Working in Lockdown by James Hewetson-Brown

Three more weeks of Lockdown – more isolation on an isolated farm near Basingstoke.

Ashe Warren Farm

What a shock the first three weeks of lockdown were, our immediate thoughts with regards to the business were that we would have to try and keep the farm and turf production going whatever our sales did – we work to seasons and Covid-19 has struck right at the start of our growing season. It always seems to be a very short spring, summer and early autumn and we have to make the most of it. To have had to stop production would have meant no stock for when we do get back to some sort of normality hopefully later in the year. Luckily, we can do this whilst following the Governments guidelines with social distancing and regular sanitising of all equipment.

As for sales, we had no idea if anyone would continue to want Wildflower Turf and it has been a very nervous time. We decided to keep a very close eye on money in and out, with a view to protecting any cash in the business. We didn’t furlough anyone straight away and although we are quieter than we would normally be at this time of year, we have kept up a reasonably brisk trade – thankfully we have an amazing customer base – and this has meant no furloughing at all so far.

We were lucky to get fibre broadband to our premises around 12 months ago. We invested in a VOIP phone system then, which has proved to be very good in so many ways, and when it comes to working from home has been a Godsend. Everyone took their phones home, as well as access codes to our databases and CRM’s and the move has been seamless. Our office team have remained busy with transactions and lots of enquiries, orders and specifications.

Should we have stayed working?

We took the view that our customers wanted the product and our wonderful and very supportive production and sales teams were keen to continue working to supply our customers. Plus we are in a business where the work is outside and uses a product that allows working at a distance with others. We count our blessings though, and realise that we have been extremely lucky so far, but we are still not out of the woods. We are dependent on others, not least the hauliers who have been amazing so far, as well as machinery suppliers which have been a little more hit and miss. We have some sophisticated machinery and are making sure we treat it all gently and with TLC to avoid break-downs.

We had a full programme of CPD, Accredited Partner training and open days planned for the spring and summer this year and this has all had to be stopped – which is a great shame as we have lots to show people. But we have set up a series of webinars and bite-sized online training sessions and we hope these will be of use. We had subscribed to Zoom before the start of the pandemic, and it is great. We use it a lot and have just done our first lockdown webinar with over 170 people registered.

Who knows when it will end and what state we will all be in when it does? As far as landscaping goes, the fundamentals of the strength in this sector shouldn’t have changed and we are working towards a quick pick-up of business when the lockdown is lifted. The analogy I heard on one of the very good Pro Landscaper summit meetings was that it is like an F1 race and the safety car is out – so we are ticking over now and hoping the safety car will get into the pits soon and we can race on.

Anything good about Lockdown?

There are very few positives with the current situation. Some of the devastating stories of loss have been heart-breaking. Not to mention the strain on the NHS. But we can learn from the current strategy to overcome Covid and there have been some interesting consequences. The positive effect on carbon emissions are staggering. See the graph below, the UK’s use of transport has dropped dramatically.

A staggering reduction in emissions

I read a report that a town in India has seen the Himalayas for the first time in living memory. The town isn’t far from the mountains but Covids intervention has meant the dense smog that has kept them hidden for dozens of years has been replaced by clean, smog free air.

Whilst this level of reduced pollution isn’t sustainable for business to thrive, perhaps there is a way we can reduce emissions by 20 or 30%, when we do get back to normal. Covid has shown us that it can be done and working from home and using technology for conferences, shows and exhibitions (look out for a ‘virtual’ Royal Chelsea Flower Show this year) is possible.

Working from home – good or bad?

Kat, in our sales office, was speaking to one customer who had ordered Wildflower Turf but whose contractor couldn’t lay it due to Covid. Kat could over-hear voices in the background and suggested they help out. “Great idea” said the customer, “They are back from Uni and I need to find something for them to do as they’re driving me crazy!” and she ordered then and there.

Get the young ones to help with installation…

The office feedback on the pros and cons of working from home is varied:

The lack of any commute (well apart from down the stairs maybe) is fantastic but the office camaraderie is missed.

Being able to concentrate without the general office noise is good but easy access to ad-lib snacks is more of a worry!

Good is having the dogs around – not so good is having the dogs around with a constant level of expectation for a dog walk!

And not so good is that certain partners tea making skills at home, don’t match up to that of certain people in the office!


From my point of view, getting a delivery of shopping has never been so anticipated or so exciting. I hope never to take an abundant supply of food for granted again.

I am lucky to be able to carry out essential crop walking work and am enjoying seeing the spring racing forward without falling foul of the governments demands.

Combining crop walking and daily exercise with companions Lola and Phoebe!

Netflix viewing – ‘12th Man’ – with my sons (WW2, action packed and based on truth) and ‘The Crown’ – with my wife Claire (reluctant at first but it has been good!).

Revisiting books I read at school. So far – ‘The Barrytown Trilogy’ by Roddy Doyle (very funny) and ‘The Crysalids’ by John Wyndham (topical if the pandemic gets any worse?!). Next is ‘1984’, George Orwell.

Office reading comes from ‘Familiar Wildflowers’ by FE Hulme. First published in 1878, it is a set of 5 books listing over 250 wild flowers. The descriptions are accurate and useful and the comments are lovely. Here a great appraisal of the medical properties of the cowslip:

“The old writers, as was their wont in most other cases, give a lengthy catalogue of ills that may be remedied by due application of the flowers, roots or leaves of the Cowslip. A distillation of the blossoms adds to beauty, or restores it when lost; and ointment made from the flowers removes all spots, wrinkles, and other blemishes: “The leaves are good in wounds and the flowers take away tremblings”. Its potent effects under the various forms of preparation may also be exerted on “vertigo, false apparitions, phrensies, falling sickness, palsies, convulsions, cramps, pains in the nerves”, and many another sad infirmity in the list of fleshly woes.

We can only conclude, as we look around, that the herb must either have sadly lost its efficacy in these later days, or men their faith in its powers, for the tide of human misery rolls on as though the cowslips no longer dotted in their thousands the verdant meadows, or the breezy slopes of the rolling downs.

Any health-giving properties they possess will probably rather be found in the search for them than in any more formal application.”

Cowslips now out in force.

Good luck to everyone and I hope you can keep out of the path of the virus and you and your families stay safe and well. With a bit of luck, we will see a reduction in the infection rate and that better conditions for our businesses return soon.

I am going to go and gather some cowslips in case the lockdown is extended and the ‘pains in the nerves’ return….!