After a traditionally quieter period in the first three months of the year, Evergreen Exterior Services Ltd generally springs back to life in mid-to-late March and once the momentum kicks in, it’s full steam ahead for the rest of the year. Market Times talks to Manager Paul Fairhead about the firm’s fortunes and his family’s long history at Covent Gardens old and New
When we catch up with Paul, it’s a busy Wednesday morning in late March and during our conversation, he helps trade and non-trade customers with all sorts of queries. It’s the time of year when the plant game re-awakens. “We are always very busy in the run-up to Christmas, with Christmas trees, foliage, cyclamen etc…,” Paul says, “but the second half of winter is our quietest time. It doesn’t stop, of course, during that period, people are generally tidying up and topping up what they bought before Christmas for their window boxes and gardens – when it snowed in early March for instance, a lot of customers came in to regenerate things before Spring arrived.”
The tipping point that normally sees winter trade move into spring bedding tends to arrive in mid-March, but snow in mid-December did a lot of damage and necessitated replanting in January, then that March cold snap further set a season that will last until the end of June back a fortnight or so. By March 28th, 2022, we’d sold 40 trolleys of geraniums,” Paul says as an example. “This year, we’d only sold two by that date and things were still slow. We know we’ll catch up, but it definitely condenses trade into a shorter season, which makes it a bit trickier for both us and our customers.”
All the jobs are still there for the gardeners and landscapers to get on with when the weather allows, but they are starting later too and the concertina effect was about to lead to a very busy April window. “We all know how it goes and they’re in exactly the same situation as us, so we all work together to get through it,” says Paul.
Particularly hot in early spring were Osteospermum, Dahlias and Sennetti, before popular lines such as Lobelia, Felicia and Bacopa take over, then Begonias and the more delicate New Guinea Impatiens start to become available. “One thing we definitely don’t want is for anything delicate to come too early, as any frost can wipe it out,” Paul says.
Other than the occasional herb, the larger unit of Evergreen Exterior Services Ltd doesn’t wholesale anything from its Banstead nursery at the Flower Market. The business has a smaller unit that is well stocked with plants from the nursery site in Banstead as well as holding nursery orders for customers.
“We do all our own buying from our own network of suppliers,” says Paul. “Our customer profile is pretty steady, but we do see new customers coming in pretty regularly, perhaps a new landscape company opened up by someone who’s gone out on their own. For the trade to be sustainable long-term, it’s vital that we see the youngsters moving on and staying in the industry and I’m pleased to say that it does appear to be happening.”
Paul himself has worked in the flower market for five years, progressing from salesman to manager in that time. His family has a long and distinguished history at the market, which can be traced at least as far back as far as 1912, when great great grandfather Harry moved the family nursery from Leytonstone to Loughton and as a result had to purchase a mechanical vehicle as the horse and cart couldn’t transport product from Essex into the old Covent Garden. H Fairhead Ltd and three generations up to Paul’s father Lesley were a Covent Garden fixture until a few years after the Market moved to Nine Elms in the late 1970s. Lesley then sub-let the unit to a firm called Vinplants, which sold products from his nursery. When Paul began working at H Fairhead Ltd, he delivered up to the Market up to five times a week until Vinplants stopped trading in the late 80s and H Fairhead bowed to the pressure of new sources coming into the Market and transformed itself into a wholesale nursery.
Lesley retired around 10 years ago and Paul ran the company until he came to work for Evergreen Exterior Services Ltd, as the fourth generation of Fairhead to work at Covent Garden. The connections had always remained – Evergreen was founded in 1988 by two former Vinplants men, Steve Doe (who very sadly passed away in February) and Steve Vincent, who were later joined by Steve’s brother, Tony Doe. Steve Vincent left the company after a short while and Peter Gibbs then joined as a partner.
Evergreen began its journey operating from a small unit at New Covent Garden Flower Market and a corner shop in London. The initial aim was to retain its position at New Covent Garden, and its owners therefore moved to a larger unit while also progressively expanding Evergreen’s horizons as a company. Evergreen started sourcing commercially grown plants from annuals to mature specimen trees from the UK and across Europe. This new direction was so successful that it opened its current headquarters at Banstead, Surrey, where it has grown to become one of the leading independent plant nurseries in the UK.
Still in Loughton, Paul’s brother now runs H Fairhead Ltd, which does not deal with New Covent Garden these days, but sells a wide range of hardy trees, hedging plants, shrubs and perennials and has added a successful retail arm to its wholesale roots following a transitional period during the pandemic.
Paul loves Market life and says the change to Market hours wasn’t such a hardship. “I got used to delivering to the Market at 4-4.30am and then continuing with my day job for the rest of the day and although I now get up at 20 to 2 to get to work, at least I only have to do one job,” he smiles. “They wouldn’t suit everyone, but the hours suit me very well – I have two sons who work now and a daughter at school and I can get home and have the house to myself for a few hours, then sleep for a while before my wife gets home with my daughter after school.”