Meet Freddie: Bringing the joy of gardening to anyone and everyone
Homes are special places, each containing a unique story within. One of the ways we shape that story is by filling our homes with items that mean something to us, from family photos to living plants to designer furniture.
Recently we’ve been thinking about the people that craft those items - who are they, and why do they dedicate their lives to helping make our homes unique and special? In this short series, we speak with some of those people about their passion and why they do it.
Green fingered gardener, 30-year-old Freddie Blackett, was more than just a novice when he set up his online business delivering urban jungles to the door. In fact, he couldn’t tell one plant apart from the other. And he’d certainly never expressed an interest in gardening or plants before, revealing that his first ever job watering his neighbour’s plants, bored him “silly”.
Following a six year career in brand consulting, assisting organisations such as the Jamie Oliver Group and Cancer Research UK, to better connect with their audiences, the closest he got to managing his own business was running a football club. They say that a football team should be run like a business, so perhaps this is where he acquired the basic principles of operating a successful business.
However, the real turning point was in 2014 when he and his girlfriend (now wife) moved in together and he wanted to focus more of his time and money on looking after their home.
“In my efforts to put my stamp on what was her place, I made it my mission to transform the bare, unloved balcony into an urban garden that we could be proud of. I soon realised that this was going to be far easier said than done,” he admits.
“Firstly, I had no idea what plants I liked, nor what kind would be right for our small, east facing balcony. There was no alternative but to travel to the city’s far reaches to find a garden centre and when I did, I couldn’t find anyone or anything to guide me. So I searched on Google in the hope of discovering a half-decent online garden centre.” And there was, for the experienced country gardener, but nothing for a clueless, urban gardener like himself.
Resorting to a few purchases from a local supermarket which lasted only a few weeks, the plant paradise he’d promised to create, soon looked rather sorry for itself.
Disheartened but still determined, he picked up some books, got back on the horse and started learning. It soon transpired that many of his friends were struggling with the same plant problems that he was experiencing and it was this that spurred him on to create Patch. That was in December 2015. And now, two and a half years on, he serves over 3,000 customers a month.
What makes Patch different to other online providers that offer a similar service?
We bring our customers fresh, personalised ideas. We source the best plants and products from the best suppliers in the UK and then we deliver them to their home (or office), along with all the tips an urban gardener could possibly need to look after their new garden.
It’s a catchy business name – who thought of it?
I did. It very neatly captured what I wanted to do with the business. My dad worked in naming brands, so I hope I’ve done him proud!
Did you achieve the balcony garden you wanted?
Yes, I adore my balcony! We’re looking to move this summer and I’m going to miss that square metre enormously.
Why are plants so important to you?
They are the best way to enhance a space while, at the same time, helping you to escape from it.
How would you describe your target audience?
Typically our customers are millennial Londoners and a large number of them are businesses, to whom we offer consultancy services and site visits, if requested.
How have people reacted to using Patch?
Really positively. But I think it’s more than just our products - it’s our whole proposition. We help people discover and learn how to care for their plants. It’s not just about having them delivered.
What kind of people do your products appeal to?
Typically those who have never bought plants before – no brand has previously appealed to them, no garden centre has been accessible to them, and no information about aftercare has been available to them.
Do you deliver outside of London?
Not yet, but we plan to bring Patch to more cities outside London from 2019.
Urban or suburban life?
Urban, with lots of plants. Having said that, one day I hope to live outside of London with a large garden I can nurture. The plan is to move over the river to leafy Barnes - we’re taking baby steps as we’re not ready to leave the city just yet.
Do you believe that plants have therapeutic effects on people?
One hundred percent. Plants have positive effects on both your physical and mental wellbeing. They’re a calming influence and it’s proven that being around them can help you concentrate better in the home and workplace.
Tending to plants clears my mind and I benefit from their splendour… until the next prune, that is! My window boxes are bursting with flowers that need a little extra TLC but they’re worth it.
Physically, many indoor plants remove toxins from your environment, boosting your air quality. Indoor pollution is a problem that not many people are aware of and plants are one of the very few ways of dealing with it.
Do you have any favourite plants?
If you have shelf space, Rapunzel, a trailing pothos, is a must-have. It’s beautiful. Robin the Rubber Plant catches dust quite easily but I love his shape. For me though, outdoor plants are where it’s at. At this time of year my favourite is Jasmine - it’s the scent of summer.
When deciding what plants work well outside or inside and in what space, what elements should be considered?
Light, experience and, often in London, how high up you are. Patch’s original focus was balcony customers. If you’re on the 11th floor of a development, the types of plants you can choose are rather limited.
Back-to-nature is a strong trend in contemporary living with more and more home owners keen to create a seamless indoor-outdoor transition between living spaces. Can the use of plants help to achieve this?
I often get asked this question by people seeking a closer connection with nature and the outdoor space. Simply by adding vases with fresh flowers from the garden and the same or similar vegetation as potted plants will make a huge impact. And, if the pots are placed on rolling stands, they can be easily moved and rearranged as desired.
Where do you go for inspiration?
In the summer, Stourhead in Wiltshire is hard to beat. Kew Gardens is always worth a visit, as is its recently reopened Temperate House. Further afield, I’ve never been more revived by a place than Babylonstoren in the Western Cape of South Africa. It’s breathtaking.
How much has the business grown since its inception?
We only officially launched in May 2016, and I now have a team of 15 full-time members of staff and a further 15 drivers, serving over 3,000 customers a month.
Where do you see Patch in ten years’ time?
With any luck, helping urban gardeners all over the world.
This article was written by Philippa Hennessy, an award-winning lifestyle and travel writer and blogger.