‘We have so much to celebrate as an industry and need to talk about our successes more widely’

Melanie Asker, the Managing Director at Greenwood Plants, winners of the AIPH International Grower of the Year 2024.

Greenwood Plants swept the board at the AIPH International Grower of the Year 2024 Award Ceremony at IPM Essen. The UK team won the overall IGOTY Gold Rose, Gold for Finished Trees and Plants and Gold for Sustainability. FCI caught up with Managing Director Melanie Asker to find out the secret to her company’s success.

The Jury members for AIPH International Grower of the Year were unanimous in summing up their decision to choose UK entry Greenwood Plants as the IGOTY 2024 winner. They said: “Greenwood Plants is an innovative producer of landscape-ready plants and is a recognised leader in what they do. They conduct every action with environmental sustainability in mind, and they have been proactive in innovatively marketing their products and the industry as a whole. Greenwood Plants is a very strong business, making waves in its chosen sector by focusing closely on what will benefit its clients and ensuring strategy is delivered through strong marketing and management.”

Greenwood Plants Nursery spans 40 hectares of land across six different locations.

Greenwood Plants is a specialist landscape supply nursery that is dedicated to providing exceptional service to newly built properties, as well as commercial and infrastructure sectors. The company operates six nursery sites in the UK, boasting a production capacity of over 100 acres and an annual output of approximately six million plants. Greenwood’s team of over 120 employees are passionate about horticulture and strives to provide an effortless client experience consistently.

Greenwood’s commitment to sustainability is a key aspect of its business model, and the company has won several awards for its efforts in this area. One of its most significant achievements is being a fully peat-free operation, and it is actively working towards becoming net zero. By implementing sustainable practices, Greenwood is setting an example for the horticultural industry to follow.

The company’s fast and flexible national deliveries, client-first approach, and international supply chain are some of the reasons why Greenwood has a loyal and expanding client base. Greenwood’s goal is to provide the highest level of service to its clients, and the company takes pride in its ability to meet the needs of its customers.

In summary, Greenwood Plants is a landscape supply nursery that is committed to excellence in all areas of its business. Its passionate team, dedication to sustainability, and focus on the client experience make it a leader in the industry.

It’s no secret that a great leader is the cornerstone of every successful business. Despite a non-traditional career path in horticulture, Melanie Asker, the Managing Director at Greenwood Plants, has proven to be an exceptional leader. FCI caught up with her just after Greenwood Plants was crowned International Grower of the Year 2024.

Congratulations on being crowned AIPH International Grower of the Year 2024; what does this mean for you personally and the Greenwood Plants team?

Thank you very much! We are delighted. Winning IGOTY means an enormous amount to me personally, as well as the entire G team. It’s a testament to the incredible effort everyone across the Company put into transitioning Greenwood to becoming a fully peat-free, sustainability-led grower across our six nursery sites.

What ignited the spark for you to enter the IGOTY Awards, and would you recommend others to go through the gruelling jury process?

We were delighted to win the HTA’s Grower of the Year Award in September last year, which recognised our efforts in becoming a fully peat-free grower. A few months later, we were approached by the HTA and encouraged to enter the AIPH International Grower of the Year awards to represent the UK. This seemed like a fantastic opportunity for us to share our achievements on a world stage. We were delighted to participate and be recognised amongst some of the best growers in the world. We would absolutely recommend this process to other growers; we have so much to celebrate as an industry and need to talk about our successes more widely.

What is Greenwood Plants’ biggest strength right now?

Our biggest strength is our team. At Greenwood, we truly believe that ‘Every Plant Matters’ and put a great deal of energy into making sure our G team is informed, challenged, incentivised, and encouraged. We have some amazing people across different roles and locations and want to create an environment where the culture delivers excellence across all we do.

Greenwood Plants won Gold at IGOTY24 for Finished Plants & Trees – can you tell us what products from your extensive portfolio are the most in demand for landscape projects?

Greenwood encapsulates its core products in its G range – this is our top 200 selling shrubs and trees. These products are tried, tested, robust, multi-purpose, resilient, and recommended by us for those reasons as ideal for landscaping and amenity supply projects. We believe in planting with longevity in mind, and that’s what this carefully selected group of plants and trees delivers.

Geographically, where have landscapers planted Greenwood Plants in the UK? Do the choices of trees and shrubs vary up and down the country to match the climate?

Greenwood is a national operator and supplies projects to all four corners of the UK! Our shrubs and trees have been used on newly built property developments, commercial projects, and infrastructure programmes across the country. In recent years, there has been more dialogue about planting for a changing climate to ensure the durability and survivability of plants, and this is something we more frequently get asked about by our clients.

Can you tell us more about the type of products commercial landscapers are demanding these days – are their housing project trends or conscious decisions about the environment?

Of course, there are always different planting trends, but what we are seeing is more pressure across the supply chain to focus on sustainability. In the UK, the government recently introduced its ‘Biodiversity Net Gain’ legislation, which requires developers to demonstrate that all new projects are positively contributing to their local environment in terms of plants and wildlife. This means that developers and landscapers are starting to think much more specifically about what they are planting and what the environment will develop into.

What has been the secret to your thriving supplier base – do your values, knowledge, portfolio, competitive prices, or logistic capability attract them?

We have a sister company in the Netherlands called Greenwood Holland, which we set up in 2021 to galvanise our European supply activity. Since then, Greenwood Holland has become fully established, and we have developed a strong supplier base across the country; further to that, we have a great supplier network across broader Europe and, of course, in the UK. Our suppliers appreciate what we stand for, and we want to invest in long-term relationships with them.

Do you also supply internationally? What nation is your leading consumer? And what products from your portfolio are most in demand there?

We are currently predominantly UK-focused but are looking at new market opportunities across Europe.

‘Every Plant Matters’ is your motto. Could you provide the hectares/acreage? Is it all in one location? Is it all out in the open or covered (how many greenhouses)?

If you look at our website, you can see the size of the site and the nature of the set-up under each nursery location. Overall, we grow on over 40 hectares of land across six different locations. Our biggest site is Highleigh in Sidlesham. You can find the individual information for each nursery on this page of our website: greenwoodplants.co.uk/contact-us

In which way do politics or global events influence the business – is Brexit a blessing or a curse – are these external influences creating problems or opportunities?

In any organisation, change is a constant, and you need to accept that as the foundation of business. Our interest is in remaining adaptable and flexible enough to respond quickly and effectively to changes that affect the business. Having said that, the horticultural industry has had to deal with a huge amount in recent years, and uncertainty over major topics such as the BTOM has put a strain on the business. We need clear decision-making that supports and promotes this fantastic industry going forward, and that’s something we are lobbying for with the British Government.

Greenwood Plants won Gold at IGOTY24 for Sustainability. Can you tell us about the company’s journey towards sustainability and what the G-Cycle is?

Greenwood launched its sustainability strategy in early 2022 with clear targets, including the ambitious goal of becoming a completely peat-free grower. I am delighted to say that during that time, we have reduced our single plastic use, become more self-sufficient in water supply, and implemented electric vehicle charging. Further to that, our G Cycle scheme, which recycles wooden packaging, has become established, and we now reach monthly recycling rates that exceed 90%. Last year, we bought a new pot washer, and so we also now collect pots for recycling, which will have a great effect on reducing the amount of plastic we buy. Sustainability is one of our Company values and really is at the heart of the business.

You proudly state all products are grown 100% peat-free. Can you tell us more about when you made this decision and how easy or hard it has been to achieve?

We made the decision to go fully peat-free in early 2022 and achieved this at the end of last year. The transition was challenging, with large numbers of losses and at times high levels of frustration. However, when we have made a commitment, we will always see it through. Being peat-free is now a normal part of our growing operation, and our focus is on working with our supply chain to encourage them to transition to peat-free, too.

What tools or certifications does Greenwood Plants use in its domestic and international sustainability approach?

Greenwood calculates its carbon footprint each year to understand its position and how it is progressing forward. It is important that sustainability targets remain tangible for the team, and this is useful in offering that.

Can planting a trillion trees save the world? Or is it more about planting the right tree in the right place – even in the middle of the city?

What a good question! We are a massive ambassador of all trees and plants and believe that every plant matters. There is some fantastic scientific research being undertaken to understand the role of trees and plants in managing climate change, and of course, we wholeheartedly support that. We feel that planting with longevity in mind is so important. Intelligently making decisions that benefit a space right now, but also considering their long-term future and the benefits they can bring to a landscape over a longer period.

What is your view of today’s global ornamental horticulture trade compared to yesteryear?

There are so many interesting developments going on in the horticultural industry, and in many aspects, it’s on the cusp of change. I feel that collectively, there is so much more we can do in terms of sustainability, and given the nature of our product – we should be leading on this topic, but in many ways, we are lagging behind. Coming together so we are all on the same journey has the potential to transform the industry.

Tell me about your background in horticulture. What was the path you took to get to where you are today?

I don’t have a background in the horticultural sector; rather, my background is in the automotive industry. I joined Greenwood in early 2022 as Sales & Marketing Director, and in early 2023, I was asked if I would like to take over as Managing Director. I have brought commerciality and proven business skills to the business, and meanwhile, I have tried to immerse myself in the world of horticulture. There is so much to learn, and I can honestly say I learn something new every day.

Aside from winning IGOTY24, what has been the most satisfying moment in your organisation’s history for you?

When we confirmed late last year that we had reached our goal of becoming a fully peat-free grower, it felt like a tremendous effort, but one which was highly rewarding.

This article was first published in the March 2024 issue of FloraCulture International.

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