The following is a potted history of Mickfield Hostas:
We haven't always grown hostas for a living - we
used to be market gardeners...
A key event in our lives was the 1987 'Great Storm' that hit the south-east
region of the UK in 1987. The following section revisits the damage
caused to our newly erected polytunnels and shows in detail just how
damaging our 'temperate' climate can occasionally be.
As morning came we could see the wind tearing at the polythene on the
tunnels - it still was not safe to walk around outside due to flying
debris, so these were a couple of hastily taken shots from the shelter
of the bungalow...
... by mid morning the wind had died
down and there was considerably less debris flying around. The sights
were something to behold, we couldn't imagine the forces that had buckled
the tunnel frameworks and displaced the steel legs that had been concreted
into the ground:
A subsequent assessment of the damage
revealed that the wind had blown directly as a broadside into the southern-most
tunnel. The wind had then funneled over the top of that tunnel and slammed
into the next one with such force it was equivalent to that required
to lift a jumbo jet. You can see the direction in which the framework
has been forced - goodness knows where the polythene disappeared to!
You can even see some of our hosta collection
(as it was then) still in the ground with their labels
This damage lead to the eventual building
of a huge collection tunnel that runs the length, and along the back
of, the three polythene tunnels. Clad in netting, the collection tunnel
is designed to act as a wind break whilst providing as close to a natural
canopy as possible with man-made materials. Bringing our collection
plants on in this tunnel means they will exhibit their characteristics
as naturally as possible whilst being under cover.
Finished in 2005, the collection tunnel has had subsequent re-fits of
benching to accommodate our rapidly growing collection. Every year we
wonder how we will reorganise to fit in more varieties but we always
seem to manage it!
Despite the damage caused by the storm in 1987 we
managed to pull ourselves up and continued growing specialist fruit
and vegetables for the market. We supplied a number of local grocers
but most of our produce went into Covent Garden Market every week. The
late 1980s was witnessing the start of supermarket dominance in the
food market and everyone was feeling the pressure to cut margins. As
a small, independent grower we were feeling the pinch. In 1992 our wholesaler
at Covent Garden went into liquidation owing us a significant amount
of money for goods already supplied. This was the second time it had
happened and so we cut our losses with the Market Garden and decided
to build the hosta business from what had largely been a hobby. In 1992
we set up selling our limited stock of hostas through small shows we
travelled to, up and down the UK and Ireland.
In 1999 we bought in growing medium from our local
supplier to do all our sales stock and pot on around £10,000.00
worth of new varieties we had imported from America. Within weeks it
was obvious that there was something wrong with the growing medium as
it seemed to be poisoning everything we potted with it. In fact, extensive
laboratory tests concluded that the growing medium was indeed poisonous
to plants and this was start of a four year battle for compensation
that severely affected the time we could spend running the business.
Although we were in the right, we didn't receive any damages and the
protracted legal wrangling almost forced us under - a painful but very
Fortunately we managed to secure sufficient supplies of sales stock
to fulfill our show obligations otherwise the business would have folded.
We have our dutch friend, Marco Fransen, to thank for helping us to
continue trading and fulfil our show commitments for that year.
2006: the team
Melanie decided to join the family business and
become a partner in 2006. Although she already supported the business
through the creation and publication of the annual plant brochure and
website, she had also worked with us around the nursery and at occasional
shows. Melanie brings with her an enthusiasm for the business that we
would struggle to find outside of the family. In addition, Melanie's
husband, David, often helps out around the nursery. In 2006 we all went
up to Edinburgh to do the Gardening Scotland Show and, as it was half
term, our grandson Andrew came too. It was great to have three generations
on the road.
2007: Plant Heritage
In March 2007 our collection was designated a Plant
Heritage (NCCPG) National Collection - see
here for more details. This was a fabulous recognition for what
we have already achieved and underlines that we are here to stay and
grow our collection for many years to come.
2008: the Collection
By 2008 we had expanded our Collection so much that
we needed to re-organise the collection tunnel and construct additional
benching to keep the plants off the ground. This was a major task that
took most of the winter but we now have the plants organised by size
and have created a labelling system that allows the details of the plants
to be seen even at the height of the season.
of hard work!
These two years were tough as the recession hit.
We noticed a marked difference in attitude from customers visiting shows
but we had decided, before the economy took a downturn, to get more
involved with Plant Heritage at the major shows. Our aim was not only
to support the organisation in their bid to gain more members but to
help build awareness of our own National Collection. As a result we
feel we benefitted from an increased appreciation of the fact that we
plan to be here to stay and that we do know what we are talking about
when it comes to the subject of hostas. However, our rapdily expanding
collection now needs new accommodation, only 5 years since extending
2011: our first
RHS Gold Medal(s)
What a turn-around from the previous two
years as we finally started to reap the benefits of our hard work.
2011 saw our first RHS Gold Medal for our Marquee exhibit at the Malvern
Spring Flower Show. It was followed up by another at Tatton. This was
a fantastic boost for us and a final recognition of our efforts at the
Another important boost was having Roy join us for the shows this year.
It was good for him to be able to catch up some familiar faces from
when he used to do shows, in the early days of the business. He has
also been invaluable as a prop designer/builder and mechanical enginner,
helping Robin with essential maintenance around the nursery.
...Up to date
Rather brilliantly, things have continued to do well, despite quite depressing economic times. In 2014 we noticed a bit of a change in the air with regard to people feeling more confident to spend some of their hard-earned cash on their gardens again. Good summers in 2013 and 14 have certainly helped and we look forward to 2015, and what it may bring. This year we have in excess of 1,000 varieties for sale, so you can guarantee to find something you like among them. If you are struggling to identify what you should go for, we are starting a new 'best of' mini-series in our monthly newsletters, which will build up to a useful set of pages to help you navigate the realm of hosta diversity.
We have also started offering talks to gardening groups within East Anglia - find out more
We are always developing and moving on with our micro-business - for
regular updates read our monthly