Our collaboration with Tony Irons Cacti
In Summer 2018 mum and I had signed the lease on the Wotton under Edge premises and were beginning to make plans for opening day. Mum was starting to build up stock from her existing yarn and wool suppliers, and layouts of the half-and-half shop were being drawn up.
Houseplants, I thought. Right. Where do we even start! The first port of call was obviously Flowervision in Bristol, who I knew about from some friends in the floristry world. I had to pretend I was a florist to get an account (thanks Laura for the photos, and sorry Flowervision!), but once we were in, we were in. Weekly trips down the motorway at 6am were ridiculously exciting.
The next stop was cacti and succulents. I knew I wanted to stock them but had no idea how much I’d fall in love with this resilient and beautiful group of plants. We found Tony online and made an appointment to visit his greenhouse not far away in Portishead. I had explained on the phone we were looking for statement plants, plus a selection of small shelf fillers for our new venture. Really, I had no idea what we wanted, how much to spend or even one Latin name let alone how to care for them!
Plant shop starter pack
We left Tony in August 2018 with a van full of cacti and one on my lap, nicknamed Wobbly Bob as I was too scared of it getting damaged in the back. We drove slowly, paranoid about how on earth you even transport the things.
We were beside ourselves with excitement. Each plant was completely different to the last in shape, size, colour and formation. Some were short and round, some were completely ice blue, and others had spines that could take your eyes out. I couldn’t believe these things even existed in the UK, let alone had my hands on them in my very own shop.
It was cold and dark in the shop and I had very little awareness of the conditions they needed. They took a while to sell, I had all the prices wrong, and dread to think the things I was telling our customers in those first few months. But none of that mattered, I was completely hooked.
We started visiting Tony on a regular basis and discussions would quickly turn from cacti & succulents to business, family and friends. We took part in the Portishead show in June 2019, me heavily pregnant, then opened a second shop in Thornbury just before I had Rae in September.
Brexit and COVID wreak havoc
Throughout 2020 and 2021 Tony and I grew closer, in constant contact about new rules, government regulations and changes happening across Europe. Plant passporting came into force, which Tony helped advise on, and we finally managed to visit the Portishead greenhouse again after a long period of lockdowns and forced closures.
We also started working together on greenhouse clearances and plant collections. Tony sells small, choice specimens and is always on the lookout for more stock, and we were keen for large items for the shop, which made it possible to tackle these together. We both have separate vans too, so we could easily turn up to a location separately and clear the plants out together.
The move to Bristol and beyond
When we moved to Bristol in early 2022, we were still very much focussed on houseplants, with a small selection of cacti & succulents. Tony and I managed to get hold of a collection of rare cristate plants in the summer, which were incredible and flew out of the door faster than we could list them online. But I was still very much focussed on being an all-singing, all-dancing plant shop and competing with everyone on every level (and exhausting myself in the process!).
In September I soon realised this was not what I wanted, see **quagmire of new beginnings blog** and dreamed of creating an inner-city greenhouse with a sea of individually grown, specialist cacti & succulents.
We asked Tony if he wanted to work with us on this and continue to visit private collections with the aim of sharing the stock between us. Tony with the smaller items, us with the larger. I was also starting to get offered private collections myself, which would be included in the arrangement. Tony gets first dibs, and we take the leftovers!
Throughout November and December, I think we spoke on the phone every single day, getting increasingly more excited about the prospect of doing cacti & succulents on a larger scale. A large collection in the North of England had come up for sale and the owners wanted it cleared as soon as possible, which seemed like a huge sign that we were going in the right direction!
We took on a stock of specialist growers pots from Tony’s daughter’s company Marie’s Pots Direct and increased our offering of sundries to cater for the cacti and succulent market too.
Looking to the future
Fast forward to January 2023, we had a large load of plants from the North of England back in the shop after a few cold days clearing out the greenhouse in the snow and reopened with a whole new outlook. Tony and Marj came to the shop for a little pre-opening toast with the girls.
We have also been up to Leicester to collect some large specimens from a lovely family and are having conversations about other collections all the time.
Tony is doing incredibly well from his eBay shop based out of Portishead and we are working towards various shows and events such as the South West Succulent Fair on April 1st, Grown And Thrown by Greenrooms Market in May, BBC Gardeners World in June and Southport Flower Show in August!
We want to say a huge thanks to Tony for being a supporter, collaborator, financial adviser and everything else for the last 4 and a half years. Long may it continue!