Horticulture Week Podcast: Graham Richardson of Johnsons of Whixley on growing plants through war, storms, recessions, pestilence and pandemic as the nursery celebrates its centenary year

Celebrating today Horticulture Week's 180th anniversary and Johnsons of Whixley's centenary, the new Horticulture Week podcast features the North Yorkshire nursery's group managing director Graham Richardson.

Some 11 members of the Richardson family work at the nursery, which was founded by Eric Johnson in 1921. Richardson gives a fascinating insight into the development of the business including when his father John "mortgaged his soul" to take over in 1963/4, when the company had just 11 staff.

From developing a jig to bend hoops, and early use of polytunnels and containerisation, to the rise and fall of council contracts, and now to servicing the amenity sector, cash and carry landscapers and designers - two-thirds of it's turnover - Johnsons have ridden the storms of bad winters of 1983, 2010 and 2013, diseases such as Dutch elm disease and fireblight, as well as Covid-19 and Brexit.

The nursery consists of five production centres servicing a head office site that concentrates production stock and incoming goods and provides the platform for despatch. Most sites have dedicated staff managed by a long term manager (many of whom having at least 30 years service) – staff on these sites are supplemented by agency staff in response to demand and can call on production hit squads who can provide a rapid response to production challenges or other forms of demand.

Johnsons now typically supplies 6-8 million plants annually and never takes success for granted, remaining acutely aware of the climate, seasons, economy and currently the pandemic.

Richardson talks about marketing, service, labour, supply issues, imports and barriers to expanding production with organic growth for import substitution.

"At the point when Boris Johnson announced the lockdown, had we known we would only end up 7% down we would have taken that on any day of the week. "

Latest turnover shows how Johnsons rode the storm of 2020, with sales just -7.4% down to September 30 2020 and picking up since then towards £15m annual turnover.

Podcast presenter: HW editor Matthew Appleby
Producer: HW digital content manager, Christina Taylor

If you are interested in producing a podcast with Horticulture Week, contact matthew.appleby@haymarket.com or roisin.kennedy@haymarket.com.

Listener feedback - please email hortweek@haymarket.com with "Podcast" at the beginning of the subject line.

Read the latest horticulture news, views, analysis, industry insight and data at horticultureweek.co.uk.

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