THERE’S something different about the plant nursery at East Northdown Farm (Northdown farm plant nursery map). For a start there are no massed pots of tender plants hot off a lorry from Holland here. Instead there are more resilient plants propagated from stock that has been proven to suit chalk soil, low rainfall and drying north easterly winds – conditions they face in the farm’s garden, a mere salty breeze from Margate, Kent.
“A wind is always blowing off the sea here and we have a low rainfall. We have built up a reputation for selling plants that will grow well – the sort of plants that we know do well in our own garden,” explains William Friend who runs the plant nursery with his wife Louise. Louise , a surveyor, changed her career and put her efforts into the fledgling plant nursery when the couple started a family.
The plant nursery keeps the couple busy seven days a week but they enjoy working together and find it has helped them become more integrated into the local community. “Customers like to be served by us personally and ask how the family is, and they like the fact that we grow most of the plants ourselves,” says Louise.
Customers can take a walk round their garden, which is not some clipped and mannered, tidy plot but a wonderful fulsome mix of plants that fills every inch of border and shows the full gamut of growth from bud to seed head.
“People wonder why everything is not dead-headed or clipped back but we want the seeds and we want to take cuttings, divide up plants and propagate things on,” explains William. “People like to look round it, especially on Sundays and we take them to see the plants. Some things are hardy here that will not be elsewhere like euryops (big shrubs with grey or green leaves) and salvias which flower from June to November. Quirky things do well here, such as grey leaved plants that will rot off in the West Country where it is just as warm but wet.”
A lot of Californian plants do well in the garden such as the Californian tree poppy – Romneya coulteri with its papery yellow-centered white flowers and the Californian fuschia. Visitors may spot fragrant myrtle, a hybrid strawberry tree – Arbutus x ‘Marina’ , several varieties of the bottle-brush plant, pineapple broom, sea kale, european fan palm, canary island date palm, Arum italicum, Russian sage, bronze fennel and yellow bay. When Farmlife called the huge purple thistle-like heads of cardoons stood tall in a border as did spires of Acanthus mollis. Peaches were ready to pick and brown figs were ripe to bursting. The Magnolia grandiflora s were sold out as the Magnolia tree outside the farm shop had ensured a run on sales, its gloriously lemon scented, exotic, white flowers set against glossy green leaves having caught the eye of passing motorists.
Most customers live locally or come from nearby coastal towns but the plant nursery gets a lot of Londoners, too, who are visiting relatives in the area. “There is a big Cypriot community in Thanet, and small groups of Neopolitans and Sicilians, who all love coming down to the farm to choose their vines and fruit trees. We sell olive trees, which won’t fruit here, and figs, apricots and peaches, which will,” explains William, “the Persians , are very fond of quinces which they cook in a traditional sweet and sour dish a bit like a ‘mousaka.’ A group of turkish ladies visit me each year to pick vine leaves .
East Northdown Farm Plant Nursery – Farmer’s weekly
“We also sell a lot of our own grown large evergreens and specimen shrubs and are famous for our cordylines and phormiums. We have a lot of retired people round here who feel they can’t wait too long for things to grow! On the other hand they won’t pay silly prices asked for Italian grown specimen plants” William and Louise are happy with their business. “We have invested a lot of time ,money and enthusiasm into our business and feel it is finally paying dividends. Plants have always been my hobby and passion and this shows through. Fellow gardeners recognize that you ‘know your stuff’ which gives us the edge over most our competition.” Says William ,who is an Oxford trained plantsman.
William and Louise Friend are both standing as Independent Councillors, for the Cliftonville East Ward. They live and work in the Cliftonville East Ward running their plant nursery at East Northdown Farm. As well as meeting those in the ward at the nursery, the farm acts as a business hub, providing premises for many other local businesses. They are both actively involved in the local community.
The name Friend is interwoven with the history of Margate.
ADMINISTRATION OF TDC
During this time of cost cutting and austerity they believe that their experience of running their own business can be usefully employed in ensuring savings can be made, whilst still delivering on both essential and high quality services. Large awards of ‘regeneration’ money to the town has been squandered with little to show for it.
William and Louise have been active in trying to stop the wholesale sell off and development of TDC’s property assets. Many of these proposed disposals have taken no account of local wishes or of the legal covenants that were put in place when these parks and open areas were originally sold or gifted to the council. These are short sighted policies and have been led and supported by the present ward councillors. William and Louise spear headed the successful campaign to stop the sale and redevelopment of Northdown House and other buildings in Northdown Park, and the Palm Bay recreation ground. The task now remains to ensure that these buildings are refurbished and put back into suitable public uses that offer them a secure future.
The TDC owned Margate caves are now closed pending the development of the adjoining site as community housing! The Margate and Ramsgate Museums have also closed. The Theatre Royal now needs a greater subsidy and has lower attendances than before TDC assumed control of it. If the Turner Centre is to deliver the promised and desperately needed regeneration of the town, this must be done in tandem with, not at the expense of revitalising the other small traditional attractions and period features of the town.
LARGE SCALE DEVELOPMENTS, DEVELOPMENT OF GREEN LAND
Leaders at TDC have approved large scale residential developments rather than smaller parcels across the Island. The money from small scale builders and entrepreneurs feeds back into and is re-invested in the local economy and employment. Little or none of the money generated by large scale corporate developers is re-invested back in the area.
BOTTOM UP DEVELOPMENT
TDC leaders have focused on seeking large scale inward investment, such as the China Gateway and Thanet Earth projects. The pending loss of the Pfizer plant emphasises that this is a risky strategy. If such a long established and important local employer as Pfizer relocates in this way, it shows that such global companies have an ‘easy come –easy go’ approach and cannot be relied upon, in the long term. What is needed instead is a flexible approach to facilitate small, indigenous businesses to expand, and for the planning policies to be flexible enough to respond to local needs and conditions. TDC should not burden Thanet’s small independent businesses with red tape ,but actively promote their success. Nearly all the small employment sites within the Cliftonville East ward have been under pressure of residential redevelopment whilst business parks such as Euro-Kent and Manston are not accessible to small or start up businesses.
ACCESS AND INFRASTRUCTURE TO CLIFTONVILLE AND MARGATE
The shopping areas of Margate and Cliftonville, have particularly suffered in the wake of the Westwood Cross development. The direct competition to the areas small independent retailers from the large retail chains is only half of the problem. Of equal impact has been the failure to upgrade any through access routes to the eastern tip of Thanet. It is now impossible for any visitor to navigate the previously straight forward route to Cliftonville from Sandwich, via Westwood and St. Peter’s, without becoming lost amidst countless roundabouts, queues of traffic and diversions through half built retail and industrial parks.
Chances to bypass St. Peters and Westwood to provide through routes to Cliftonville and Broadstairs have been missed.
Parking charges for accessing town centre businesses is unjustified, when parking at Westwood Cross is free.
THE PARTY TIME IS OVER– MAKE YOUR VOTE COUNT FOR LOCAL RESIDENTS, NOT LOCAL POLITICS–THANET DESERVES BETTER — VOTE INDEPENDENT IN CLIFTONVILLE EAST ON MAY 5TH
Thank you for taking care of us evacuees, in our time of need.
Peter Couzins, 6 Seapoint Road, Broadstairs CT10 1TH, firstname.lastname@example.org