass of information on websites like this to show how important it is to have some greenery in your office, and we've blogged about it before more than once. In short it improves employee health and morale to a degree that makes the expenditure self-financing.

And they look nice too!

Friday, July 05, 2013

Poole Harbour pictures

 I've had these first two pictures I took - while covering a maintenance rota - on my phone since last summer, so have finally got round to posting them on here, for no other reason than they are quite interesting.

They were all taken around Poole Harbour, on two separate days.

The first one on the right shows how high the tide had got that day. That's looking across from Poole Quay to the Sunseeker factory: look how high the water has got between the two warehouses - you could get a raft up there! Also, look at the van in front of the right warehouse, axle-deep in water.

On the left we have a Yucca outside one of our clients in Poole Harbour. Usually the Yucca Golden Sword is known for its gorgeous yellow foliage, but last summer it produced this wonderful flower head, which I couldn't not photo. Don't know if it's done it again this summer - they are pretty unpredictable when it comes to flowering.

Finally below, we have a very different picture I took while looking after one of the cross channel ferries I look after personally, due to the difficulty of fitting regular maintenance visits to their sailing schedule.

This was taken on a stormy day in November, and after eleven years doing these ferries I've never seen waves like this in Poole Harbour! They were hitting the boat right on the beam, which being a catamaran, was moving about a surprising degree. Not fun when I'm clambering about on a balcony in one of our safety harnesses.

I shouldn't complain, at this time of year I have to be down there at 0500, and standing on the deck looking over the harbour at that time of day can be glorious.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Next time you go shopping, look up...

...because you may not have noticed the plants up above you.

I've mentioned this job before - once a year we go in and remove all these high level plants from a shopping centre in Southampton, clean them at our greenhouse, then return the next day.

This is complicated by the need to be in and out before all the other staff arrive (so we get to site at 0500 both days), and the fact that there is no direct way into these overhead balconies for the adjacent shop floor; we have to go out on to the roof and climb over a load of service ducts then go in through the little hatches you can see on the left. Oh, and we have to be hooked up to a safety line and wear harnesses (Stewarts take working-at-height safety seriously).

Our predecessors on this maintenance contract used to clean the plants in situ apparently. I'm sure that was a lot easier for them, but the plants get so dirty, I can't help imagining the rest of the shopping centre got covered in dust as a result.

Thankfully we've timed it now so that we go in near to the longest day, as climbing over the roof in the dark is not fun - looks bright and sunny in this picture? It's still 0530! So the least we ask is that in return for our efforts, some shoppers at least look up and notice that the plants are actually there.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Too cool for school

 So this morning we went to a primary school which was until recently a maintenance client of Stewarts, but cancelled their contract prior to the school being rebuilt.

Now the refurb is over we've been called back in to replant their built-in bed for them. We don't do many built-in beds these days as I remarked recently, unlike the last one I did, this is lovely and spiky and modern looking, and highly suitable for a south-facing window.

Anyway, when we arrived it was full of stony soil, which we dug out, then my able new assistant Michelle poured a few bags of fresh compost in before planting it with a mixture of bromeliads, Crassula (money plants) and lots of different Sansevierias (Mother-in-Law's Tongues) including six of the spirally ones I got in yesterday.

I think you'll agree the end result looks pretty good.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sansevieria 'Ayo Crown'

 As you know I'm always on the lookout for new plant species so I was thrilled to receive these unusual Sansevieria (Mother-in-Law's Tongues) in my plant order from Holland this morning.

I'd actually ordered something called S. Trifasciata which looked a bit like this, but I'm really happy with these. You can't really see in the pictures but the leaves have a red edge to them, but their big party trick is the fact that they are all growing in a perfect clockwise spiral.

I'm going to use six of them as part of the plant up of a large built-in-bed at a new contract in Bournemouth tomorrow, but these four are now on the stock bench awaiting for my staff to grab them for use in a maintenance contract.

Almost all our maintenance contracts include plant replacement as part of the service, i.e. if a plant starts to fail we just replace it. We could use the cheapest, most durable plants all the time, but as our mission statement is "to make people's workplaces look nice", that would be mean of us.

I've also managed to get some miniature Dracaena Surculosas - one of my personal favourite plants - which are usually only available as specimen plants, but maybe that's for another blog post.

Sadly, if there's one thing I've learned, it's not to get too attached to new species like these, as half the time they have dropped off the radar next time I try and order some. So enjoy them while they last!


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Why do we kill spring hanging baskets?

 In late May/early June, we take some glorious pansy-filled hanging baskets down and throw them away, replacing them with summer baskets that are all green when they go up, and look about half the size.

The spring baskets that only went up in early March are my favourites, just look at the ones in these pictures from a long-standing Portsmouth contract.

I spend my whole time changing these over dodging questions about why I am throwing them away, and it seems an awful shame. But I know to my cost that pansies suddenly start looking really scruffy in late June.

Sure, with the right treatment they come bouncing back, but our baskets have to look good all the time, plus you'd miss out on the glory of big, bushy summer baskets.

But I still prefer spring baskets if I'm honest. Especially as they take a lot less care.

So I do find it hard to justify my actions when I'm throwing them in the back of the van for disposal.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Aglaonema Valentine

Stop press! We have a new plant available!

To a non-plant geek, like almost anyone reading this, the discovery of an unusual variety of a common small plant (the Aglaonema, or Chinese Evergreen) would be of little interest.

When you've been doing the job for fifteen years like me, the same old plants can get a little routine, particularly plants that have any record of being reliable in normal office conditions. If you look regularly, you'll notice our portfolio of plant images remains static, as new species are a rare occurrence.  Many a time, we find a new plant and start using it, only to find it has an obvious weak point which makes it unsuitable. But the Aglaonema (or Aglo, colloquially) is a mainstay of interior landscaping as it'll cope with lowish light, customer mistreatment and a variety of watering levels. Its only weak point is needing to be kept pretty warm. But most of them, as the example picture below shows, are somewhere between green and white, wheareas the A. Valentine is strikingly red and yellow variegated.

Every maintenance technician has been issued with two of these to use as they see fit, and see how they perform in offices. Fingers crossed!

 Finally, how did I find out this species existed?

Last year I blogged about an American houseplant discussion forum that I'd joined. What I've found very interesting is that they are readily able to buy plants that we don't have in Europe, and this plant seems to be widely available there. So I tried asking my Dutch supplier and he came up trumps.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

We buy a new toy

Normally I wouldn't refer to a van as a 'toy' but this one is quite cute and toy like!

Stewarts are gradually replacing our lease vehicles with ones we've bought outright, as I mentioned before. In fact my little corner of Stewarts needs to replace up to five vans this year, and here's the first one. Two more just like this are coming soon.

It's going to Debra, who apart from being Stewarts' longest serving maintenance technician, also runs our popular Christmas Tree service, so deserves a shiny new van.

I'd like to say "look out for a Stewarts liveried Peugeot Bipper" but we are 'between vehicle liveries' at the moment, but when we do decide what it's going to look like, no doubt I'll be blogging about it here.

I'm probably not meant to say this, but there's a new Stewarts logo being introduced in phases so it'll feature on our vans - you heard it here first...


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What's that in our van?

 We went to a private estate in deepest rural Dorset this morning to collect a large event hire from a marquee in their grounds, which involved driving our delivery Transit van across open fields, which was interesting!

Anyway, we left our van open while collecting more pots and came back to find an infestation had taken place - of a French Bulldog!

One of the two gardeners on the estate has two of them - pedigree dogs of a high standard - and as an English Bulldog owner and lover of similar breeds, I would have happily tucked one under each arm and taken them home with me.

The only problem was getting either of them to stand still long enough for me to take a picture. The second picture is about the best I managed. So cute!


Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Is this the best Anthurium ever?

Last summer I took the picture on the right of this Anthurium in a desk bowl in a car dealer we supply plants to in Christchurch, the same one that has this funky bonsai trough.

I meant to blog about it, as it had clearly been in place for a while and was going from strength to strength.

We don't bank on Anthuriums lasting more than a couple of months in offices; of course we change them for free when required as part of our maintenance service, but unless contractually required we don't change happy ones like this!

Anyway, what really triggered me to get round to blogging this picture was my visit to the same contract yesterday, nine months later, only to find the same
Anthurium, if anything looking even bigger and better! A credit to Tracey's, and lately Michelle's green fingers, though to be fair car dealerships make ideal places to keep plants alive as they tend to be very light. That's how we're able to put bonsai Ficus in so many of them, as I've mentioned before.
  One last thing, and hope this is not too rude for a family blog: one of my clients - who struggled to remember all the proper names of the plants in her contract - once named Anthuriums "Willy of the Valley". I can't think what she meant...   Jonathan

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Name that Dracaena

I have a new member of staff since I last blogged (sorry for the gap).

As long-term readers will know, this doesn't happen often as we have very loyal staff, in fact Michelle is my first new starter since May 2009!

She has conformed to a cliche for new technicians - namely being given a plant ID book by me and proceeding to order some of the odd plants that the rest of us don't use.

So on one order from Holland I had all these wierd and wonderful Dracaenas, namely:

Left back: Dracaena Surprise

Foreground: Dracaena Riki

Right: Dracaena Jade Jewel

No reason why we don't use these more often, but once you've been doing maintenance for a few years, you tend to stick to what you trust. So who knows? You may be seeing more of these slightly rarer Dracaenas in the future.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Everyone has a plant they can't care for

As the man who's meant to tell the rest of the staff how to do their job, I'm meant to have some kind of interior plant infallibility.

I've learned, though, that everyone has a blind spot when it comes to looking after indoor plants.

Even the most experienced technicians (and we've got plenty of them) have one plant they just don't get on with.

15 years ago, when I first started working with office plants, I soon realised mine was the Fatsia Japonica, or Japanese Aralia. I was reminded of this by the presence of a gang of them we ordered in for an event hire in Bournemouth (the sequel to this one).

When I keep them dry, they rapidly sag. So I water them and they get over used to it and then sag. In fairness this is based on my experience years ago, as I have avoided using them in any of my own maintenance contracts ever since I've worked at Stewarts. My staff seem to get on with them fine!

Perhaps it's time I gave them a try again. They do have a very special use as they are equally happy indoors and outdoors in the UK, and don't need a lot of light. So they are the perfect plant for a cold, dark foyer of an office building, or other similar unheated spaces - not many other plants can fulfil this role.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Keep your interior plants warm

So I got into our Wimborne base (at Stewarts Country Garden Centre) a bit early this morning and decided to defrost all the vans that are going out today as they had rock hard ice on the windscreens. After a few lovely February days it's certainly turning cold again.

One of the first things we drum into new recruits (when we ever need any) is the need to protect plants for offices from the cold when transporting them from our base to one of our customers across Dorset and Hampshire, and I thought that while winter is still here I'd go into a bit more detail.

As a general rule, indoor plants need to be kept above 15 Deg C. There are some exceptions to this (Yuccas, Kentia Palms, Fatsia Japonicas, to name a few) but this minimum temperature is a good guide. This is the night time temperature we keep our greenhouse to; you should see our heating bills at this time of year!

We expect our maintenance customers to maintain this minimum temperature too; it's a bit of a struggle not to get some clients to turn off the heating over Christmas, but most behave.

Having said that, indoor plants can be surprisingly resilient to cold if the temperature drops slowly. What really does for a lot of the more sensitive plants (for example the Dracaena group) is sudden bursts of cold air, e.g. being exposed to a cold wind. So we take great efforts to wrap our plants in fleece or plastic when moving them from the van into a building. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was a new technician at Heathrow Airport; I moved a cold tender plant from my van into a terminal pier entrance and killed it stone dead in 30 seconds due to the biting wind. For the domestic customer the advice is the same: don't do what I saw one person doing in London in the depths of winter - carry a tall houseplant in your car with the top sticking out of the open sunroof, whipping back and forth in the wind!

The other oddity is plants that are quite tolerant of low temperatures but don't like a cold draught. These are unsuitable for placing in a warm reception by the cold door, for example. The best example of this would be the Ficus family (Weeping figs, Rubber Plants, etc.).

Finally, how do you tell if your plant is cold damaged? There's several types of symptom depending on the species, and also to a degree how the damage happened (as described above). With Ficuses the tendency is to shed leaves (but that's what they do whenever they are unhappy). Badly damaged Dracaenas and other tender-leaved plants get a characteristic black colour to the leaves (rather than the usual brown when leaves die more naturally. The early sign that you can detect is a 'cellular' look to the leaves on tender plants - if you examine the leaves closely you'll be able to see the criss-cross pattern of the leaves' structure, and the leaf won't feel as 'plumped' as it normally would. This is worth looking out for if you're buying houseplants at this time of year from a shop, as it's an early sign that they've got cold at some stage.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

'Old school' planted bed

Apart from my main job as assistant manager of Stewarts Office Plants, I also have a single regular fortnightly maintenance rota of my own.

The jobs are our northern-most contracts (Swindon, Gillingham, Yeovil), which as I live on the border of Somerset and Dorset make sense for me to cover. Plus our main plant container supplier is located near Bath, so I go there in person to collect new stock.

Anyway, I'm digressing before I've even started. We've acquired a new building in Swindon to look after for an existing major corporate client. Anyone that heard George Osborne name-check Stewarts twice in his speech on banking from one of their offices last week should be able to work out who it is.

The previous contractor had removed all their plants from a 4 metre built-in-bed in the main reception, leaving a gravel filled trench for me to fill. This is what it looked like when planted up, so empty wasn't much less inspiring.

Now, the trend in office architecture these days is not for built-in-beds at all, and if we're refurbishing old ones, it tends to be fairly minimalist and spiky. But the client here requested "as colourful as possible", so I think my arrangement (large photo above) of large Codieum Excellents and Maranta Tricolour underneath fulfils that brief.

Even if it does look more than a little 'old school'.


Friday, February 08, 2013

"Plant": you don't say...

Wow, it's been three months since I've last updated our blog!

This week is the first one since November that I've had a chance to do anything non-urgent - don't be offended by that description, loyal readers.

I've been looking through some old photos that need filing and found this one, taken on my phone at one of our maintenance customers in Fareham, Hampshire.  Not quite a silly office sign but it's close:

For the benefit of clarity, this sign is on the rim of a plant pot. The pot has a plant in (you can just see the stem).

Would anyone need telling this?