How green is your garden centre?
People often assume that a garden centre is a ‘green’ place, due to the very nature of the business; selling plants.
However, there are many areas of a garden centre business that might not be green at all. So, Otter Garden Centres works hard to balance an environmentally friendly approach with a strong business model.
Grow your own
These days, many garden centres buy in all the plants they sell; some come from local growers, but most from growers all around the world.
At Otter, we grow around 80% of the plants we sell to our customers. Ottery St Mary has six acres of covered growing areas, a mixture of glass and plastic, and four acres of outside growing space. 35 full and part-time staff tend the nurseries. In Torbay are two acres of covered growing space and six growers and in Lymington, another five acres and 15 growers.
Although we do buy in some of our plants, we try to keep our ‘plant miles’ down as much as possible.
In our greenhouses, we use biological pest controls rather than chemicals, as far as possible. We have opted for ‘animal warfare’, using parasitic wasps (Encarsia Formosa) that are only 0.6mm long. The wasps lay eggs in whitefly scales and when these hatch, the new wasps emerge through the whitefly scales. The wasps are also effective in controlling mealy bug, scale insects and aphids.
Replacing old oil boilers, in Ottery St Mary our growing nurseries and retail area are now heated by three 199KW woodchip boilers, whilst a 25kW log burning biomass boiler supplies heat for the offices. The biomass boilers have replaced all oil and some gas boilers. The boilers and woodchip store are located at the back of the main building in purpose-built plant rooms. We have an acre of poplar trees planted over ten years’ ago which will supply fuel for the log-burning biomass boiler. Another area has been planted with poplar and willow for use as fuel in the future.
We use rainwater harvesting at a number of our sites. In Ottery, we collect water from two of our tunnels and recycle for irrigation. We are increasingly using drip irrigation, which uses a lot less water. Plymouth is 50% self-sufficient in water and Lymington 100%. At Ottery St Mary, we also have waterless urinals and water saving taps.
We encourage our customers to recycle any plastic pots by giving them a location to bring their pots to at the front entrance of our garden centre.
We are long-term supporters of the Conservation Foundation and its initiative Tools Shed. Customers bring us their old and broken tools, and these are given a new lease of life by prisoners and HM Dartmoor before being sent to schools for use by students. The initiative has given away thousands of tools, given new skills to prisoners and saved tonnes of waste.
It may come as no surprise to discover that wildlife visits and even lives at our garden centres. Wild birds in particular are attracted to our nurseries, and each year nests appear. It is our policy to leave these nests well alone, let the eggs hatch and the fledglings grow until they fly the nest. It’s a two-way relationship, as the birds help with our natural pest control.
We are proud of our record of local sourcing and we love to support local suppliers. In Ottery St Mary, for example, meat is sourced from K&M Butchers in Ottery St Mary and Drews Butchers in Sidbury; fish from S&J Fisheries, in Ivybridge. Most of our bread is baked by the Upper Crust Bakery in Sidmouth and eggs are laid by Brown Egg Farmers hens in Talaton. Coffee is supplied by Voyager Coffee, Buckfastleigh and we sell delicious Luscombe Drinks from Buckfastleigh. We promote Westcountry suppliers by selling a selection of products, from biscuits to cider.
In Plymouth, as well as our restaurant suppliers we also have a dedicated food hall. Suppliers include award-winning butchers Gribbles, Higstones of Plympton pasties, Cornish Farm fruit and veg, award-winning Luscombe drinks, Tamar Valley, Rodda’s clotted cream, Langage ice creams and Summerskills Brewery in Plymouth. Our fish is delivered fresh direct from the Barbican fish market.