RHS medals for Algarkirk growers

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If you are struggling to grow herbs successfully try adding more grit to your compost, advises John Cullen.

Particularly wet winters mean herbs are sitting in soggy soil in containers so John advises using 70 per cent grit to 30 per cent compost.

Hugh Hay Faulds (left) and John Cullen inside the glasshouse. Photo: SG040416-111TW

Hugh Hay Faulds (left) and John Cullen inside the glasshouse. Photo: SG040416-111TW

The change in the seasons has affected all growers, and made John realise he has joined the horticultural industry at a difficult time.

He and Hugh Hay Faulds have been running John Cullen Gardens at Algarkirk since October, and only joined the industry a few years ago in a complete change of career.

However, this year the pair have already earned a Silver Gilt and Silver at RHS flower shows, and have a whole schedule of exhibitions planned for 2016, ending with the floral marquee at Tatton Park in July.

They were living in London, John enjoying a world of 5-star hotels and private jets in his work in events management for the banking sector, and Hugh having what he thought of as a secure job with Hertfordshire County Council.

Hugh Hay Faulds (left) and John Cullen with the pillinator hotels. Photo: SG040416-101TW

Hugh Hay Faulds (left) and John Cullen with the pillinator hotels. Photo: SG040416-101TW

In their spare time they enjoyed their large garden, John confessing to Hugh it was something he would love to do full-time one day.

That day came sooner than planned when first John and then Hugh lost their jobs within six months of each other.

John decided to re-train as a garden designer and Hugh, who had graphic design and 3D art skills, started doing designs for John before he too joined the business following a horticultural course.

Living in London made it difficult for them to source plants at an affordable price, so the pair started growing things they would use in designs. Selling surplus stock on a Saturday market introduced them to clients with both design and maintenance work, and they were offered even more work when they started selling on some of London Farmers’ Markets.

There was already a greenhouse on the Algarkirk site. Photo: SG108TW

There was already a greenhouse on the Algarkirk site. Photo: SG108TW

The turning point came when John applied to exhibit at RHS Hampton Court in 2013, having helped a friend who was at the flower show the previous year.

John says: “We did well, but it was hard work and nearly killed us because it was ten days and it was constant, with thousands of people.”

By 2014, the men were still producing all the plants for the business in their garden plus a small nursery space, and realised they needed to start looking for somewhere much bigger.

That became even more pressing when their story was featured on BBC’s Gardeners’ World in 2015 and they were “swamped” with orders, so their move to a home with more land and a ready made glasshouse at Algarkirk came at the perfect time.