Burncoose celebrates 30 years in business at its current site this year, after moving from Redruth in 1984. Hands was at university with Burncoose senior partner Charles Williams.
Williams said Burncoose has changed from being a mail-order business attending 25 shows a year to sell plants "generally not available in the expanding garden centre concept".
He added that next-day delivery services and the internet meant the business had transformed over the past 12-15 years.
Now 75 per cent of business is online and Burncoose only attends the Chelsea, Hampton Court Palace and Royal Cornwall shows.
The 2014 catalogue has 4,000 entries including 250 new ones. It specialises in rarer woodlands plants, such as the 101 Chinese specimens on the Chelsea display.
Speaking during his visit to Chelsea, Terra Firma's Hands said: "For many, a visit to a garden centre is not a shopping trip but an outing. This is where we saw the potential to change and grow the business through investment to expand.
"We have improved, for example, our garden centres' restaurants, which are now visited by more than one in three of our visitors, and given more thought to on-site partners and what products we should sell. There is still plenty of scope to grow."