16 February 2024

 

A plant nursery that specialises in cultivating new and unusual species is applying the ethos of nurturing to its workforce too by utilising Farming Connect training courses and knowledge transfer events to fill skills gaps and help its staff develop.

Tucked away in the countryside on the outskirts of Caernarfon, Seiont propagates and grows hundreds of varieties of shrubs and perennial plants, including a big collection of ferns, using cuttings from its own mother stock and from tissue culture imported from laboratories across the globe. 

The team of 13 is headed by managing director Neil Alcock.

He appreciates the value of skills and training opportunities having joined the family-run business as a trainee in 1987.

Having a well-trained, capable team is important for any business, says Neil.

“We have enrolled the staff on several training courses run by Farming Connect, from how to operate a forklift safely, first aid and health and safety to rodent control and manual lifting. All are important in a business like ours,’’ he says.

“Horticulture is an industry which runs on very tight margins, so, to have that helping hand with funded courses really does make a difference.’’

All training courses offered by Farming Connect are subsidised by up to 80% for registered individuals.

Knowledge transfer events run by Farming Connect have also helped the team build on their expertise.

After a site visit to a plant nursery in Hereford last year, the team came back “bursting with ideas’’, says Neil.

Seiont has also been host to Farming Connect events, when horticulture experts David Talbot and Chris Creed led the discussion on biological control methods and peat-free growing last autumn.

“We have been leading the way on peat-free growing but we will need to take this further as Wales transitions away from peat completely, so it is important for us to hear the latest thinking on this,’’ says Neil.

The event drew growers from across Wales, he adds. “The staff love it when we host open days, they allow them to interact with others in the industry.

“Any business can become insular and blinkered if people don’t get out and see and hear what others are doing and saying.

“Even though we are a very different business to the smaller nurseries who sell direct to the public there are several things that affect us all, such as legislation on plant protection products.’’

Seiont operates on a 25-acre site and has a 3,500m² propagation glasshouse at the heart of the operation.

It sells around half a million plugs annually, and grows others in polytunnels in 9cm pots to supply wholesalers who sell to the retail trade.

Every year new varieties are introduced – more recently Dryopteris Jurassic Gold, a fern with gold foliage that originated from a grower in Dorset.

“We sent the spores to a tissue culture laboratory and those produced tiny plants, we created 20,000 units from those,’’ Neil explains.

Another new variety is a miniature pampas grass, Tiny Pampa, which grow to a diminutive 60cm.

Seiont’s customer portfolio ranges from smaller retailers who grow young plants themselves, to the biggest plant finishers who supply garden centre chains and DIY stores, as well as the nation’s major specialised online retailers.

Introducing new varieties to the market gives Neil and his team a huge sense of achievement.

“There is something very satisfying about going into a retailer and seeing one of our new plants for sale, plants that originated from a cutting or a spore,’’ he says.


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