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.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Interior Landscaping - marketing vs. reality

Just a bit of pre-Christmas fun. I hope Peugeot won't mind me borrowing their image; hey it's free advertising!

While browsing vans (we are recruiting an extra maintenance technician so may need an extra van), I came across this wonderfully idealised image of what it's like working in my industry, and it reminded me of an old picture from here of how mucky we get.


Interior Landscaping:

The marketing image...

The reality...

Merry Christmas everybody!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Christmas 2017 is really over this time

So I've suggested Christmas is over before, because we had finished taking orders, but - with a week to go - I can confirm that Christmas really is over.

In fact we delivered the last of our 68 trees on Friday the eighth, but I've only just caught up with work.

The attached picture is not the biggest tree we do, and not the best pic, but it was the tree we felt most proud of afterwards.

It's actually got dark blue, silver and white decorations on, but the blue don't really come out in the image. They are there, trust me!

Wishing all my readers a merry Christmas and a happy new Year!


Monday, October 23, 2017

Plant labels - don't believe them!

I have mentioned this before in passing but haven't ever posted about it directly. Today's plant delivery from Holland made me think about it again.

A lot of plants come with little push-in plastic labels with care instructions printed on them. A lot of the care advice on them is - to put it bluntly - nonsense.

Today I have taken delivery of these cute little Nolina Recurveata (also known as Beaucarnea), and immediately planted 24 of them in to some cabinet-top troughs for an installation in Portsmouth this week.

Reading the label - as shown below - reveals that:

1. They cannot tolerate draughts
2. They need to be kept at 21 deg C
3. They are a middling plant as far as watering goes
4. They need to be kept in partial shade

All four are wrong!

Here's my list:

1. They can tolerate draughts
2. They are hardy to minus 5 deg C
3. They need next to no water
4. They need good light, ideally full sun

The only thing I suspect is true is not to eat them (though that sign could be don't eat them with - or use them as - cutlery).

I've noticed this is much more prevalent with high light plants like Ficuses, or low water plants like Sansevierias; the label information is misleading enough to be catastrophic for the plant's future well-being.

So here's my tip: buy your plants, throw the label away and spend five minutes reading up about it on the internet. It may live a bit longer.

Incidentally this is the species of plant that I had to dig out after my staff had kept them alive (in a cold light shopping centre I might add) so long they'd burst out of their planters. So we know what we are doing!


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Feature pest: Mealy bug

 In my never-ending quest to find new things to fill the blog up with, it occurred to me that I've spent very little time talking about common indoor plant pests, so here is the inaugural 'feature pest' post.

Sadly, Stewarts aren't immune to their plants suffering from pests. I suspect most come in from Holland on the plants. We have the added complication that our industry is legally not allowed to use pesticides. There's nothing licenced for commercial use, and we aren't meant to use stuff labelled "for home and garden use". We aren't even technically allowed to use plant cleaning products as pesticides, however if we apply them with the intention of cleaning the plant and they have the happy side effect of controlling a pest, that is OK. Daft, but there we are.

So the first pest under discussion is one of the most common: Mealy Bug. This looks like white fluff like little bits of cotton wool stuck to the plant. If you look very closely, you'll see that within the fluff are what look like tiny white woodlice; they are the bugs.

As far as the detrimental effect on the plant, they will eat the flesh of the leaves, leaving yellow patches, as you can see in the photo of an affected Dracaena above. As well as generally weakening the plant, they also excrete a sticky residue known as Honey Dew, which then tends to get secondary fungal infections, and is also a swine to clean off the floor round the plant if it drips on to it.

Saying that, I've known plants live with Mealy for a very long time, so like most pests if managed it's an irritant rather than a catastrophe. So the bit that most people brought here by an internet search are after: how to treat/control it.   

1. Keep the plant as dry as you can - this seems to discourage it.
2. Keep the plant as clean and shiny as you can (a leaf shine product or a good wet wipe down). Bear in mind that they are quite easily transmitted to other plants so don't re-use the cloth on other plants.
3. You can also try spraying the plant with diluted washing up liquid, this seems to keep it controlled.
4. Provado, or similar pesticides will also control it, but it seems to be fairly immune to pesticide treatment, especially as the active ingredients keep getting banned and replaced with less effective ones.
5. If you have a major outbreak (and the plants are in a confined area like a conservatory), try a predator bug, in this case called Cryptolaemus (available here), but I'll be brutally honest and say I've had limited success with these, as they tend to either just sit and ignore their prey or fly away!

So in summary, if you find Mealy Bug (or any pest) on your plants, don't panic! First try and physically remove as much as you can, then try the methods above. It's very rare that a leaf-borne pest will kill a plant entirely.


Friday, October 06, 2017

Christmas is over for 2017

Following on from a similar post this time last year, this is a slightly misleadingly-titled post as clearly on October 6th, Christmas is not over.

However, if you were hoping to order one of our ever-popular fully decorated Christmas trees, it is over, as we have now firmly shut the order book, having admitted more last-minute orders than we may find was wise.

We run out of:
 - greenhouse capacity for the made-up trees (as you can see in the photo above!)
 - time to deliver them
 - actual stock of trees
 - and most crucially, time to collect them.

This last point is the killer. We deliver them all over Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire in one van over about two weeks. However, we only have the three (occasionally four) working days between New Year and Twelfth Night to get them all back. Thankfully we borrow two extra vans from two of the garden centres to achieve this, but it's still quite a challenge.

So note to potential Christmas tree customers: if you want one next year, it's best to contact us in late summer/early autumn. 


Feature Plant - Dracaena Compacta Surprise

I haven't done a 'feature plant' blog post for a while, so here's another.

There is a very common Dracaena called D. Lemon Lime; Compacta Surprise (sometimes just called D. Surprise) has very similar vibrant two-tone green foliage, but the leaves are smaller and there are a lot more of them. 

Unlike Lemon Limes, they don't seem to suffer from lateral weakness (i.e. lengthways splitting), but like Lemon Limes they can get 'sunburnt' if placed in very strong sunlight.

That said, they are a medium light plant; they won't enjoy being in a super dark location. Like all Dracaenas they need to be kept pretty dry.

Also, like most of the Dracaenas, they are available in lots of shapes and sizes. The long photo on the left shows a normal 1.5m three-stem one. Below we have a little bowl/trough variant which shows the colour off well, and the rather lovely branched type.

1.2m branched Dracaenas are one of my go-to groups of plants when doing installations at the moment. They are a nice compact chunk of foliage that looks good in a tall untapered pot, and aren't too expensive either. There are also enough types to be able to give a client a theme without it all looking the same. For example, we supplied the plants to an office park in Southampton a couple of years ago with multiple building foyers, so I put a matching pair of a different species of 1.2m branched Dracaena in each location. This picture was one of that installation.



Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Fake chimney!

As previous posts have remarked, I'm so on top of my workload that I've resorted to filing the last year's worth of photos of installations. As I remarked on here some time ago, we photo most of the new installations we do, then label the pictures to include the name of the plant and pot and also the pots colour, so we have a huge library of images we can call up to show to potential clients.

A lot of these are on our website here.

Anyway, I digress. Occasionally I see other things I photo, and have nowhere else to file them than on here. Last winter we were installing a couple of dozen planters in a new care home, part of a chain in Dorset that we look after. Part of the building was crowned by this magnificent chimney. What struck me as odd was there wasn't a fireplace in the room below, or a chimney breast for that matter. So how was this big heavy chimney supported?

Answer: it's a fake, made of glass fibre! Because I reduce the resolution of images I put on this blog, you can't really see, but the bricks are just a printed picture thereof, and I think you can just see a support wire behind leading to the roof. Amazingly realistic.

Is there any connection between this and what we do? I guess it shows the versatility of GRP, the same material that the majority of our pots are made of. Now that's given me an idea: fake chimney pots as office planters!

Until that happens we'll stick to planters that look like planters. To the left is one of the ones that went in this care home. Matt light bronze is the chain's corporate pot colour; it looks just right in the very homely atmosphere that they strive to create in their premises. It's also one of our most popular colour choices at the moment.


Matt finish pots

Just a little post (while I'm having this quiet patch and spamming the blog) about matt finish pots.

I've mentioned these before (here and here for example), but this pot I've been planting up today is a great example.

Most of the planters we supply are made from GRP (glass fibre), which is a great medium as it can be made in small batches to many designs, and crucially is hand painted to order, so you can have any colour you like.

But the other crucial difference to make is whether to have a traditional gloss finish, or matt. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

On some colours gloss can look very 'plasticky', but it is more durable and a lot easier to keep clean.

Matt lacquers are much better than they used to be, but they are still more prone to scratching, and the light colours in particular can be hard to wipe marks off. Having said that, they look a lot more natural. Certain colours (e.g. creams and beiges look pretty awful in my opinion in gloss, whereas matt looks much better.

The above example is matt black, which looks almost grey compared to gloss black. It's a really good match for black leather furniture in offices. My biggest ever install was mostly matt black, so I've seen a fair few.

Funny side note: this planter is having a standard Ficus planted in it and is becoming the retirement gift of the boss of one of our clients who had a similar tree in his office for many years, so he is being bought a 'mini me' version for his home. Makes a change from the old gold watch I guess!


Friday, September 22, 2017

Sideshow Boston Fern

Just a bit of fun here, which hopefully won't get me in copyright hot water with the makers of a certain US cartoon series.

We recently visited a long-standing client near Winchester who are about to have their entire building refurbished, so we were asked to remove and store all their 43 planters.

One of them was planted with a rather large Boston Fern (not as big as this one, cared for by the same maintenance technician, he obviously has the knack for these!), and I just loved the cartoon that they've stuck to the pot; they've even photo-shopped Bob's  hair to be the right colour.

The plant and pot are being separately stored at two Stewarts locations, and the cartoon is stuck to a noticeboard in my office, all to be reunited when our client wants them back.

The planters, by the way are aluminium, called 'Chique', and reassuringly expensive, so we are taking very good care of them.


Eight years on and looking good

The photo on the left was taken in June 2009 as part of our biggest installation ever (at the time, we've since surpassed it).

This 3m Ficus Alii was the largest plant in the scheme and I'm happy to say that through our skillful maintenance it's still going strong.

We were working nearby in Winchester this morning with all the equipment to prune and clean a tree so we went in to give it a bit of a spruce up.

Below are before and after shots of that process.

Ficuses like this tend to get a bit 'wild and woolly' over time, but this one has stayed remarkably static in both size and shape.

Most of our plants are covered by a stipulation that if we kill it we replace it, so it's good for our bottom line to keep them going, but it is also very satisfying for us from a horticultural standpoint.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Barrier Planters

Now that I am briefly quite on top of my workload, the blog posts are coming thick and fast!

I am going through photos of new contracts I've taken but not yet had time to file in our picture library. These date from last December, which shows how long our busy patch has been, and show something we sell more and more of: barrier planters.

Barriers are like normal troughs, but taller than they are wide, usually at least 60-70cm high.

These were installed in an office in Chandlers Ford, and are 2m long, so long we could only get them in the lift empty and on one end. Installing six of them was a full day, for sure!

They are almost invariably planted up with just a line of the same thing, in this case Dracaena Lemon Limes (nicely matching the desk dividers in the office there). They are made completely to order, so can be had in any colour, and crucially in any size you require.

They are more expensive to rent of course than a normal specimen in a pot - these are £38.00 a month each including our maintenance service - but then you get an awful lot more for your money.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

We are moving house!

But not yet!

Regular visitors to Stewarts Broomhill will know there has been a lot of building work going on. All this is part of a long term plan to rejuvenate the garden centre, part of which plan is to take our area over as retail space, but in order to do so we have to have a new purpose-built building constructed to move in to.

Doing so entailed having an electricity line over the site buried; that and the inevitable planning issues meant that this has taken the whole 15 years I've worked at Stewarts to actually happen.

Those that wish to imagine me at my desk writing this blog will be able to picture me sat in a yet-to-be-built office in the front right of this structure.

But not until early next year...


Monday, September 11, 2017

Stewarts - Abbey Garden Centre

For those that don't know, Stewarts recently acquired an existing garden centre in Titchfield, and it's now trading as Stewarts Abbey Garden Centre. The photo to the left gives a clue to where the name originates.

We are spending money on it to modernise it somewhat, and one small part of that was the installation of a small number of planters for the cafe.

If you visit there you'll see these rather lovely matt green pots, featuring these bonsai Ficuses amongst other things.

On a selfish note, it's quite nice for our department. As those who know us well know, our coverage area extends much further east from where the two existing garden centres are, so it's nice to have a retail presence in Hampshire where so many of our clients are.


Friday, August 25, 2017

All change!

Well, that was a busy six months!

Apologies for the complete lack of activity on this blog since March; what a busy time we've been having!

A I mentioned in the last post all that time ago, three of our six maintenance staff decided to leave in a very short space of time, and it was quite a job to train up three replacements. I hasten to add that none of those three left under a cloud. One retired at the tender age of 50 (the lucky thing), one moved to a different post within Stewarts, and one went on maternity leave (and has since given birth to a healthy baby boy).

Stewarts take great care in training their new staff; each person gets four weeks of one-on-one training, which effectively means they see each of their allocated jobs twice before being released into the wild.

This makes life quite hard when there are only two of us doing the training! Especially when we have to continue doing deliveries to all the new clients we've obtained this year.

Thankfully, Graham (above) was trained and out there before Pauline (below left) had started, so we managed - just. But it reached a crescendo in late May when I probably wasn't a lot of fun to be around, before calming down in the last month or so.

Just as I got enough time to start writing blog posts again, my work PC died, and I have been logging in on other machines since then, meaning (boring techy reasons), blogging was not straightforward.

So... here I am again, and have many anecdotes and silly pics to post...

...just as I am about to go on a week's leave!

So there is only time to introduce Graham, Sandra (in the middle!) and Pauline to you, and remind regular clients that the time is now to contact us to order one of our very popular Christmas trees (yes, I know, it's still summer...) before our order books fill up.

Maybe in Autumn I will return to my old verbose self.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Would you like to work here?

Could you look after indoor plants all day? Does reading my blog about the antics at Stewarts fill you with envy or dread? If the former you could come and work for us!

We are in the extremely unusual position of having two positions to fill. Original ad here. There's still just time to apply for them (closes on Sunday)

As I've said before, we have very loyal staff, but one of our technicians is leaving to do something very different, and the other is off to have a third baby (as if two wasn't enough).

It's a job you either love or hate: it's physically harder than you may think and you spend as much time driving as looking after plants. But I've stuck it out for nineteen years (fifteen at Stewarts) so it can't be all bad.

If you apply, best of luck!


Thursday, March 09, 2017

A very belated merry Christmas!

Well, that was a ride!

As disgruntled regular readers will note, I haven't updated our blog since the end of October.

Why? Well, I'll be brutally honest and admit that I write entries on the blog when all the real work is under control, and due to the sheer volume of work Stewarts has had in the last four months or so, I simply haven't had the chance. We are temporarily quiet for a week or two now, but it's not going to last!

Put simply, we are busier now than at any time I can remember in my fifteen years working here, and Jan-Feb is usually our quiet time. That's right by the way: as of today I've worked at Stewarts Interior Landscaping for fifteen years (and have worked in this industry for nineteen).

In that time I've seen the industry change a lot. As I keep saying, it is far more about the containers than the plants nowadays, and the average pot is taller, with a shorter plant in it. I'm pleased to say that we still have a lot of the same clients as we did in 2002, and in many cases I'm still interacting with the same people as points of contact at those clients which is very satisfying.

Anyway, so about two and a half months late, here is my traditional picture of one of our Christmas trees with which I end the year. This beauty is (was) in a luxury car dealer in Salisbury. It's a ten foot artificial tree. As you can tell they are much better quality these days than in days gone by. In commercial applications I greatly prefer them to live trees; the average office is simply too hot for a live tree to last until after New Year.

Anyway, enough about Christmas, roll on Spring!