The Antidote to Garden Centres
Twenty years have passed since Architectural Plants in Nuthurst opened to the public. Back then, its range of exotic plant species was considered so unusual that the nursery attracted national news coverage, with the likes of the Independent running major feature articles.
So extraordinary were the plants, and so unorthodox was the nursery’s approach, that owner Angus White was labelled ‘eccentric’ by the press. The idea of stocking unusual and exotic specimens, creating as Angus suggests an “antidote to garden centres”, could be seen as visionary.
In two decades, many other nurseries have followed Angus’ lead, while the term ‘architectural plants’ is now used in gardening vocabulary as a genre rather than a brand. But still, few can match the quirkiness of the Nuthurst nursery. From the beautiful garden design office, to what must surely be the district’s most attractive lavatory, the nursery is worth a visit - even if you live on the top floor of an apartment block!
But it’s most revered for its fine individual trees and plants for the daring gardener, with Angus and his skilled team at Architectural Plants constantly making steps to stay ahead of the competition. In recent years, Architectural Plants have launched a garden design side of the business, building a reputation for expressive and innovative landscaping.
Angus said: “The design side has only really taken off in the last year. It is something I’ve always wanted to do. My interest is not in botany but the effects you can create with the plants. We try to appeal to the more adventurous gardener. So if you’re teetering on the edge of doing something interesting in your garden, please allow us to give you a shove over the edge!”
It would seem that even after 20 years, Architectural Plants has stuck to its original ethos of promoting the unusual, even extending it to the garden design side of the business. But as Angus recalls, there are and always have been plenty of like-minded people willing to create a unique garden. “When I started this 20 years ago it was unique, which is why we were on television, in magazines and the national newspapers”, he said.
“I used to design and make furniture, so I’ve always been interested in design, but when I decided I might be interested in gardening I started going to Wakehurst Place, Leonardslee Gardens, Borde Hill, and Nymans. We have, it is said, probably the greatest concentration of great gardens and tree collections anywhere in Europe. We are incredibly fortunate. I’d make notes of the things I liked at these gardens, which all had a theme in common. I didn’t realise it at the time, but the theme was that they all had a beautiful texture or a strong shape, or were exotic. They had big leaves, or were spiky; there was always something very visual about them. But when we opened, people responded straight away. They were ready for what we had to show them.”
These days, so called ‘architectural plants’ are not so unique. Even major garden centres stock exotic plants, but Angus feels that the range of unusual specimens at his nurseries (a second nursery is located in Chichester) keep them ahead of the competition.
Architectural Plants, for example, sell Niwaki Japanese garden trees, rather than the smaller and generally better known Bonsai. They’re constantly updating their plant catalogue too, with specimens you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. Currently coming into flower are the likes of the African Lily, the Agapanthus ‘Blue Storm’,
Lavandula, and Hedychium, otherwise known as Ginger Lillies.
Angus said: “I think we’re unique in the full range of plants that we offer and unique in the level of presentation.
“It’s still not good enough for me, I still moan about it constantly!"
Architectural Plants has also evolved with the visually stunning garden design office, where the creative team
construct hand drawn designs as well as using three dimensional computer software to help customers draw up their perfect garden. Whilst utilising computer technology, Angus and his staff find that many people still like the drawing board approach to design, so have maintained that aspect of the service.
Angus said: “We are terribly serious about doing it really well. There’s an element of non-conformity here but it’s real conformity when it comes to the level of service. I hate the idea of any customer coming here and not being approached by a member of stafff -not drowned or suffocated - just if you do need any help we’re here to help you.
"We try and make every customer that comes here aware of what we can do for them without smothering them.
“We take the whole business of selling plants, giving good advice and being honest very seriously.”
Architectural Plants nurseries are located in Nuthurst and also at Woodgate Crossing in Chichester. For more information visit www.architecturalplants.com