Q How did you get started in horticulture?
A I’ve been a plantsman all my life. I started when I was 16, working at a nursery for London County Council. I also worked in landscaping, with Paul Temple. I would help him grow plants for gardens at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and did gardens at the Savoy Hotel for functions.
Q How did you come to found Allensmore Nurseries?
A I got fed up working for someone else, with a lot of work at evenings and weekends. I had a young family and we decided to get back to our roots, so we looked at moving away from London. We looked for properties and found this site here.
Q How did the business start out?
A I started 40 years ago with one greenhouse and one van, picking up plants from Belgium and Holland and selling them to nurseries and garden centres. My first customer was Wyevale Nurseries. It paid £300 and I was absolutely chuffed.
Q How has the business developed since then?
A I had a partner, but after ten years he moved on. The business has continued to grow. We started buying from the continent and selling to garden centres. Later we started growing plants and added more glass. We found a niche with bedding plants and we got into herbaceous perennials. We’ve made a name for ourselves growing perennials for big garden centres. Times have changed and now it’s so easy for Holland to do it themselves. We only trade what we can add value to. People want to cut out the middle man and get plants from the primary producer.
Q Has the nursery expanded at all recently?
A We acquired our newest site eight years ago for perennial and hardy pot bedding. The planters are watered through capillary mats and the beds are laser levelled. The water runs down into drains and then back into the reservoir via reed ditches. It really shows with the plants. Every-thing is watered equally. We’ve had everything we need this year with the weather, but we can top up from a bore hole if we need to.
Q What is your approach to running the nursery?
A I always try to encourage people and be a mentor to my staff. You’ve got to be able to have meetings with staff to tell them what you want to achieve and what you want them to achieve. With seasonal labour you need good supervisors. You can’t just treat them as numbers. We know all their names and it pays huge dividends. If you treat them as important members of staff, you get the job done right first time. A lot of them are intelligent people, with masters in horticulture, and they come over here to make money. One who comes over in spring and winter every year has got a blueberry nursery in Poland that he set up himself with the money he earned here. The culture is one of respect and hard work. We have good staff and they come back every year. We have six weeks at Christmas time for seasonal wreath work, using Nordman fir.
Q How did the wreath range come about?
A It’s something to keep going in winter. We’ve been doing it for six years. We started in a very small way, supplying garden centres, and then B&Q. Now we supply Garden Centre Group, Dobbies and Homebase, producing 85,000 pieces, and we make a profit on it. We lost money in the first few years but it’s a learning process. You can’t correct mistakes for a whole year so it has taken us time to get it right, but we have now.
Q What are your plans for next year?
A We will consolidate. We have to be cautious because our customers will be cautious. No one has had a fantastic year. It’s important for us to work together — to have a partnership with the customers. Communi-cation is paramount. If people don’t know what’s going on, that’s where problems come about. This has been an exceptional year. You need to look at the average over the past ten years. If people had done that, this year would have been much better in comparison. We have a mature team of managers and we have a lot of experience. We are not weathermen and experience is the key to our success.
Q What are your aims for the future?
A I’ve still got lots of dreams and I’m working with my family to make those dreams come true. My wife is on accounts and Mark and Jane are on sales. I would like to see the business expand. This year hasn’t been the best year — you can’t say much about it. I would like to have time to develop my own garden but still be there to support the business.