bonus episode | show notes & advice | David Robinson
On this episode Sarah and Arthur chat to David Robinson who runs Rookery Farm, our nursery in Lincolnshire. Sarah wants to champion the huge amount of work David has put in to make the nursery more sustainable and future orientated. They talk about the history of the farm, how they first met and began working together, and their shared commitment to the environment.
In this episode discover…
How Rookery Farm’s moved from a small arable farm to plant nursery, that started with David’s wife Elaine growing a few Dianthus ‘Doris’ pinks.
All about the incredible environmental measures David has put into place at the nursery including:
- Biomass boiler generated heat
- Taking the nursery off mains water
- All the research and work going into peat-free compost
- Working with local companies to develop plastic-free packaging
The history of Rookery Farm
Rookery Farm has been in David’s family since 1918 . Set in the Lincolnshire fens, his great-grandfather bought it at auction. When his grandfather first visited it was by bike down a grass track road. Rookery was originally a small arable farm and David was born there in 1958. He studied engineering then took over the family farm when his father died.
It was his wife Elaine who first started growing flowers in the garden - Dianthus ‘Doris’ pinks she sold to market traders and local nurseries. A family friend who worked at Marshalls, one of the first online nurseries, would stop by each Friday to buy flowers for his wife. After Elaine got some polytunnels and started growing sweet peas, she was asked to supply them to Marshalls – 250 000 autumn sown sweet peas. When Marshalls asked them to do the packing, they recruited some local grannies and got the job done. Three months later Marshalls requested twice as many the following year and the business really started from there.
How Sarah Raven came to Rookery Farm
Sarah was introduced to David 14 years ago, when she was looking for someone to supply some unusual chrysanthemum varieties for her. He arranged 500 orders for her that year and they’ve been working together ever since. It is incredible how the site has grown since those early days and one of the key factors to this successful relationship is how committed they both are to making the right decisions for the environment.
Biomass boilers provide all the heat for greenhouses
100% of the plant nursery heat is generated via four Biothermal mass boilers, fuelled by straw from local fields and local waste wood. David installed the first boiler 12 years ago, as a cost-effective energy solution to heat greenhouses. He has worked with a local firm as their test site, developing boilers with them as they’ve gone along.
No mains water is used for watering plants
The nursery used to use mains water but needed so much David started to look for alternatives. He built a small reservoir and collected rainwater from roofs. Now there are four reservoirs and no mains water is used at the nursery at all, saving an estimated 6 million litres of water.
As part of an aim to reduce, recycle and repurpose where possible, most of the greenhouses are second hand – recycling glass that would otherwise go to landfill.
An integrated approach to pest control
The nursery employs an integrated pest management system, using beneficial insects, such as ladybirds and nematodes to control pests, and does not carry out a routine spray programme. 10-12 years ago, when there was a sweet pea problem, most of the crop was lost, but Sarah would rather go that way than spray. It’s better to take a future orientated approach and a huge jump from the days when plants were routinely sprayed 2-3 times a week.
David talks about the huge amount of work they have put in trialling peat-free growth mediums. The potting on mix is now entirely peat-free and working successfully. With seed compost, they have made a breakthrough and are in final stages of trials now.
David worked with a company in Scunthorpe to develop a pulped paper product to replace the plastic blister packs plants used to be sent out in. Sarah Raven is the first company to use this product and he thinks it is better for plant health. Plants are packed in recyclable paper and cardboard boxes, with paper tape, not cellotape.
· To find out more about these initiatives and what else is being planned read our environmental policy.
· Listen to episode 65 annual seedlings at our Lincolnshire nursery to hear about how David works with Sarah and her team to scale up the plants grown at Perch Hill, to be sent out to you, to be planted in your gardens.