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National Nest Box Week 2018

National Nest Box Week 14th to 21st February 2018 aims to enhance biodiversity and conservation of our breeding birds and wildlife by encouraging everyone to put up nest boxes in their local area.

Anyone can take part by putting up a bird box in your garden, at school or in the community as a member of a local wildlife group.  Although National Nest Box Week is 14th – 21st February you can put a nest box at any time of the year.  In fact the earlier the better to allow birds in your garden to get used to the box.

Natural nest sites such as holes in trees and derelict buildings are decreasing with modernisation and development so taking part and erecting a nest box can help.  We have put together some information below about where best to site your nest box, type of nest box to buy and also how to help ensure a safe environment/location where birds can nest successfully.


Top tips for putting up your nest box

  • Provide shelter from the elements

If your nest box does not have a sloping roof, tilt it slightly downwards to prevent rain from entering the nest box. It is also important that the nest box isn’t in direct sunlight for spring and summer and it is sheltered from prevailing wind and rain.


  • Make sure there is enough space between nest boxes

Nest boxes of the same type should not be sited too close together as this may promote aggressive behaviour between neighbours.


  • Ensure your nest box is high enough

Small-hole boxes are best placed 1-3m (3 – 10ft) above ground on tree trunks.  However, avoid sites where foliage may obscure the entrance hole. If there are no trees in your garden you can also site your box on the side of a shed or wall. Great tits use small-hole next boxes but prefer them on tree trunks.


  • It’s all about location

Open-fronted nest boxes should be hidden from view on a wall or fence that has shrubs and creepers growing against it. Robins use open-fronted next boxes but prefer them to be at the lower height protected by vegetation.


  • Safety from predators

There are many predators such as cats, squirrels, jackdaws, magpies and woodpeckers so it important that your nest box is not easily accessible to them. A metal plate around the hole will deter squirrels and other predators as they will not be able to break in. These plates are fairly inexpensive and are available here at Orchard Park.


  • Keep nest boxes away from bird feeders

Feeders can be busy places with high levels of activity of visiting birds which could disturb nesting pairs.


  • Prevent rust

Use galvanized or stainless steel screws or nails that will not rust and compromise the security of the nest box. Galvanised wire can be used if fixing boxes to trees to tie the box to the trunk or hang it from a branch. Regularly inspect fittings to ensure the box remains securely attached.


  • There’s no time like the present

Traditionally, small bird nest boxes are put up in the spring but breeding pairs begin to prospect in the latter half of February, so a box put up at the end of the winter stands a better chance of attracting nesting birds. However, it is never too early or late to put up a nest box, as some birds will use them to roost in during the winter months also.


Choosing the right nest box

There are lots of nest boxes on the market all different shapes and sizes, some with holes, some open fronted and some made from mixed natural materials such as roosting pockets.

The size of the nest box hole will vary depending on the type of birds you are hoping to attract. For example a small hole of 25mm will be suitable for Blue Tits, Marsh Tits and Coal Tits; a 28mm hole is suitable for Great Tits, Pied Flycatcher and Tree Sparrows; 32mm holes are suitable for House Sparrows and Nuthatches with the larger 45mm hole suited for Starlings. However, this is not an exhaustive list and many other birds also benefiting from the provision of nest boxes.

Open fronted next boxes attract robins, wrens, pied wagtails and spotted flycatchers. Whereas roosting pockets are used predominantly by songbirds for temporary shelter from adverse weather or predators.


When will I get birds in my nest box?

There is no guarantee that all nest boxes will attract nesting birds and if your nest box is not used for several years in succession it may be worth moving the box to a more suitable location.

There are multiple reasons why your nest box may not be being used such as the existing presence of natural nest cavities nearby and the location of territory boundaries. Therefore, while some boxes may be taken up immediately, others may remain vacant, often for no apparent reason.

The Great Autumn Clear Up!

The Great Autumn Clear Up!

Glorious autumn leavesWhilst we may not want to let summer go, there’s no denying that autumn has arrived and is comfortably settling in around us. Known as the ‘season of harvest’, we’ll soon be reaping the bounty that we sowed in spring and glorious colour will be coating the trees and paths as the leaves turn and tumble.

Although the colder nights and shorter days will naturally bring plant growth to a halt, there’s still plenty to do in the garden. A little bit of effort before the winter kicks in will go a very long way!

Tidy up pots, planters and borders

Time to clear out summer bedding. Divide & reposition any perennials that need it. Remove as many weeds as possible. Clean up foliage from roses, peonies and any plant with diseased foliage. Remove and dispose of dead plants. Only compost healthy plants, if it showed any signs of disease, it should be disposed of to reduce the risk of re-infecting your garden next year with the same disease.

Mulch the beds

When the beds are tidy, mulch them with a thick layer of well-rotted garden compost or bark chips to keep the soil in good health and protect any slightly tender plants.

Protect from frost!

Wrap tender plants to protect them from harsh winter conditions. Fleece is cost-effective and can be bought by the metre, or we stock a great range of cloches and tunnels here at Orchard Park.

Inspect your trees

Remove any broken branches, making a clean cut close to the trunk. There are lots of long handled pruners, secateurs and pruning saws that are perfect for this task available to buy in store. Remember this is just a tidy up and major pruning should not be done until trees are fully dormant. Check tree ties and stakes on young trees.

Compost sack full of leavesClear the ground

Remove all fallen and rotting fruit from the ground around trees—they will attract pests and diseases which may last through the winter. Don’t leave autumn leaves on the lawn. Instead, rake them up and add to the compost heap in thin layers mixed with other material. Leaves will make good compost quicker if they have been shredded. Use the mower to chop them and pick them up. Give your lawn a final cut before winter and an autumn feed to strengthen roots.

Don’t forget your equipment…

Clean and store away your tools. Remove all traces of soil and if you’ve been trimming diseased plants, disinfect pruners and dry fully before storing away. Spray a little WD40 or light oil on steel tools and scrape the old lawn clippings off the mower.

Plan it and Plant it – this Autumn

Autumn is usually the safest time to plant hardy plants whether they are trees, shrubs, bulbs or perennials. The warm and reasonably moist soil is so welcoming for plant roots; the conditions are just right for encouraging new root growth without the burden of having to support masses of leaves. The result is that the plant is nicely settled before the spring when the pressure is really on and the plant is calling for the maximum amount of water and nutrients to support top growth.

plan-it-plant-itSo plan your project now and then plant it this autumn. Clay soils around this part of the world can be difficult to manage if they are too wet at the end of the winter but with a little added coarse grit and well-rotted compost they are very productive and this is usually another good reason to get things done sooner rather than later. For many folk new to gardening, timing the garden care jobs can be a bit of a mystery.

Lawn care and weed control are good examples but if you can understand what is happening to the plants then the mystery lessens. As temperatures fall, growth rates get slower as the plant prepares for the dormant season. They will want to make sure that their fruits are ripened and dispersed to provide for the next generation, or draw back all the goodness from their leaves to store overwinter and provide for the following spring. Read More

Growing Bulbs

Plant Guides

Bulbs Through the Seasons

It’s planting time again! Hardy plants that get their roots down into the warm, moist soil at this time of the year, get a flying start when the next spring arrives. That goes for evergreen as well as deciduous shrubs, herbaceous perennials and of course bulbs!

You need to plant spring flowering bulbs, including alliums, crocus, tulips and narcissi in Autumn, before the first frost arrives.

Spring is the time to plant most summer-flowering bulbs including gladioli, irises, dahlias, nerines, agapanthus and lilies (which can also be planted in autumn).

Typically, the earlier you buy bulbs, the better the selection and quality, and we have a wide range of great quality bulbs in store now!

Using bulbs, you can create a mass display, add height to a flower bed, try a small clump of a low-growing variety in a border or grow them in pots. All the nourishment for the flower is stored in their bulbous roots. After they have bloomed, many bulbs can be left in the soil to come up again the next year – so simply check the information on the packet and get planting!


Read More

It’s Butterfly Season!

Sir David Attenborough 300x300As well as being beautiful to look at, butterflies have an important role to play in the garden as they pollinate flowers.  Butterflies and moths are valuable indicators of a healthy environment and healthy ecosystem.  Areas rich in butterflies and moths are often rich in other wildlife such as earthworms, spiders, molluscs and snails which all have their place within your gardens eco system. As butterflies react very quickly to change in their environment it makes them an excellent biodiversity indicator and a decline in numbers is an early warning sign for other wildlife loses.

Butterfly numbers have decreased in recent years and Sir David Attenborough is calling upon the public to help reverse butterfly decline by taking part in The Big Butterfly Count, the world’s largest butterfly survey.   It was first started in 2010 and fast became the world’s largest survey of butterflies with over 36,000 people taking part in 2016 counting almost 400,000 butterflies and day-flying moths across the UK.   This year’s count runs from Friday 14th July to Sunday 6th August.

It is easy to get involved and counts are welcome from anywhere: parks, school grounds, meadows or even your own garden.  Each count lasts 15 minutes and can be done from one spot or whilst out on a walk.  If you are counting from a fixed position, count the maximum number of each species that you see in a single time (this is to avoid the same butterfly being counted twice by accident).  If you are doing your count out on a walk, total up the number of each butterfly species                                                                                                             that you saw in the 15 minutes.

To record your butterfly count and to download your free butterfly identification chart visit CLICK HERE.

How to attract more butterflies

To encourage more butterflies into your garden you need to provide a welcoming environment by growing the right type of flowers.  Adult butterflies are especially fond of plants with long, tubular flowers that grow in sheltered sunny areas to feed on the nectar.  The butterfly season starts in March and runs right through to October/November time when the frosty weather starts.

Some of the best plants for butterflies are as follows:

Buddleja davidii

This is one of the best known plants for attracting butterflies and is commonly referred to as a ‘butterfly bush’ with fragrant and high nectar flowers.  There are many varieties of Buddleja davidii to choose from and will grow in most soils as long as it is in a sunny position, they will produce blooms throughout the summer and into the autumn.

Verbena bonariensis

This tall perennial has erect, branching stems that grow up to 2meters in height with clusters of small purple flowers from summer to autumn.  Verbena Bonariensis can be grown in most soil types as long as it is well drained and works particularly well in flower borders to add height.


Hebes are great evergreen shrubs that attract a wide range of insects including bees and butterflies.  These summer and autumn flowering evergreens are suitable for rock gardens, shrub boarders and ground cover with flowers ranging from white and pink to purple and mauve.  Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral butterflies are particularly drawn to Hebes.

Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’

With dark grey-green leaves and upright racemes full of mauve flowers, this bushy evergreen perennial attracts bees, butterflies and moths from March right through to October.  Erysimum can grow in moderately fertile, well drained neutral or alkaline soil in full sun.

You can also attract butterflies to your garden with artificial butterfly feeders which you can buy or make yourself at home.


Why not make your own butterfly feeder!

To do this you will need the following:

  • 1 empty clean glass jar with a screw tight lid (make sure it doesn’t leak)
  • 1 Kitchen sponge (about ½ inch thick)
  • Hammer and nail
  • Scissors
  • Saucepan
  • String – x2 pieces 24 inches each
  • Sugar
  • Water


  • 3 brightly coloured plastic mesh scourers OR Silk flowers (you will also need glue to secure these to the jar)


Step 1

Start by making your butterfly food by mixing 10 parts water with one part sugar in a saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved.  Take off the heat and allow to cool.

Step 2

Punch a small hole through the centre of your jar lid using the hammer and nail.  If needed, ask an adult to help with this to avoid any accidental injury.

Using your scissors cut a strip about ¼ inch wide from the kitchen sponge and trim it down so it is roughly one inch long and ¼ inch wide on all sides.

Carefully poke this one inch piece of sponge through the hole in the lid made by the nail.  This is fiddly and has to be done carefully as to not tear the sponge; it should be a snug fit.

Step 3Butterfly Feeder One 275x300

Turn your empty jar upside down and tie both pieces of string together around the top of the jar with double knots opposite to each other as shown in the picture.

There should be two knots, one on the left and one on the right, each with two pieces of string off of each.  Take the two pieces of string closest to you (one from the left and one from the right) and tie another double knot one third of the way up the jar.  Repeat with the other two pieces of sting on the other side.

Repeat the above process with the second lot of knots roughly 1-2cm from the top.  Tie all four pieces of string together in a knot at the top to make it secure.  After that it should look like the picture below.

Butterfly Feeder Two 275x300

Step 4 (optional)

To make your feeder bright and attractive to butterflies you can decorate your jar by placing plastic mesh sponges into your jar before pouring in the sugar solution or by gluing silk flowers to the outside of the jar.

Step 5

Fill your jar with the cooled sugar solution and screw the lid on tightly so it won’t leak.

Finally, find a sunny sheltered spot in the garden to hang your butterfly feeder and wait for the butterflies!

Things to do in the Garden in Spring

Spring has now sprung! There is blossom on the trees and hawthorn hedges are leafing up, along with the cheery blooms of daffodils and primroses enjoying the sunshine between the rain showers. Now is a great time to start sowing and planting outdoors but be mindful there is still the risk of occasional frosts.  Here is a list of things to do in the garden at the end of March and through April:

Keep weeds under control before they get a hold

Weeds can be controlled with the help of weedkillers or by cultural and organic control measures that rely on killing or restricting the weeds physically.  This can be done by removing them manually, smothering weeds with plastic, burning or by using weed barriers.

Protect fruit blossom and non-hardy plants from frost

Most top fruit and soft fruit are very hardy but once they start spring growth the flowers and buds are particularly vulnerable to frosts.  You can protect frost sensitive plants by wrapping in fleece or by using a cloche.

Sow hardy annuals and herb seeds

Many vegetables, annuals, biennials and herbaceous plants can be grown from seed sown outdoors. The secret to success is to prepare a good seedbed, free of weeds and with a crumble-like soil-surface texture.

Sow new lawns and repair any bare patches

Patches in lawns can appear for a number of reasons and when they do, it is always advisable to repair them. Re-seeding or turfing these areas will prevent weeds germinating in the bare patches, and of course, it will look much better. It is best to repair these areas in the spring or autumn.

Top dress containers

Growing plants in containers is a great way to bring life and colour into otherwise dull spots in your garden such as patios, balconies and even window boxes.  Almost any plant can be grown in a container.

Plant summer flowering bulbs

Bulbs are great for adding colour to your garden. Planting summer-flowering bulbs such as lilies and gladioli can provide dramatic, tall blooms that are scented.

Put up some bird boxes

Birds will be looking for suitable places to nest and bird boxes increase their choice of nesting sites. Bird boxes hung on walls tend to be safer from predators such as cats than those hung on trees.  A north or north-east facing position is best as strong sun can make nest boxes too hot and uninviting.



Seed Potatoes

Our new season’s range of seed potatoes are now on sale, and are certified Elite Basic Scottish Seed grown from healthy stock and produced in areas free from pest and disease.

Choose from:

1st early, 2nd early and main crop varieties depending on when you want to harvest them.

You can grow-your-own on a small scale every bit as easily as in a larger garden or allotment.

Container growing has some great advantages – you can get an early crop when prices in the shops are high. Container growing produces spuds with loads of flavour and almost non-existent skins so no need to peel.

All you need is a pot or growing bag of some sort, a vegetable or multi-purpose compost and a sunny spot in the garden.

Potato Chitting 325x325All seed potatoes do best if they are given a start by ‘chitting’. This simply means encouraging the seed potatoes to sprout before planting. To do this you need a cool but frost free place with some light where the seed potatoes can be set out and allowed to make shoots of about 2 or 3cm long [that’s an inch]. An egg box or similar works well to hold them upright,

Plant out when the shoots are formed and the weather has improved; traditionally Good Friday was always seen as the best day to plant!

Container growing can start earlier and will give you an earlier crop.

We have loads to choose from:

2kg bags of First early, Second Early and Maincrop varieties at £3.99

10 potato ‘Taster’ packs £1.99

10 potato ‘Special Varieties’ £2.49

Late spring: May at Orchard Park

Garden Planting this May

So far, so good! Spring in North Dorset has been kind to us all, gardeners and outdoor lovers alike. The weather was a bit on the cold side at first but has stayed relatively dry and is warming up nicely with no serious frosts to spoil plants.

You’ll have noticed that blossom has been absolutely glorious this year. Cherries started off with the early flowering Myrobolan, then the purple-leafed sand cherries before the more ornamental Japanese cherries started their display. Not to mention the magnolias and the ornamental pears!

At the time of writing, all looks well and we are hoping that the pear trees blossom will escape harm from frost along with the plums and bush fruit, especially gooseberries and blackcurrants. That would mean a substantial fruit crop later in the year, so it would be worth investing in a little protection, such as a fruit cage, to keep the birds off.

Our Dorset Farm Shop

We had a lovely visit from the reception class at St Mary the Virgin CE VA Primary School in April. Following their current theme, ‘On the farm’, they enjoyed a veggie workshop, tour of the farm shop and a sausage making demonstration from our butchers Chalky and Phil!

Regulars to the farm shop will have noticed some tasty new treats on the shelves, including these, quite frankly, marvellous Honeycomb Dips from Mighty Fine Chocolate.

If the words ‘Honeycomb’, ‘dipped’ and ‘chocolate’ haven’t already grabbed your attention and you’re a little more visual, check out how delicious they LOOK here!

Stylish Garden Entertaining

With the Bank Holiday looming, have you thought about how to get your garden set for the summer? If the thought of getting prepared leaves you trembling at the knees, never fear! We have the perfect guide to getting your garden summer ready.

We have wonderful ranges in store to really give your garden the magic touch, whether you’re looking for a reliable Weber BBQ with innovative accessories or a sturdy yet stylish Alexander Rose dining set, we can suit any budget.

Dorset Events

We’re counting down the days until Weber join us for an unmissable opportunity to see their 2 hour live cooking show, with fantastic barbecue recipe demos and tastings! The shop will be open afterwards for you to shop if you wish, and ticket holders will get a special discount on Weber products on the evening. Click here to read more about this event.

Job Vacancies at Orchard Park

Would you like to join our friendly, hard-working team? We’re on the look out for brilliant people to join our cafe and office. Come and take a look at the positions we have available!

How To: Grow summer bedding plants

Summer Bedding Plants

Summer Bedding Plants for sale

Bedding plants provide a wonderful splash of colour and create a decorative seasonal display for relatively little effort. They brighten up a border, fill gaps between plants that haven’t yet flowered, and look wonderful in pots, tubs and hanging baskets throughout the summer.

Bedding can be grown from seed, bought as young seedlings (plug plants) or purchased in packs or pots ready for planting out. Most bedding plants are annual, which means that they complete their whole life cycle, from seed to flower, within one year, and then die. They are discarded at the end of the season which gives you the freedom to change your bedding displays every year!

Getting Started

Pansy seedlings growing in trays

Pansy seedlings


Bedding plants are easy to grow from seed and don’t require anything too fancy. They will thrive in a seed tray or pots covered with a polythene bag on a windowsill, which means that you don’t need a greenhouse. Seed packets all have sowing dates on them.

If you would prefer established plants, seedlings or plug plants, these are readily available at your local garden centre or nursery. Seedlings will need pricking to ensure their roots have room to grow. Keep potting on your plants to larger containers when they outgrow their current ones until they are ready to be planted out in the garden and the weather is warmer with no risk of frost.

Growing and potting your summer bedding plants

To pot up your seedlings and plant plugs, first water the plants well and then lift them gently out of the soil. It is very important when handling them that you do so by the leaves rather than the stems. If you damage a leaf, it will grow back, but damage the stem and you’ll lose the plant.

Plant them into their new home to the same depth as before and firm down the compost. Use a liquid feed to water them in.

It is important to acclimatise new plants to the outdoors before they are planted into their final spots in beds, borders or containers. To do this, harden them off by moving them to a cold frame, an unheated porch or a sheltered spot outside.

How to plant out your summer bedding plants

Petunias in bloom

Petunias in bloom


It is important to wait until the risk of frost has passed before you plant out your new bedding plants to their final positions, usually mid to late May.

A few hardy varieties can be planted out earlier such as calendula (pot marigold), pansies, violas and primulas. These add colour to your garden in early spring, and can then be replaced or added to for the summer.

Caring for your summer bedding plants

Pink begonias growing in a border

Begonias in flower

It is important to water daily during dry spells using rain water from your water butt where possible. Continue to use a liquid feed each week during the flowering season.

Pay most attention to the plants in containers and hanging baskets as they are at most at risk of drying out. There are many products to help retain water in the soil such as gels, crystals and pellets that can be incorporated into the compost before planting to reduce the amount of watering needed, but you must remember to check the soil regularly.

The plants will be encouraged to keep flowering by regular deadheading, so keep an eye out for any fading blooms, which will also keep your displays looking wonderful throughout the summer!


Image credits: Seedlings © Brian Pettinger, Petunias: © PARSHOTAM LAL TANDON, Begonias: © cobalt123

Gardening Jobs for the month: April

Gardening month-by-month

Lawn Care

Lawns need attention early in the season if they are to look any good. Some can be full of moss at this time of year, with the actual grass is looking a bit thin. Use a mosskiller now, either liquid or lawn sand, let the moss die back and rake it out. If the grass has grown much give it a close cut first so you can get to the moss, and box-off the clippings.

Once the moss is out, if there is a lot of bare soil then rake to loosen and create a seed bed. Sow at about 35g per sq m, rake over lightly and firm in. Water if the soil is dry and germination should take place within 10 to 14 days depending on soil temperature.

A lawn that is not too bad will benefit from a complete lawn treatment such as Evergreen Complete which will kill the moss, kill the weeds and feed it! It is a good investment which should last most of the summer; you might have to feed a little later on depending on how close you cut the lawn and how much hard use it gets.

Pruning, feeding and mulching

Hopefully all the pruning is out of the way by now, so your next step is feeding and mulching climbers, roses and other shrubs and perennial plants. This is vital if you want them to perform well this year. Slow release feeds are best, and the magic mulch can be anything from well-rotted garden compost or manure, to bought in compost or bark chippings.

Prepare to prune the early flowering plants (Forsythia and the like) as soon as they have finished flowering so that the new growth has time to form and produce new flower buds for next spring.

Rose Care

Roses may show early signs of black spot so keep a treatment handy – the choice is not great but both Rose Clear and Multirose are both good and will knock any early greenfly problems on the head at the same time. Then get the sprayer out – fungicide treatment is almost unavoidable if you want to keep the plants free from disease. If you grow without chemicals, then the really important thing is to keep the soil in good heart with plenty of good organic matter and bonemeal or seaweed meal as a supplement.

Check all trees and shrubs – including roses – are firm in the ground. The high winds of the past month may have caused windrock and the damage to the roots can mean a plant will suddenly fail later in the summer.

Pest Control

We didn’t get much in the way of deep penetrating frost this winter so the indications are that slugs could be a real challenge this year, meaning your precious seedlings could soon disappear. The choice is slug traps filled with beer barriers such as copper or wool pellets that dissuade slugs from approaching, or slug killers that will solve the problem on a more permanent basis.

Grow Your Own

The grow-your-own veg is really worthwhile and you can start from either seeds or seedlings. The garden centre now offers young vegetable plants that are ready to plant out as well the fantastic range of seeds in packets that excite the eye with visions of perfect produce.

Vegetable gardens do need to be prepared, forked over to remove the tough perennial weeds and kill the fresh weed seedlings. Manure and the lime should have been added over winter, but it’s not too late if you good composted organic matter available. Best not to do this in seed beds as you can attract the slugs, but fine where you are planting out potatoes, onion sets or transplanting vegetable plants or sowing larger seeds such as peas and beans.


Herbaceous borders will be showing growth, so make sure that you have plant supports ready for taller growing varieties. Grow-through supports such as the large metal circles or cut hazel twigs, need to be in place before the plant grows through! Other systems such as the curved wire frames, link stakes, or canes can be used as needed.

Fruit trees and bushes

These will now be in blossom, and vulnerable to late frost. If they are small enough to cover with fleece then it could make the difference between crop and no crop.

Hanging Baskets and Containers

You can start to plant in April but it is usually far too risky to set them outside; wait until the risk of frost has passed. Worth bearing in mind that early planted tubs and containers will mature early with those planted later still be going strong in late August when the others have expired.

All containers need to be watered. Rain water is best but can be an unreliable supply if we get a drought. Tap water is mostly hard meaning it contains a large amount of Calcium carbonate, so to keep ericaceous plants growing well in pots it is important to add a special ericaceous liquid  feed and dose it with sequestered iron at least twice during the year.

Lastly – once the plant is established, top dress with appropriate fertiliser (specialist Azalea/Rhodo feed or even Rose Fertiliser) in spring to encourage growth and in late summer to encourage flower buds for the following spring. You will probably need top up the compost as well.

Orchard Park Garden Centre, Shaftesbury Road, Gillingham, Dorset, SP8 5JG
Tel:01747 835544
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