Growing for gold
Country Life UK|September 15, 2021
It is the designer who gets the applause, but behind every successful Chelsea show garden is a nursery that supplies the plants. Val Bourne meets the busy Mark Straver of Hortus Loci
Val Bourne

FOR creating a Gold Medal-winning Chelsea show garden, the designer receives all the credit, but they would be at a distinct disadvantage without good suppliers. It is plants of the highest quality, as well as eye-catching new introductions, that separate the Best in Show from the also-rans.

Mark Straver of Hortus Loci in Hampshire is the plant wizard responsible for turning many a designer’s plant list into reality and, for next week’s delayed show, he has been sourcing plants for Tom Massey, Robert Myers, Arit Anderson and Marie-Louise Agius. If you snapped him in half, the word plantsman would run right through his core. His Dutch grandfather was a nurseryman and his father sold shrubs, wholesale, in the Woking area of Surrey. Add in a French grandmother and a Scottish grandfather, for extra hybrid vigour, and you’ll get an insight into his energy levels.

Mr Straver started his own successful nursery business at the age of 19. By the time he reached 30, he was working seven days a week and realised that he hadn’t been anywhere. ‘I sold my share to my business partner and went travelling for a year.’ He became a personal trainer, but soon realised that he couldn’t walk past a flower shop, nursery or garden centre without going in. ‘I couldn’t get over plants, however hard I tried,’ he admits. ‘I applied to Crocus at the beginning of its internet plant business— although I knew nothing about computers or the internet. Founders Peter Clay and Mark Fane, who were businessmen with a love of plants, let me have a free hand and I spent 12 happy years there.’

His first large Crocus project was for the partially walled garden designed by Tom Stuart-Smith at Broughton Grange near Banbury in Oxfordshire. ‘The list was 1,000 plants long and there were strictly no substitutes. We had to reject between 400 and 500 Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ because three or four opened to yellow, rather than producing a mahogany-red skirt,’ he recalls. Crocus also supplied hundreds of thousands of plants for Mr Stuart-Smith’s design at Trentham Gardens, Staffordshire, although the company had to fight off cheaper quotes from landscapers in the process. In 2008, the designer’s grove of 30-year-old, cloud-pruned hornbeams in his Laurent Perrier Garden at Chelsea set the tone for a green colour palette with an occasional white flower.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine