VP's VIPs: Tom Mitchell and Evolution Plants Part II

I'm following Tom Mitchell and his exciting nursery, Evolution Plants in its first year of trading. Now read on...

Unlike my previous visits, at last I've managed to visit Evolution Plants in bright sunshine. First impressions of the nursery are how much everything has stirred into life since my last visit. I'm a little early, so I take the opportunity to have a quick peek in some of the polytunnels and take some photos. The Trilliums are doing particularly well.

I find Tom in the large potting shed cum office where his staff are busy propagating plants. We walk up to the other office and I start by asking about how things have progressed since my last visit. "We've been to lots more shows and these on the whole have been very successful, though I really need to clone myself, so that I can attend more of them and make sure customers' questions are answered. This can only get better as  time goes on as my staff are increasing their knowledge of the plants and the seeds I've collected."

The shows have been a success, though I'm concerned Tom is having to travel a lot more than planned. There's been a lull for a couple of weeks, though his next one is soon, on the 27th April at the RHS's new Alpine Garden Show in London.

A delightful discovery in one of the top polytunnels - the label says Tulipa butkow

As a result of Tom's travels, progress on the website has been slow and the plants listed on there now stands at 170 items. "As a result, I'm now changing my strategy with my Open Day" admits Tom, "Everyone is welcome not only to hear Dan Hinkley's talk and tour Belcombe Court, but to also come here and have a thoroughly good look at the full range of plants on offer." NB there will also be cake :)

This seems a sound move to me, but knowing the narrow lane leading to the nursery and the lack of parking there gives me some concern. "It's OK", Tom reassures me, "The golf club next door has agreed we can use their car park on the day." Phew. He's also been busy fashioning display stands from pallets found on site. "The idea is we'll have lots of these to show off what's looking really great on the day. I'm also going to have a massive pricing session as I've realised that when people visit by appointment, having no prices on display puts people off buying."

It's great to hear Tom putting his learning into practice and finding new strategies which will help - I hope - to increase sales going forward. He's also becoming a better nurseryman - seed germination and propagation success are on the up, which also augers well for the future.

Just 2 of the Epimediums on offer - delicate flowers poised above attractive foliage

Our talk turns to what's looking good now as we take a walk around the nursery. "You must photograph the Epimediums, they're looking great." Sadly my camera doesn't do them justice and some much better photos taken by Tom appear on the nursery's Facebook page later that day. I do like their delicate, spidery appearance and from above they look more like stars.

It's good to hear Tom enthusing about his stock. Here is a man who loves what's in season now, rather than being passionate about just one or two types of plant. I joke that having collected all the seed himself, he's the father of many babies. Tom laughs at this and also concedes that the ultimate honour would be if one of his discoveries was named after him. "I can't think of a better lasting legacy" he says.

Tom leaves me to wander around at this point and a I can't resist looking in the polytunnel again with the choice peonies. Isn't that Paronia tenuifolia completely fab?

My next visit to Evolution Plants will be different as I'm going to the Open Day on May 10th. I believe tickets are sold out now, so if you haven't bought one, you'll have to make do with my coverage.

You'll also find Evolution Plants is listed in the new RHS Plant Finder out this month - hurrah.

If you're coming to the Open Day your first view of the nursery will be similar to this

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  1. That Paronia tenuifolia looks gorgeous! Looking forward to your coverage on their 10th of May event which from what I recall Dan Hinkley will also do a talk.

    1. Hi Mark and Gaz - your recollection is correct, Dan Hinkley is giving a talk. I've heard him twice and he's fab :)

  2. Can you tell me about those shrub-growing containers in the top photo - are they are a kind of grow bag that air-prunes the roots? Why has Tom chosen to use them instead of more conventional plastic pots?

    1. Hi Catherine - they're air pots, so they're more of a pot than a grow bag. You're correct - they air-prune the roots. They're used a lot here in the UK, particularly for trees and larger shrubs. As the roots are air-pruned, it stops the roots spiralling around the pot and the plant establishes more quickly when it's planted out and there's a better survival rate. Tom said he's particularly using them for peonies - these have a reputation for hating being transplanted and the air pruning helps get over that problem.

      I took part in a trial of air pots for veg growing a few years ago and had indifferent results, so it's probably not the right application for them. Here's my blog posts on the subject - you'll see how they're put together:


      I also bought a fastigate yew tree in an air pot from my local garden centre - it lasted for a couple of years quite happily before I got round to planting it out!

  3. One big problem here would be so spoiled for choice that you go home with a very sad bank balance.

    1. So far I've left my credit card at home Sue, but there will be a point where it gets used and yes, my bank balance will be very sad! :)

  4. Sounds like a wonderful place, and a truly passionate plantsman, which is so lovely to see. Good luck to Tom, with all his plans for the future.

    1. Yes CJ, Tom is very passionate about what he's doing. Just as well really because establishing a very good nursery is hard to do.

  5. Wonderful, such passion and commitment, hope he has a good year at the shows.

    1. The AGS show at the RHS in London went very well yesterday, which is great news :-)


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