An Evolutionary Process17th October 2013 • Stephanie's Blog • Stephanie Donaldson
Tom Mitchell is a man in the grips of an obsession, with a wonderful turn of phrase and an interesting backstory, all of which have contributed to the launch of Evolution Plants his new mail order nursery specialising in plants he has grown from wild-collected seed originating around the world.
The website is a joy to read – hugely informative, extremely tempting and very funny – I can see myself becoming a regular visitor to the site – and a loyal customer. Tom is a trained biologist who veered off course to pursue wealth in the city and six years ago ended up clinically depressed and on ‘gardening leave.’ Pondering his future he googled ‘how to start a nursery’ and was led to the book ‘So you want to start a nursery’ by Tony Avent. Tony Avent’s advice could be summed up as ‘DON’T’, but Tom was undeterred and made contact with Tony who further underlined his message by telling Tom that every banker he knew who had started a nursery has gone bust.
“And so” says Tom “I embarked on the Sea of Insolvency in the hope of proving him wrong.”
For the past five years Tom has travelled the world, resulting in more than 3000 seed collections from temperate regions as diverse as the Balkans and the Caucuses, to northern Japan and the jungles of Vietnam. The seeds were sown and grown on in the nursery with (as he freely admits) varying degrees of success. Now the enterprise has reached the point where the plants he deems successes are saleable plants and we can embark on our own plant hunting as we explore his collection.
Tom is very much a 21st century nurseryman, fully embracing the social media and with a mission to inspire younger gardeners as well as established enthusiasts. I was fortunate enough to visit the nursery for a press event (it’s only open by appointment at the moment) and have already made my selection for my first order which with any luck will help Tom gradually navigate his way out of the Sea of Insolvency – where it has to be said he currently appears to be paddling around rather happily.
What am I ordering? Boophone distichum (great name) an extraordinary bulbous plant with twisted leaves that grow in a fan shape, possibly an October flowering snowdrop, maybe the shade-loving Iris gracilipes, a species hellebore or two…… this could turn into an expensive new habit.