Ahead of his Cheltenham lecture, Nick Macer talks about design, Gardeners’ World and why gardeners deserve better
Britain may be a nation of gardeners but as far as Nick Macer of Pan-Global Plants is concerned we’re all being short-changed.
Uninspiring stock at garden centres, dull planting schemes and the dumbing down of gardening programmes, all are targets for his criticism.
We meet at his Gloucestershire nursery and talk surrounded by the rare and unusual plants that make his business a popular destination for serious gardeners.
Yet he’s keen to dispel the idea that he puts rarity ahead of good design. For him, the two are equally important.
“I’m interested in gardens that are not just beautiful but interesting,” he says. “I think if a garden is beautiful but it has no interesting botany in it, it’s missing the link.”
Likewise, he dislikes what he describes as plant nutters’ gardens where collecting is more important than design.
“You don’t often walk into a plantsman’s garden and get that emotional response to the drop-dead, gorgeous piece of artistry that are the best gardens.”
Partly, he believes, dull gardens are due to the limited range on offer at garden centres and the fact that most people are unaware of the diversity of available plants.
“Generally, people buy in a garden centre rather than in a proper, interesting nursery run by interesting people.”
Nick, who grew up in Stroud, got into horticulture almost by accident. By his own admission, he was a “rebellious youth” who more or less dropped out of school at 14 and ended up working with a local landscaping company just to earn some money.
“During that time, I suddenly wanted to start learning what all the trees were,” he recalls, “and I became absolutely obsessed.
“From that point on I’ve been learning and I’m still learning. In this game, you learn until you’re dead. It goes on and on, it’s wonderful.”
An arboriculture course followed with his year in industry spent at Hillier Arboretum and Westonbirt.
“Before working there I used to visit Westonbirt for four or five hours at a time and stand and identify everything I could. I used to go there really excited and come away feeling sick of it because I was doing too much.”
Next was a job running Cowley Manor garden, including working with Noel Kingsbury on a perennial planting scheme, before he decided to set up a nursery, first at Painswick Rococo Garden and, for the past 16 years at Frampton-on-Severn.
He travels the world every year on plant-hunting expeditions, but says regulations have put a stop to seed collection. Instead, he gets new plants from other collectors and nursery owners.
Last year, he did a stint as a presenter on Gardeners’ World, which, although he enjoyed, he’s unlikely to repeat: “My angle horticulturally is not Gardeners’ World’s angle.”
He’s critical of what he perceives as a “dumbing down” with “everyone treated as a newcomer”.
“I like to think I’m at the cutting edge of horticulture here. I know it’s for everyone but I don’t think there’s enough education in Gardeners’ World.
“People that are just starting out should at least have the opportunity to go to a higher grade.”
Meanwhile, he’s exploring the idea of making his own gardening programmes. One thing’s for certain, they will be far from run-of-the-mill.
• Nick Macer is the guest speaker at Cheltenham Horticultural Society’s 75th anniversary lecture on Friday October 6, 2017. He will talk about planthunting in ‘Plants From Around the World’ at Balcarras School, Cheltenham. Tickets cost £6 and must be bought in advance; contact Yvonne Gregory on email@example.com
• For more information on Pan-Global Plants, visit the website