Hillier furthers commitment to sustainable growing with new facility

by | Jun 25, 2024 | Centre News, Features, News, Sustainability | 0 comments

Hillier unveils sustainable new facility

Hillier has commenced the build of a new state-of-the-art growing structure at its Hampshire nursery, as part of the latest step in its sustainability commitment.

The new structure spans an impressive 1.2 hectares of the 40-hectare Hillier container nurseries where over one million plants a year are currently grown, a number Hillier hopes to increase with new nursery developments.

With ever-changing weather conditions, Hillier was seeking a solution to enable its growing team to produce high-quality plants at the right time of year, no matter the conditions. The new structure can deliver stable temperatures due to its large air mass and 45% roof venting capacity that will keep plants cool in summer, but can also be closed to add extra warmth when needed. It boasts high levels of light transmission to help the plants grow as well.  A modern precision irrigation system will enable accurate delivery of water to Hillier’s ‘peat free’ plants

Twenty per cent of the custom-made greenhouse will be covered by an automated shade screen that is linked to light levels to aid the growth of shade-loving plants such as Japanese Maples, Ferns and Hostas. Temperature, humidity and air movement will be regulated by an environmental computer linked to fans and vents. Efficient and accurate irrigation will be achieved with a modern sprinkler system to establish crops.  A capillary floor will water plants from below, once established, keeping the foliage dry to reduce the risk of disease. This is controlled via an automated system that will be linked in the future to soil moisture probes to automate the triggering of irrigation. A liquid feed system will enable the feeding of plants to optimise crop nutrition.

Designed by Belgium company, VDH Foliekassen, and installed by Agrowser with internal fittings and project management by Ebtech, the new structure has specifically been designed for its suitability for the range of plants Hillier grows for its garden centres and online shop. The project has been overseen by Charles Carr, head of wholesale nurseries at Hillier.

Chris Francis, Retail & Wholesale Director said: “This is the latest move in our growing journey and a very exciting step for our nursery. We’ve been searching for a new structure to enable us to grow better plants in sustainable growing media, at an efficient rate, maximising the number of plants we can grow, no matter the weather, and this delivers exactly that! We look forward to being able to cut the ribbon and start potting this Autumn.”

The new structure is just one of many strings to Hillier’s sustainability bow. As one of the leading growers in the UK, Hillier is involved in many peat-free initiatives. The company has been playing a significant part in evolving the horticultural industry’s usage of peat-free compost, and actively supports research and development investigating alternatives to peat. This includes the RHS Peat-Free Fellowship, the largest peat-free collaborative research project globally where Hillier has taken part in peat-free growing trials and further research schemes. Educating gardeners on the need to switch to peat-free compost is also a core focus for Hillier and a new peat-free hub was recently added to the Hillier website (www.hillier.co.uk/peat-free) as part of an ongoing campaign to inform its customers. The company was amongst the first nurseries to become 100% peat-free across both its production nursery and retail garden centres, and all Hillier plants are grown in peat-free compost.

Continuing to progress the company’s commitment to sustainability is a core focus for the Hillier new chairman, George Hillier, who took over the position earlier this year. Discussing this, George commented: “Being a grower of trees and plants, goes a long way to offsetting our carbon footprint and we continue to focus on areas of our business where we can make positive changes. As we believe aiming to be net zero is not enough, we do not rest on our laurels. Hillier has always been a pioneer within horticulture, pursuing policies that have proved both commercially and environmentally beneficial, and this is something I really wish to progress as Chairman. We are constantly striving to further our environmental policies, be this our robust biosecurity policy; having our own reservoir on our container nursery for irrigation; implementing the latest technology and sustainable initiatives in our garden centres; and now enhancing the commercial facilities at our nursery.”

In 2018, Hillier joined The Planet Mark. This is a certification programme that recognises companies committing to continuous improvements in sustainability allowing them to measure and find opportunities to reduce carbon emissions, energy and water consumption, waste, and more. Since joining, the business has reduced its carbon footprint by 5% each year.

Expansion in its retail portfolio to now owning 22 garden centres, brings expansion opportunities for the Hillier environmental commitment too. The most recent example of this is with Hillier Newbury centre which recently saw the completion of the largest redevelopment project that the company has undertaken, making it the largest site in the group. As such, Hillier has been able to introduce sustainable initiatives such as the company’s first rainwater harvesting system in a centre that will be used for nurturing the plants, as well as electric car charging points and solar panels throughout.

For further information about Hillier and its environmental policies, please visit www.hillier.co.uk.

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