Horticultural Stories of Pandemic 2020: Holden Clough Nurseries

A story of plant nursery success for a young couple in the north of England.

John Foley and family - image: Holden Clough Nurseries
John Foley and family - image: Holden Clough Nurseries

We are a young couple: I'm 32 years old and Kate my wife is 31 with a baby girl called Rose.

Lancashire-based Holden Clough has been trading since 1927 growing a wide range of hardy plants with a unique retail and food offering.

We closed for the third week of March as most places did and then began to ramp up our home delivery offering.

We had nothing in place and only did 30 or so orders through the post. 

We were on the brink of furloughing the nursery staff one week after lockdown when we noticed a spike in home deliveries and phone sales so we kept the team on.

We then focussed on home delivery putting 'plant packs' together, for examples plants for dry shade or cottage garden plants helping inspire people with their choices and giving advice and answering questions over the phone. We had a hire van running alongside our van for the seven-week lockdown period.

We decided to spend our down time changing it with a little bit of potting then one week further on it was back to full steam ahead.

We pulled down our first potting machine which we had paid a 75% deposit on and then two weeks later we made a purchase of a £12,000 Da Ros Bark Topping Machine and both of them paid for themselves in the weeks of April.

Through active social media posts and promotions we doubled our sales during the lockdown period.

We gave all our staff the option of furlough if they didn't feel safe with our social distancing measures. However, apart from the team who were at risk, they all helped out. We now even employ some of the staff from our restaurant on the nursery.

During lockdown we continued to produce thousands of perennials and this is now giving us access to stock which is currently seeming impossible to get hold of due to the supply chain being totally overloaded.

When the reopening [of garden centres] was upon us we adopted our cafe booking system to move forward on a pre-booked appointment basis for people visiting the nursery. This worked extremely successfully allowing us to treble our revenues and halve the footfall keeping everyone safe and happy.

Our longest queue has been 3 people and lasted 5 minutes and our best business day saw £11k+, surpassing our pre lockdown record of £5k.

We are now drawing up new plans for our 140-seat food offering with an addition of a 240m2 glasshouse giving an alfresco dining experience amongst citrus trees and grape vines - real tropical retreat in the heart of Lancashire!

We will keep the restaurant side closed during the winter to carry out the necessary refurb works to make us Covid-friendly throughout 2021 from all angles surrounded by running water and handwashing facilities and spaced out tables among the olive and lemon trees and tropical vines. 

Year to date we are tripling compared to last year. With seven consecutive gold medals at RHS tatton in the floral marquee, we were used to selling a large numbers of plants on a good year yet with our recent expansion into the neighbouring two-acre growing field business is booming.

This is a success story amongst the doom and gloom and the future for the horticulture industry is very bright.

The growing side of horticulture is beginning a long needed resurgence taking horticulture back to the forefront where it used to be in the 1900s.

By John Foley, Holden Clough Nurseries - www.holdencloughnursery.com

  • If you would like to share your experience of the Pandemic 2020 and the impact it has had on your horticultural business, please send it and/or any pictures to hortweek@haymarket.co.uk (please no press releases or PR)

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