Summer with the Foleys

by John Foley


Summer has to be one of my favourite times of year! As far as plants are concerned it is the peak of their growing season, long days, warm nights and an abundance of flowers all around. It’s a delightful time of year to be working alongside the growing of thousands of plants.

With a family of two children, Rose who is going on four and Charlie, almost two, the flexibility of working for ourselves is great, I’m sure the children also enjoy it as well! I can always remember coming home from school hearing the ticking of the sprinklers, I always knew this was when it was a hot time of year and the plants needed an extra drink! Then later on in life, den building kicked in. I was always on the lookout for a new location, up in a tree or underneath the cover of some bushes, even digging in tunnels at times! It’s a great feeling just exploring outside and with the river along the bottom of the nursery, I’d always have plenty of things to do to burn off any surplus energy. Soon I then got into the growing of plants, potting up ferns and selling them at the shows and then onto collecting Crocosmias, and here I am today now looking at my own children picking flowers and digging in the soil to find worms!

Holden Clough Nursery

It only seems like yesterday we were celebrating the emergence of the snowdrops and here we are basking in the summer months. It’s a very exciting time of year on a plant nursery and to be honest you don’t see many of them around nowadays. With the actual growing and nurturing of the plants happening around the clock in our growing field it’s very satisfying to admire the fruits of our labour at this time of year, and with the return of the flower shows after the hiccup of 2020, it’s great to be getting back out on the road too.

The shows are a real chance to showcase our horticultural roots, a gathering of exhibitors from across the country all showcasing their finest specimens and also pitched against each other all trying to win the coveted medals. At the RHS Tatton we are proudly back again this summer and we are on a string of eight consecutive gold medals, so with a few tweaks on last year’s design we have some beautiful plants in the wings growing ready for the special occasion. This summer also welcomes the return of the Southport Flower Show, and having attended since the age of four it’s a very nostalgic one for me, a chance to spend a few days over at the coast and again it’s not too far away from the nursery.

Verbena bonariensis is great for height growing amongst other plants

At the nursery we grow over 100,000 plants a year, and we also like to grow them all outside, so whether it be sunny, rainy, windy or frosty the plants have to get used to the natural elements, even the bulk of the shows plants are grown this way, there are just a few things we need to force on in a tunnel to ensure they flower for Tatton. The growing outside element is the key to success in our book and you need to follow the same principles in your own garden, it can be tricky introducing new plants into your garden, you’re dealing with a living thing so if you know that something has already been exposed to the same elements then that’s half the battle, and when it comes to positioning plants don’t rush it, it’s chance to experiment and play around, look at the flower colours and also foliage types and you can create some beautiful combinations.

Another trick to help your planting and have a little more impact is to repeat plant

I always love threading a type of ornamental grass through planting schemes helping give a natural flow to the planting along with adding a different type of leaf, helping soften the mass of green leaves, Stipa tenuissima is my favourite and it’s so easy to grow.

Nepeta Walkers are perfect for pairing up either side of steps or pathways

Another trick to help your planting and have a little more impact is to repeat plant, so often when visiting your favourite plant nursery or garden centre you will get a trolley with lots of different plants, one of this, one of that and then when you get home they all get scattered around in different positions, and any that don’t fit will no doubt fill those spare pots that you have! But if you’re not careful you’ve got a nice variety in your plants but nothing to help knit it all together, any plants which have the ability to repeat flower or flower over a long period need to be repeated. This gives a great continuity and natural feel to your planting. Nepeta Walkers Low is one of my favourites and is also perfect for pairing up either side of steps or pathways. Verbena Bonariensis is another, great for height growing amongst other plants with its wiry stems, at the nursery with us growing the plants we always have access to a wealth of stock so when we come to plant flower beds or do displays at shows we can easily repeat something which is in bloom and when you see these displays and other gardens they always look right to the eye, and that’s the reason!



Always remember the saying ‘One year’s seeding is seven years weeding’ catch those seeding annual weeds before they seed and tackle perennial weeds by thorough digging or applying some selective weedkiller


This makes a big difference not only to how long your bedding plants flower for but deadheading perennials will also help encourage some of them to flower again later


Keep an eye on pots and containers through the dry summer spells and if they are in full sun they may need watering every other day, check first by sticking your finger in to avoid over watering


It’s a great time of year to see how tall new plants will grow – helping you position them, plant them and apply a mulch to help trap in moisture and they will come back every year


Make sure to keep your annuals topped up with fertiliser and use tomato food as this helps encourage lots of flowers and limited growth.

John Foley

It’s been great to introduce myself and share an insight of our plant nursery life with you, soon autumn will be upon us and as a nursery we are already planning well beyond this, some of the batches for 2023 are already potted and on the bed, growing all of our own perennials is a planned task with some things taking 12 months to get to the right size before they are saleable, with 1.5 acres of growing space, its a rainbow of colour throughout the summer months, every week it is always different and that’s probably what I like best about having a plant nursery, there’s always something different to be doing, and the reward of seeing great plants come from small divisions and cuttings takes some beating!

Holden Clough Nurseries
Holden, Bolton-by-Bowland
Lancashire BB7 4PF 01200 447615

NorthernLife July/August 2022