John Schofield and Lisa McCormack, co-owners, Battersea Flower Station

An 800sq m area of wasteland alongside railway tracks in south London has been transformed into Battersea Flower Station.

John Schofield and Lisa McCormack, co-owners, Battersea Flower Station - image: HW
John Schofield and Lisa McCormack, co-owners, Battersea Flower Station - image: HW

John Schofield from Tooting and Lisa McCormack from Balham left their jobs to set up "a garden centre like no other" with help from a Battersea Arts Centre set designer. All plants, trees and garden goods are sourced locally.

Q. What are your business backgrounds?

John: I've managed garden centres in south London for 20 years.

Lisa: Mine is in marketing for large corporations and I want this to be the complete opposite to that. I've been marketing director for Virgin Media, Help the Aged and Age Concern.

Q. How did you get together to form Battersea Flower Station?

John: We were introduced a few years ago through mutual friends. We'd both been dreaming about setting something like this up and we had amazingly similar ideas about what we wanted to do.

Lisa: We don't disagree on anything. John's amazing and knows everything. For me as a non-gardener, a lot of garden centres are quite intimidating. If we haven't got it, we can get it for you. We're for experts - or if you think you're going to kill everything, we can help you.

John: It's hard for people to be bold. They are confident with design inside their house but not outside.

Q. What is the background of the site?

John: For 25 years it was used to grow and store southern hemisphere plants that James Fraser (Avant Gardener) grew. It was closed off. Before that, it was used to store barrows from Battersea High Street Market. James cleared the site but left a lot of rubbish we cleared by wheelbarrow. We looked at lots of sites that wouldn't work but when we first looked at this one, we knew.

Lisa: On 1 December we moved in. We'd been looking for a site for three years but it's hard to find a piece of land that's not developed at a rate we could afford.

Q. What is the ethos of Battersea Flower Station?

Lisa: We have B&Q and Homebase nearby and we want to be the complete opposite of them. We wanted this to feel like a garden rather than rooms and rooms of Latin-named plants. What's really important to both of us is signposting and help for people. If they want something for a shady corner or aroma, say. Ikea has things that go together. We don't want to be Ikea but we're inspired by things that go together for your space.

John: People from outside London would be surprised about the kind of importance that Londoners place on local sourcing. There's a-very strong sense here that people are proud of living in Battersea and they like the idea of products not coming from a long way away.

Q. What has been the reaction since you opened the centre in December 2012?

Lisa: People are really keen to help us. They are so pleased we're here. A lady in her 80s leaflets for us and people bring in plastic bags. We've been reacting to what people are telling us. Lots of people asked for houseplants and now we have them, and people wanted cut flowers so we got a florist in. Everyone says that you should do coffee. We could have a caravan.

John: Even local businesses are asking: 'How can we help you?' and giving us window space. They can see it's difficult to start up.

Q. What is your view on other garden centres?

John: The UK has an amazingly good garden centre industry. There's nowhere like it. There are lots of good small garden centres in London - Clifton, Rassells, Camden, North One, Worlds End - though they aren't going to make millions. But there's a tendency for garden centres to get bigger, and that clearly works for them in some ways, but they become blander and they feel the same nationwide. They feel a little bit old-fashioned. You have Selfridges and then garden centres - the styling doesn't feel contemporary, it's like an old-fashioned M&S. But it works for them because they are the ones bringing in the money.

Q. Where are you getting your plants from and what will sell the most?

John: The plants are from Hillier, Whistleberry Nurseries - all over the place. We're looking at Polcrebo Nursery in Devon. We don't know what we'll sell most of but we think we're going to be heavily plant-focused. We have such a mix of customers we don't think we even know who they are yet - whether they will be young people with a balcony or experienced gardeners. What we do know is that everyone who comes in wants a little piece of what we have here, even if it's just a £1.60 primrose or some jam.

Lisa: Everyone who comes in says the same thing - we're an urban oasis and a secret garden. Couples hold hands as they walk through. I wanted an alternative to great big corporates, to make something that means something, is part of where I live and that people are proud to have here. It's quite easy in London. We don't have to do much to make it nice. We're just off Battersea High Street but you can hear the birds singing.


John Schofield
1990s-2012: Garden centre manager - Patio Garden Centre, Squire's
Reigate, Capital Gardens, Morden Hall
2012 to date Co-owner, Battersea Flower Station

Lisa McCormack
1994-99: Marketing head, SPSS
1999-2001: Account director, Revolution Group
2001-04: Planning head, OrangeComms
2005-08: Marketing director, Virgin Media
2009: Founder, Mojo Brand & Marketing
2009-10: Group marketing director, Age UK
2011: Marketing consultant, RHS
2012 to date: Co-owner, Battersea Flower Station

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