Work to modernise lavender wins prizes

Downderry Nursery scoops four prizes at RHS awards and owner Simon Charlesworth outlines future for small nurseries.

Dr Simon Charlesworth - image: HW
Dr Simon Charlesworth - image: HW

Downderry Nursery owner Dr Simon Charlesworth has seen his work transforming lavender from a fuddy-duddy plant to a chic garden choice has been rewarded with four RHS medals.

Charlesworth started his nursery in 1991, when he says lavender had a very old-fashioned image. "My aim was to bring it into the 20th century - not to make it trendy but to make it something that appeals to my generation - and get rid of its chintzy image."

Downderry, based in Tonbridge, Kent, became a National Collection in 1996 with 60 taxa and received Plant Heritage "scientific status" in 2009 for developing and researching the collection to 350 taxa.

Charlesworth has exported lavender species and cultivars to 26 countries and has a dedicated breeding programme. "Lavender have grown to be amazingly popular," he added. "I like to think we were at the start of the regenerative process."

He said more interest in aromatherapy and homeopathy, which use essential oils, and particularly lavender's appeal to bees during a summer "feeding gap" are behind the plant's resurgence. He does not believe the market will ever be sated and Downderry is helping fulfil demand through licensing its name.

"We're a very small nursery but we're branded in Germany as Downderry and sell into the biggest garden centre chain there." For those 250,000 plants a year, Downderry takes a royalty without growing any of them.

Charlesworth said this is something for small nurseries to consider "because they can't the produce the volume but have the expertise that many larger nurseries don't".

He added: "We're happy with our size at our age. It's a finely tuned unit and we're moving more into breeding and information than just plants - and that's the future for small nurseries. We have people with the expertise."

RHS Awards 2013 - Outstanding contributions to horticulture

- Young School Garden of the Year: Lucas Hatch

- Master of Horticulture awards: John Moore (Churchill College), Nick Lightfoot (National Trust, the Vyne), Tanya Silverton (Wellington College)

- Bursary prizes: Zdenek Valkoun (Dorothy Clive Garden), Dr Christopher Whitehouse (RHS)

- EH Trophy: Warmenhoven

- George Moore Medal: Eric Young (Orchid Foundation)

- Anthony Huxley Trophy: Hampshire Carnivorous Plants

- Gordon-Lennox Trophy: Medwyn's of Anglesey

- Farrer Trophy: Edrom Nursery

- Westonbirt Orchid Medal: David Martin (Cymbidium sweet 'Devon Sweet')

- Peter Barr Memorial Cup: Dr Peter Ramsay

- Holford Medal: Federation of British Bonsai Societies

- Reginald Cory Memorial Cup: Charles Valin (Thompson & Morgan)

- Wigan Cup: Birmingham City Council

- Colin Spires Herb Trophy: Downderry Nursery

- FE Rivis prize: Simon Charlesworth (Downderry)

- Williams Memorial Medal: Downderry

- Lawrence Medal: Downderry

- Harlow Carr Medal: Dr Hilary Dodson, Alan Foxall

- Associates of Honour: Andrew Mudge (Cliveden), Bernard Sparkes, Barry Starling

- Veitch Memorial Medal: Dr Peter Del Tredici, Peter Furness, Dr Keith Hammett, Sue Minter, Dr Alec Pridgeon, Margaret Owen

- Victoria Medal of Honour: Nigel Colborn, Brian Humphrey.

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