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Midland Branch spring meeting and AGM

Last Updated:  19/06/2018

The Midlands Branch spring meeting combined a morning visit to James Coles and Sons Nurseries with an afternoon programme of lectures at the nearby Beedles Lake Golf Club.

Coles have been trading for over 100 years and are the UK’s largest grower of trees and shrubs for the amenity and commercial markets. Employing over 100 staff, at seven production sites extending to over 550 acres, they have the capacity to grow more than 1.2 million trees and 2.4 million shrubs.

Our day began at the company’s Syston growing site, to the north-east of Leicester. This extends to 60 acres, some under glass, and holds around a million container plants and 100,000 field-grown trees. Our first stop was a field of trees being grown under the ‘pot-in-pot’ system. This involves the potting and growing-on of selected premium trees in 65-litre containers, which are placed in a similar-sized pot sunk into the ground.

This helps to keep the trees stable, reducing the height and strength of the system of support wires required. The sunken pot also provides insulation for the container and reduces watering requirements. Vince Edwards, Customer Development Manager, and Clinton Barratt, Tree Production Manager, explained that Coles adhere strictly to the National Plant Specification and find it frustrating when they lose a tender on cost only to find that the stock ultimately supplied falls short of the specification.

Next we were introduced to the ‘Air-pot’ production system, which utilises reusable pots formed from sheets of plastic made up of rolls of small cones containing air holes. These holes ‘air prune’ the roots, promoting the development of a dense, fibrous root system, whilst preventing girdling.

It was then time to jump in the cars for the 4-mile journey to the company’s largest site at Gaddesby. This extends to over 260 acres and is still expanding, with further land recently purchased. Due to ‘replant disease’ the soil in fields that have been used to grow Rosaceous species needs to be rested for five years before these trees can be grown again, and Coles have found that on heavy ground it is best to completely avoid planting Sorbus species where these have been grown before.

We were told that the majority of commercial sales comprise a relatively limited range of species, some of the most popular being Betula jacquemontii, Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’ and Tilia cordata ‘Greenpsire’, with field maple cultivars gaining popularity at the expense of the Norway maples. Clinton explained that whilst he is keen to introduce more variety, when he has previously grown what he thought to be promising new cultivars, these have not always sold.

All too soon it was time to return to the Syston site and to thank our hosts for their generous hospitality and a most enjoyable and informative morning.

The afternoon comprised a series of lectures from Leicester City Council, GreenBlue Urban, Forestry Commission and the Animal & Plant Health Agency.

Chrysse Tennyson, Landscape Architect at Leicester City Council, provided a positive insight into how important it is to have the correct political heads and team members working collaboratively to achieve a common goal. Chrysse talked us through a number of high profile schemes from Jubilee Square in the centre of the city to St George’s Churchyard. She explained the main issues which she faces and how it is important within local government, as it is with all work, to never give up when you are passionate, to find another way to reach a goal.

James Dalrymple of GreenBlue Urban then presented a series of case studies, including the company’s technical input to the Jubliee Square scheme in Leicester. James was able to provide the real-life examples of why planning from the early stages of design, including using the correct people and a multi-disciplined approach, is so vital to the success of planting schemes in what can be such harsh environments.

The second half of the afternoon was spent looking at biosecurity, current pests and diseases and plant passports, with presentations from Emily Fensom, Tree Health Officer, and Becki Gawthorpe, Biosecurity Officer, both from Forestry Commission, and Barry Fenn, Plant Health and Seeds Inspector from the Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA).

Emily and Becki provided an excellent update in relation to the current pest and disease issues which we should all be aware of, including those which are only a few miles away across the Channel. We looked at the common symptoms to be aware of and the impact they will have. We also looked at the importance of planting a variety of tree species, which reinforced the issues that Coles have experienced in relation to their limited number of popular selling trees.

The final part of the day was spent on plant passports and their importance in the movement of plants across a variety of borders. Like all government bodies, APHA is under huge pressure and has finite resources. An example of this is in relation to the high number of plant consignments and the low percentage of those which are selected for inspection.

The day finished with the Branch AGM. This was the first for a while. Mick Boddy was re-elected as Chair, Bill Hurlstone remains as Treasurer and Peter Wharton is taking on the Branch Secretary function. The Branch as a whole took the opportunity to thank Lesley Adams for her work as Branch Secretary over so many years.