Carl's blooming tropical plants business run from Norfolk back garden

Carl Cooper at work with the tropical plants in the polytunnel at his home in Rackheath where he run

Carl Cooper at work with the tropical plants in the polytunnel at his home in Rackheath where he runs his business, Turn It Tropical. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Garden tastes are changing and people want something more than a rose bush in their garden. 
Nick Richards spoke to a Norfolk business owner who has seen the demand for tropical plants boom, especially in the last year

A year of lockdown has seen great changes to our leisure habits and for many people time spent gardening has replaced going on a foreign holiday.

Carl Cooper with the tropical plants in the propagator at his home in Rackheath where he runs his bu

Carl Cooper with the tropical plants in the propagator at his home in Rackheath - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

We turned the focus towards our gardens in 2020 and spent more money on plants and shrubs rather than heading to far-flung destinations – but what if you could combine the two and have exotic plants in your own garden?

There’s been a big boom in people wanting to grow more elaborate plants in their gardens over the past few years and for many, planting a bog standard shrub in their garden has been replaced by the lure of something more exotic.

Often that seed can be planted by a social media post that can cause a frenzy among plant lovers looking for the latest fancy foreign foliage.

Begonia 'glowing ember' growing in the propagator at Carl Cooper's polytunnel at his home at Rackhea

Begonia 'glowing ember' growing in the propagator at Carl Cooper's polytunnel at his home at Rackheath. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021


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Fortunately for people living in Norfolk, there’s a great tropical plant company being run from a back garden on the outskirts of Norwich by Carl Cooper.

Called Turn It Tropical, it’s a one-stop shop for people who want something a little different in their gardens. Carl sells plants by mail order all over the UK and also allows people to collect from his home-grown business, which he says, has really taken off, especially in the last year.

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“Lockdown totally flipped my work around,” says Carl, 39, who operates his business from his back garden in Rackheath, where he carefully nurtures his plants in a large polytunnel.

Carl Cooper with bougainvillea as he works among his tropical plants in the polytunnel at his home i

Carl Cooper with bougainvillea as he works among his tropical plants in the polytunnel at his home in Rackheath where he runs his business, Turn It Tropical. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

“I also run a landscaping business, Evergreens Landscaping, in which we do full garden designs, patios, gardening, that kind of thing, but I aim to spend two days a week running Turn It Tropical.

“I couldn’t landscape so much during lockdown as people didn’t want me at their addresses and fortunately, with people at home in their gardens, the tropical plant side of things went crazy, I spent a lot of time packing plants and sending them out.”

One of many unusual plants in Carl Cooper's polytunnel at Rackheath is this Impatiens niamniamensis

One of many unusual plants in Carl Cooper's polytunnel at Rackheath is this Impatiens niamniamensis 'variegata', known as Congo Cockatoo. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Carl said his aim is to always provide the best plants possible, which is why he grows most of the produce so he can ensure that the plant has had the right start from the beginning, ensuring it is resilient and strong.

He has taken various horticultural courses and has had an interest in plants from a young age.

He said: “My grandparents in Thurlton got me into gardening as a child, that’s where I first learnt about seeds and how to plant things. 

“Though of course when I was at school it wasn’t very cool to be into plants, so I lost interest for a few years but then ended up working at a nursery in Haddiscoe so I spent a lot of time growing bog-standard bedding plants but I always had a love of growing things from seed and an interest in the more unusual plants.”

One of the carnivorous plants in Carl Cooper's polytunnel at Rackheath, is these Sarracenia mixed hy

One of the carnivorous plants in Carl Cooper's polytunnel at Rackheath, is these Sarracenia mixed hybrids. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

With a renewed focus on gardening over the past 18 months, Carl said he has noticed trends in the gardening business, but tried to stay ahead of the big garden centres.

He said: “2020 saw a houseplants boom and so many people were furloughed and thought they’d start up a plants business so the market did get a bit saturated. And now a year on, a lot of these businesses are starting to close.

“I’ve had the business for around five years and have built it up, but during lockdown I rejigged the website mainly due to the extra demand. It was rebranded and updated to meet the needs of my customers.

“Most of the customers tend to be in their 40s and 50s, people with their own gardens who want something a little different and probably people that use social media and see the plants on there. “People seem to be getting away from just wanting houseplants and standard garden stuff which they can get at the big garden centres.

One of many unusual plants in Carl Cooper's polytunnel at Rackheath the Strobilanthes dyeriana, Pers

One of many unusual plants in Carl Cooper's polytunnel at Rackheath the Strobilanthes dyeriana, Persian Shield. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

“I post all over the UK, I send plenty of plants to Cornwall, Kent and London. I was sending out to Europe but currently don’t due to a plant disease certificate that has to be purchased and doesn’t make it worthwhile.

“There seems to be a bit of a trend that things become popular and eventually end up in the big garden centres, so I try and offer something a little different that perhaps people can’t get anywhere else.

“Among the more popular tropical plants is alocasia, a big-leaved plant with drooped leaves and tetrapanax, a big plant that gives a garden a very jungle-look

“I grow a lot of plants from seeds and cuttings, that’s the bit I enjoy most, one of the more interesting plants is the solanum, sometimes called the porcupine tomato which has a turquoise leaf and big orange spikes.”

The Madagascan Solanum pyracanthum, one of many unusual plants in Carl Cooper's polytunnel at Rackhe

The Madagascan Solanum pyracanthum, one of many unusual plants in Carl Cooper's polytunnel at Rackheath. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Visitors to the Turn It Tropical website can select which plants they require and can have them posted to them. Carl will allow people to collect anything ordered from the business address but stresses this must be arranged in advance and people can’t just turn up unannounced.

While a thirst for more interesting plants has naturally led to more customers recently, giving him his best ever year of business, Carl says he has found sites like Facebook and Instagram have been essential for helping him to grow even stronger.

The Musa 'Siam Ruby', a rare tropical banana plant in Carl Cooper's polytunnel at Rackheath. Picture

The Musa 'Siam Ruby', a rare tropical banana plant in Carl Cooper's polytunnel at Rackheath. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

He said: “I’ve found social media is a big benefit and can help to create a kind of buzz around new plants. I have around 7,000 Instagram followers and tend to get a good response when I put something new up.

"I have sold 100 plants in an hour before which is great. I use Facebook too and often comment on tropical plant pages which helps and recommend plants to people. I’ve also set up stock alerts so I can notify people when new things are available.

“I’ve also seen when certain plants get featured on gardening programmes or on YouTube videos that I am suddenly inundated with requests which can crash the website!”

For more information see www.turn-it-tropical.co.uk or visit their Facebook page or Instagram profile

Raising money for a good cause
Back in March Carl did some landscaping work for a couple in Stalham, where he made a garden more accesible for the husband, who was in the later stages of Motor Neurone Disease.

While working on the garden they found the roots of a plant, a Tetrapanax Rex, under the patio. Carl took cuttings and has managed to grow the highly desirable plant and has sold around 300 of them, donating £1 to the MNDA per plant sold - raising more than £300 so far.

Carl Cooper of Turn It Tropical, with some Tetrapanax rex plants he is growing from roots he collect

Carl Cooper of Turn It Tropical, with some Tetrapanax rex plants he is growing from roots he collected from a customer. With every Tetrapanax rex plant he sells Carl gives a donation to the Motor Neurone Disease Association. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

He said: “We’re constantly producing them and they’re in high demand as they’re a hard-to-get plant. We’ve sold as many as 100 in an hour and will continue to donate money to charity in memory of the man, who has since passed away.”

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