James Debbage and Michelle Evans took over a small but healthy garden centre business from Michelle's parents in 2009 in their local village, Bergh Apton in Norfolk.
By 2013 Green Pastures Plant Centre & Farm Shop had grown but was restricted by a lack of indoor sales space, operating from a tiny wooden building of just 50sq m. Now, just two years later, they have transformed the business by moving into a custom-designed 500sq m timber-frame building incorporating a new restaurant, sales area and post office counter that reinstated an essential community service that had been lost when the previous postmaster retired.
The post office counter, which opened on 24 August 2015, has been a big hit with the centre's customers and the media.
James and Michelle had plans for a truly local family-run but viable commercial business that would withstand the seasonality of gardening and produce, but that would complement the local community and environment.
They knew that to take the business any further a new building would be required and wanted something that would fit into the village, rather than a one-size-fits-all development that could have been anywhere in the country.
The heart of the new building is the plant centre, but they also wanted to add a restaurant so that they could serve up the best of the produce from their farm and the farm shop, and showcase delicious Norfolk food.
It was important that the new building fitted into the local area and complemented its surroundings, while being fit for purpose and minimising the impact on the environment. The plan was for a timber-framed building that would be both welcoming and spacious, while retaining the family-feel of the business and making the most of the latest building developments to minimise ongoing overheads.
Consequently, the new building is actually heated by the "green pasture". More than two miles of trenches were dug in the surrounding pasture to supply a ground source heat pump that heats the building naturally, via underfloor pipework. In addition, the heat from the new restaurant kitchen is pumped through to the shop to ensure that nothing is wasted. The design was shaped to echo the many farm buildings in the local area and the exterior was chosen to be a great foil for the plants, to show them off to their best advantage.
There were two constraints on the project, time and money, so James and Michelle did a lot of the planning themselves with just the help of an architect and the local council.
Building was managed completely in-house. Local contractors were employed for the majority of the work, with 75 per cent of the man hours billed from firms in Norfolk - and 50 per cent from Bergh Apton itself.
The new building was completed and handed over on Good Friday 2015 and the "Gardeners' Kitchen" restaurant was completed and opened on 2 May.
The garden centre has been transformed. The new shop contains a much wider range of gardening equipment as well as incorporating garden lighting, tools and bird-feeding areas.
The Gardeners' Kitchen restaurant is very much a key component of the customer offering, although the heart of the business will always be the plants. The majority of the ingredients used in the restaurant are sourced from the farm shop.
The gardening theme is incorporated throughout, from the "Gardeners' Afternoon Tea" served in a traditional trug with home-grown gourmet salad to the "Muddy Boot Chocolate Celebration", a delicious dessert served in a glass boot.
In only a little over four months, the restaurant has climbed to position three out of 700 places to eat in Norwich on TripAdvisor.
Gates Garden Centre
Tong Garden Centre