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Business Hero – The Planterra Group, Barlaston, Staffordshire

People and businesses everywhere have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. But here in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, some businesses have done more than just survive.  Many have changed business models, working practices or even completely pivoted to a very different economy, and some have even helped people or businesses in what is a very human crisis.

In this series of articles businesses share their stories and some of the pearls of wisdom they have picked up along the way.

Whilst everyone has done something different, they’ve also all benefited from some of the business support available – that can also help you thrive, not just survive.


Business Leader: Jason Harker and Emma Candlin, Directors, The Planterra Group  

Company name: The Planterra Group which includes Blue Iris Landscaping, Japanese Knotweed Expert Ltd and  ProHort Ltd

Business activity (day job): Horticultural services including a range of landscaping and gardening services, the removal of invasive weeds and technical horticultural documentation

Business activity during (Covid-19): Selling topsoil and compost, and then development of a professional-skills agency to support others

Pearls of wisdom to thrive not just survive:  Take a look at the skills in your team and innovate with that.


Horticultural company reaps what it sows with new professional-services agency

The Planterra Group put its roots down in Barlaston, Staffordshire, just two years ago, but has been in the horticultural business for over 24 years.

With the majority of their client base being in property sales and planning and luxury landscaping, the company lost thousands of pounds of work almost overnight when the pandemic hit.

“It was incredibly daunting to see £50,000 of business go off the books from our landscaping arm alone in just two days,’’ says Director Emma Candlin, “so we had no choice but to furlough 60% of our staff at that point.

Our business still managed to tick over with support from Staffordshire County Council’s Emergency Grants fund and our garden maintenance arm, for which we’re really grateful, but we knew that it wouldn’t be enough long term to protect our workforce and business.”

The directors started by filling the hole that the garden centres and supermarkets had left in peak growing season, selling top soil and compost, but a complete pivot was in progress.

“We looked at our business not in terms of what we couldn’t do, but what we could,” continues Emma, “and what we have is a ten-strong team each with specialist skills in a range of areas including finance, HR, marketing, business administration and business strategy.  Those skills are strong and important to any business in any sector, so we launched OakHouse Professional.”

The virtual assistant and skilled-support service company is essentially an agency providing professional skills on a bespoke basis for businesses that need that extra support.

“Between us we’re offering over 20 years of experience in the areas that many businesses need on an ongoing or as and when basis.  Our USP is that we have the diversity of manpower and skills to provide a continuous service through periods of sickness or holiday, and of course, complete commitment to customer service.”

By cultivating a range of relationships, OakHouse Professional has already started to develop a great reputation.

“And long may it continue,” continues Emma. “We’re helping other businesses with the skills we have whilst providing a means to not just survive through any future economic shocks such as coronavirus, but also mitigate the natural seasonality that our industry has.  It will keep our cash-flow a lot more consistent throughout the year.

All of our team are back from furlough now, which is a huge relief. We’ll keep all of our arms of business running into the future, which we are very positive and optimistic about.”

Based on their experiences of the impact of coronavirus and their diversification, have they had time to stop and smell the roses, and what pearls of wisdom can they offer other businesses looking to survive and thrive in the future?

“We’re working hard and we are starting to return to something near normal and OakHouse has a big part to play in that.  We’d be delighted to hear from any business of any size that might need our professional services – whether that’s just marketing or business administration or elements of the whole support package.

For us the take-home message for survival is that you need to look at your skills – your people are your greatest resource.  Sometimes when you can’t change the business environment, you move the business.”

I’m delighted at how Planterra has survived but also how it is now posed to help others as well. I’m passionate about professional services and now I want to show others what we can do for them.”

Contact OakHouse Professional on

More about the Planterra Group and OakHouse from BusinessLive

Follow Planterra’s lead with business support bespoke to you.

The Planterra Group accessed an Emergency Covid-19 Grant from Staffordshire County Council. Although this fund has closed, Local Authority Discretionary Grants are still available from many councils. The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub is the first port of call for any business needing to discuss funding or training and can help you explore finance and ways to diversify your business.

Both the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub  and the Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce are offering bespoke support and advice to businesses impacted by coronavirus.