Bee Leaf Privilege Club

History of Notcutts



Roger Crompton NotcuttWoodbridge, at the head of the River Deben estuary, has a coastal climate. The heat of summer is often muted by cool winds off the North Sea and the ravages of winter are softened slightly.

Notcutts Garden Centre and Head Office stand on land which was originally owned by the Woodbridge Priory, dissolved by Henry VIII. The grounds were purchased from the Crown by Thomas Seckford, the Woodbridge benefactor and then passed into the hands of the Carthew family. A nurseryman called Thomas Wood purchased the land in 1749 and started Woods Nursery.

The original nursery site is in a sheltered valley of sandy soil, fed by a small stream, thus creating ideal conditions for raising young plants. The nursery was laid out so plants requiring damp conditions were grown near the stream, whilst those which could tolerate drier soil were grown higher, on the south facing slope.

In 1784, a visiting Frenchman, Francois de La Rouchefoucauld wrote, "I saw nothing but two nursery gardens near the town, one of 9 acres and the other of 4 or 5. They were full of small green trees, some of which were priced very low."

Thomas Wood passed the nursery to his sons, and eventually it came to John Wood, thus remaining within the Wood family for almost 150 years. Business was conducted principally with the owners of large country estates and of larger town houses. The nursery supplied many different types and varieties of fruit and forestry trees, as relatively few ornamental plants (as we know them today) were then available.

John Wood's catalogue of Fruit Trees and Roses, published in October 1895, lists no fewer than 95 apples, 35 pears, 25 plums, 16 cherries, 20 trained peaches, 7 nectarines and 123 varieties of roses. He produced his last full catalogue in the autumn of 1896 and died without succession in 1897. The nursery with its fine, old Georgian house, was put up for auction on 11th February 1897.

Notcutt's Family History

What an extraordinary name. Where did it come from?

In Elizabethan times it was probably "Northcote" as in those days names were spelt as they sounded, so in a West Country dialect it evolved to "Norcott". By the time William Notcutt moved from Wrington in Somerset to Ipswich in 1724 to become the pastor at the Tacket Street Meeting House, it had taken its current form - "Notcutt".

The early Notcutts were ministers, then linen traders, before Thomas Foster Notcutt (1752-1803) became a lawyer. There were lawyers in six generations of Notcutts until 1988, with 5 given the name of Stephen Abbott Notcutt. The father of the first Stephen had married into the Abbott family and it had been made clear that, if their name was perpetuated, family money would be left to the eldest son. The money soon ran out but the tradition continues and the youngest, Stephen Abbott Notcutt (VI) was born in 1982.

In Victorian England many professional men were interested in the natural sciences, and the Notcutt family was no different. Stephen Abbott Notcutt (III) had 2 sons. Stephen Abbott Notcutt (IV), born in 1865, had to join the family legal practice. He won a scholarship to Cambridge, where he took a National Science Tripos degree before reading for a BSc in Law in London.

His younger brother Roger Crompton Notcutt (later known as RCN) was born in 1869. He was in a way more fortunate as he was not burdened by obligations to enter the legal practice. It was recommended that, due to ill health, he should pursue an out-door life. Fortunately he also had a keen interest in nature, particularly in the growing of plants. This was an interest he was able to pursue when in his teens, he acquired the Broughton Road Nursery in Ipswich.

In 1901 RCN married Maud Hetty Smith Fielding of Ipswich and in 1902 Roger Fielding Notcutt, known as 'Tom', was born, later followed in 1906 by Hetty and Marjorie in 1912.

Tom took a Natural Science degree at Cambridge, like his uncle, SAN (IV), before him. Whilst training at Edinburgh Royal Botanical Gardens, he met Jean Macpherson and they married in 1929, two years after Tom returned to the nursery. In 1934 their son Charles was born. Tom's technical training was invaluable and this soon became apparent in the catalogues. In 1935, Tom, working with his father, published "Flowering Cherries" in the Journal of the RHS. 

Early Broughton Road

Broughton Road Nursery Staff

Starting purely as an amateur, Roger Crompton Notcutt began by growing vegetables. He subsequently devoted himself to the breeding and production of Chrysanthemums for which he became well known in the 1890s. He was a successful exhibitor at the summer and autumn shows of the Ipswich Horticultural Society, with much of the interest in these shows traced to his influence, as his skill attracted other leading horticulturists to compete with him. He first experienced show success in 1889 at the Ipswich Society Show when he received the National Chrysanthemum Society Silver Medal for the Premier Bloom of the show. This encouraged him further and in 1895 he received the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Merit for Chrysanthemum 'Edith Tabor', said to be "the best large yellow Chrysanthemum yet produced."

Broughton Road Nursery was composed mainly of glasshouses and frames, and during the 1890's approximately 45 staff were employed on the nursery.

Specimen palms and other plants were often hired out to decorate large country houses for balls and other events.

Floristry (in particular wreath making) was also a significant activity; ideal for a chrysanthemum grower, as important funerals required an enormous number of wreaths.

Chrysanthemum Catalogue

RCN produced two Chrysanthemum catalogues per year, in January and November. The catalogue of January 1893 lists 307 varieties, split into early flowering varieties for August to October, and other varieties, flowering September to November.

Catalogues were also produced for hardy perennials and herbaceous plants as well as for bedding plants, dahlias, begonias and geraniums and subsequently for general nursery stock. In 1900, hints on the culture of dahlias were included at the back of the catalogue. This tradition of useful and informative pages continues to the present day, as can be seen at the back of the Notcutts Book of Plants.

At the age of 28, RCN realized the business was outgrowing the Broughton Road Nursery, and was ready for expansion. The auction of Woods nursery in Woodbridge on 11th February 1897, came at a most opportune time. 

Nursery Management: 1897 - 1945

Roger Fielding Notcutt

RCN soon established his business in Woodbridge, moving with Maud into the old Georgian House on the nursery.

As RCN developed the nursery, his interests widened, holding membership of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Flower Show Committee for 30 years, of the Linnaean Society and of the Council of the Roads Beautifying Association (one of the earliest associations concerned with the environment). In 1912 he was appointed a JP. He served as a member of the Woodbridge Urban District Council for 33 consecutive years, being elected chairman in 1937.

RCN had an intense love of the countryside; as an expert on trees, his counsel and help were especially valued by the Suffolk Preservation Society, on whose Executive Council he served. In 1934, he donated the 4 acres of Kyson Hill to the National Trust - their first donation in Suffolk. This is a lovely stretch of hillside, with wide views of the River Deben. The Notcutt family have retained the link with the National Trust and of Kyson Hill, celebrating in November 2009 the 75th anniversary of its donation with the planting of an English Cherry by Charles Notcutt with the 3rd, 4th and 5th generation descended from RCN looking on.

RCN became particularly interested in trees and shrubs, amassing a large collection. He published "Flowering Trees and Shrubs: a handbook for gardeners" in 1926.

His management style reflected the times. The office manager was Ernest Bilney, and the nursery manager was Edward Thatcher. Each loathed the other, and would take every opportunity to tell RCN of the other's failings, so although RCN was regularly away from the nursery, he knew exactly what was going on.

In 1938, disaster struck. In January of that year RCN died of a heart attack. Like many first generation businessmen, he had not thought to the future, and had not trained Tom to succeed him. Although Tom dealt with all the sales correspondence in the office, and conducted customers around the nursery, he had not been involved in the day to day operation of the nursery or in controlling the indomitable Bilney and Thatcher. Suddenly he was expected to achieve all this, and to report on each day's activities to his mother, Maud. Unfortunately, it was not to be and Tom died that September.

Shows: 1897 - 1945

Horticultural Exhibition

As a result of his success at local shows with exhibits of Chrysanthemums from the Broughton Road Nurseries, RCN saw the value of showing locally and nationally in increasing his Woodbridge Nursery business. The RHS shows were then the key to national renown, much as today.

The year after taking over the Nursery, RCN won a Silver Medal for an exhibit of Apples and Pears at the RHS September Crystal Palace Show. The RHS Great Spring Show was at that time held in the grounds of the Temple, where he won a Silver Medal for herbaceous flowers in 1901, 1902 and 1904, progressing to a Silver Gilt Medal in 1905 and 1906.

By the time of the International Horticultural Exhibition in 1912, held in the grounds of Chelsea Hospital, RCN's landscaping skills had also developed. He staged a Rose Garden, which won a Silver Gilt Medal. The show was such a success, that the RHS moved their Great Spring Show to Chelsea in 1913, where it has remained ever since. RCN exhibited at this first "Chelsea", but it was not until the following year that he won his first Gold Medal for an Azalea Garden. Notcutts are one of only some half dozen nurseries to have exhibited at every Chelsea Show, winning Gold Medals most years.

Exhibits won medals further afield too, such as Silver at the Royal Show in 1911, and a Silver Gilt for fruit at the Shropshire Horticultural Society in autumn 1913. 

The Woodbridge Horticultural Show was the major local event of the year and RCN encouraged other exhibitors to attend, thus enhancing the show's reputation. Its splendid Silver Medal shows the Shire Hall built by Thomas Seckford on the Market Hill in Woodbridge.

RCN continued showing successfully throughout his life; the exhibits were the mainstay of the business. In 1934, when Tom asked for permission to return from Chelsea early to see his newborn son, this was refused! Shows continued after RCN's death; the last RHS medal before the Second World War was a Lindley Medal for an exhibit of Syringa species in June 1939. 

The Nursery Market: 1897 - 1945

The great country houses of Victorian and Edwardian England had large kitchen gardens which produced all their own fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Extensive parklands were planted with conifers and forest trees, rather than ornamentals. Woods Nurseries, and then RCN, supplied this market comprising of a relatively small number of key customers.

The imperious Head Gardener was a "highly important person", as his custom was critical to the Nursery. On visits to the nursery he was ceremoniously received and conducted around, as his large order was hopefully written down. Each summer RCN invited all the Head Gardeners to a special tea party in the yew hedge garden on the Nursery. At Christmas he wrote to each employer requesting permission to send a Christmas box to the Head Gardener.

After the First World War, the number of staff looking after large gardens declined - as did the annual orders. The business adapted to supply many more modest houses, with their smaller gardens and orders. 

Notcutts Truck

These orders were delivered locally by horse and cart, and later by one of the first lorries in Woodbridge. More distant orders were expertly packed in bracken, "a torture to use" as the stems split, and caused wrists to bleed as the willow shoot ties were tightened. Large orders were collected from the fields and taken straight to Woodbridge Railway Station to be packed directly with wet straw into goods wagons.

Orders still came from visitors conducted around the Nursery, and from the ever important shows, but also increasingly from the catalogue. Originally intended to aid other methods of selling plants, this became the only annual contact with many customers across the country.

RCN became particularly interested in the many new trees and shrubs, such as Prunus 'Ukon' and Fraxinus oxycarpa 'Raywood', being sent back by plant hunters, like Forest Wilson and Kingdom Ward. These plants were grown on the nursery and introduced to cultivation. His catalogue, which listed 961 varieties of general nursery stock in 1897, grew to 2,724 varieties in 1936, including a total of 19 plants raised and selected by RCN. In 1904, he raised and selected four varieties of Papaver orientale, following this by 1919 with three varieties of Aster Novi Belgii. He raised and selected Cotinus 'Notcutts Variety' in 1928, Viburnum opulus 'Notcutts Variety' in 1930 and Hibiscus syriacus rubus 'Woodbridge' in 1937 amongst others. 

During the Second World War, there was a reduction in nursery staff numbers. Fields were turned over to vegetables; five of the seven greenhouses grew tomatoes, and the frames were full of cucumbers. In only two greenhouses was Johnny Crane, then propagator, able to save precious stock of many plants. Despite his efforts, many varieties, including some of RCN's own introductions, were lost, and by 1947 only 989 varieties were being grown. 

Nursery Production: 1897 - 1945

Suffolk Punch

The original 11 acres had been cropped continuously with nursery stock for 150 years. RCN recognised the urgency for fresh land. In 1899, he rented Martlesham Field, buying it in 1931, (this land was only sold at the start of the Centenary year). Creek Farm was rented in 1907, and bought in 1925, with the adjacent Sluice Farm being purchased the following year.

All this land was of sandy soil, but not so that of the bankrupt Rose Nursery of Morse Brothers at Gazebo, purchased in 1934. This was sticky heavy clay so staff received an extra 2d an hour for working there. Special handles were essential on spades as ordinary ones broke. 

The horse was the nurseryman's "best friend". Suffolk Punches were used for putting out manure, ploughing and cultivating, and then, in the summer, for hoeing between the rows of plants. In the autumn, they carted plants from the outlying fields to the packing shed on the home nursery.

RCN bred Suffolk Punches on the marshes at Creek and Sluice Farms. All foals born on the Nursery were registered with the Suffolk Horse Society, and given the prefix "Kyson" after the name of the point where Martlesham Creek joins the River Deben. Once twin foals were born, most unusual for Suffolk Punches.

Other than the work of horses, everything was done by hand, machinery not appearing until after the Second World War. Planting was by spade and fork, and when finished it was said, "the land was as level and even as a billiard table". The skills of knife work on budding, grafting and pruning continued unchanged, as they had been for centuries.

Hours were long, with only two days holiday per year. In wet weather staff either worked or lost the time. Staff had to provide their own tools; the wooden handles were worn to the shape of the hand and it was a heinous nursery crime to use another man's spade.

Much secrecy existed between departments of the nursery. Greenhouses were locked to prevent access by unauthorised staff, and fruit trees were labelled by numbers, not names; this however had the advantage of making things easier for those with limited reading ability.

Apprenticeship was, and remains, the recognised way of acquiring skills. Apprentices have always filled both junior and senior positions on the nursery. RCN indentured his first apprentice in 1898 and by 1915 a total of 13 apprentices had been engaged. One was Johnny Crane, funded by a Seckford grant, who received £2, £3, £5 and £7 during the 4 years of his apprenticeship. Johnny became an expert plantsman in charge of the propagation department. When RCN obtained a cutting or two of a new plant, he said to Johnny "I will give you a shilling if you can root these." It was said that Johnny could root "a 10 year old walking stick." Johnny later became Nursery Manager and then Director. He was a member of the RHS Floral Committee B, and an RHS Associate of Honour, finally retiring after 52 years' service.

Prior to the purchase of Woods Nursery, a young boy aged 14 started work - affectionately known as "Dummy" Berry, as he was deaf and dumb from birth. Staff developed their own sign language to explain how to use a knife, and he became as skilled a craftsman as any, finally retiring after 67 years service.

During the gruelling nursery year there was one special highlight - the 'annual outing'. This took place on the Saturday between the Woodbridge and Ipswich Flower Shows. Throughout the year each member of staff paid a shilling a week into a fund, and drew the money out the night before the outing - 52 shillings in the pocket made everyone feel wealthy! Usually a charabanc was hired and Yarmouth was the most popular venue. Lunch was provided by RCN and there were as many as three speeches. Serious drinking, however, seems to have been the main objective and this would begin upon leaving Woodbridge. On one occasion Charlie Catchpole (nursery staff, 1918 1969) was drunk by lunch time, and slept all afternoon on the beach. The following morning RCN reprimanded him with "Don't get drunk before lunch again Catchpole". On the next occasion he went even further, becoming so inebriated he kissed RCN! Unfortunately there is no record of the reaction. 

Family and Management: 1945 - 2015 

Family and Management

Following a wide career in botanical gardens and the nursery industry Frank Knight (FPK) joined the nursery as General Manager in 1944. Arthur Metcalfe, who had succeeded Edward Thatcher, became the Sales Manager and Johnny Crane was promoted from propagator to Nursery Manager.

The nursery was still trading as the "Executors of R C Notcutt". Stephen Abbott Notcutt(IV), Maud's nephew and a solicitor in Ipswich, advised in 1946 that a limited company should be formed with Maud as Chairman and SAN (IV) and Gareth Salisbury, a local accountant, as External Directors. Frank Knight became the Managing Director. Ernest Bilney was the Company Secretary for the first year, being succeeded by George Green, who remained so for 32 years. This was the team that Maud Notcutt had with her to face the immediate post war years.

On a regular basis, and often on a Sunday, FPK would report to Maud on the activities of the nursery. She remembered her late husband's management style and would ask older members of staff to come and have a chat, telling her exactly what was going on. On FPK's next visit he would have to explain why! Thus Maud, known affectionately as "The Old Lady", continued to guide the nursery, although increasingly blind.

In 1954, when aged 80, she was heartened to hear that her grandson Charles had started his horticultural training following National Service as an officer in the Royal Artillery.

1955 was another critical year. In January FPK left to become the Director of the R H S gardens at Wisley, and Maud died in August, aged 81. SAN (IV) was appointed Chairman, a position from which he could oversee the training of Charles who joined the company in 1958.

Charles initially assisted Johnny Crane and tackled the unending task of stock control. He became responsible for field production and in 1963 passed this on to Brian Mortimer. Brian retired at the start of the Centenary year in 1997, after 46 years service, 34 years of them in charge of the nursery fields.

In 1964 Charles married and became Managing Director. His daughter Caroline Jane was born the following year and in 1967 his first son Roger William was born.

Family and Management

Realising that he needed other young management assistance, Charles asked a fellow ex Pershore Horticulture College student, David Clark, to join him and run the Garden Centres, by then numbering three.

As the company expanded its operations, so the management team grew. In 1972 Michael Bizzey joined as Management Accountant, later becoming Financial Director and Company Secretary. Michael retired in 2001.

In 1974 SAN (IV) retired as Chairman, being succeeded by Charles. David Clark became Nursery Production Director and Stuart Veitch succeeded him as Garden Centre Director.

In 1975, Andrew Charles, the last of the fourth generation was born.

Charles was involved in many aspects of the horticultural industry especially research and education. In 1977 he was awarded the Pearson Gold Medal by the Horticultural Trades Association. In 1986, he became the first Treasurer of the newly formed Institute of Horticulture, and President in 1988/89. He was a member of the council of the RHS from 1989 to 1999. In 1993 he received an OBE for Services to Horticulture and the RHS awarded him the Victoria Medal of Honour in 1997, the Centenary Year of both Notcutts and of the VMH.

David Clark was UK President of the International Plant Propagators Society in 1972 and served on the Joint National Farmers Union and Horticultural Trades Association committee for many years. In Notcutts Centenary Year the company won the 1997 Nursery Stock Grower of the Year award. David retired from Notcutts in 2001. In 2003 the company again won the Nursery Stock Grower of the Year award.

Caroline gained a joint Honours degree in Economics and Philosophy and has a second degree in Landscape Architecture. Despite having her hands full looking after Samuel, Alice and Matthew she joined the board of Notcutts Ltd in 2008 as a Non Executive Director and became Vice Chairman in 2015. Caroline makes a valuable contribution to the governance of the business and in ensuring that the values of the family are reflected throughout the organisation.

Andrew graduated with a joint honours degree in Politics and International Relations from The University of Southampton in 1997. He has worked in marketing for multinational corporations ever since; based in London. He is married with three children.

William graduated with an Honours degree in Horticulture. He joined the nursery in 1993 as a Management Trainee after several years as an officer in the Royal Navy. His first responsibility was at Waterers Nurseries on stock and quality control, 36 years after his father tackled a similar task at Woodbridge. William returned to Woodbridge at the start of the Centenary Year and was appointed Group Managing Director in July 1999 and Landscape Managing Director the same year. From 2003-2005 William was also directly responsible for the nursery business.

In April 2007 William was promoted into the position of Deputy Chairman and as part of a strategic review of the business a non-family Chief Executive Officer was appointed. This review led to the focusing of Notcutts activities onto the operation of garden centres. William remained responsible for the Notcutts farming, forestry and property management activities.

In August 2007, 110 years after purchasing the nursery business from the estate of John Woods, the Notcutt family decided to sell the business to the management team of the nursery and so started a new phase in the history of the nursery. During the 110 years of Notcutts ownership Notcutts Nurseries had grown into the largest wholesale production nursery in the country.

Charles and Caroline Notcutt

In December 2011 William left Notcutts in order to develop his own agricultural estate business, where he continues to apply his considerable expertise and management experience in horticulture, agriculture and property development.

Sadly, Charles Notcutt passed away aged 81 in July 2015. He was an inspirational and energetic leader of Notcutts and the horticultural community with an unrivalled passion for gardening and an exemplorary career and set of achievements. Charles was a larger than life charecter who will be greatly missed by family, friends, colleagues, customers and the community.

Caroline Notcutt continues her role as Vice Chairman and is instrumental in the running of the business today and upholding the family values and passion for gardening that has always been at the heart of the company. 

The Market: 1945 - 2007

In the decades shortly after the Second World War, new houses had smaller and smaller gardens. The business came not from the large country estates, but from the new housing estates. The nursery adapted and became more mail order orientated.

In drab post war Britain colour pictures in rose mail order catalogues were enthusiastically received and demand for roses boomed in the 1950s. Few colour pictures were available for trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. Notcutts linked with nurserymen in 15 other European countries to print colour pictures for inclusion in their own catalogues. These pictures gave a significant advantage to Notcutts.

In 1960 John Dyter succeeded Arthur Metcalfe as Nursery Sales Manager, later Sales Director and RHS Associate of Honour. He doubled the size of the catalogue, adding more information and advice, producing the first edition of "Notcutts Book of Plants" in 1961. The blue pages of "Plants for a Purpose" were added in 1980. The Centenary Edition was the 15th of this well known publication which has played a key role in the development of the business.

Twenty thousand catalogues were mailed out in 1961/62, and the business broke the £100,000 turnover barrier. Autumn was still the peak despatch period. By Christmas 1962 there was jubilation as the turnover was £10,000 ahead, but then the weather took its toll - a hard lesson. The land froze from Boxing Day to 11th March. Many orders were in hand that could not be despatched and no additional orders could be accepted for spring delivery. The nursery staff were laid off on the understanding that when the weather broke, over time would more than refund their lost pay. It was a relief when the turnover finally crept £400 ahead of the previous year's.

This winter had a critical effect on the industry. As it finally broke, customers discovered the ready availability of plants in garden centres, whilst awaiting their long delayed orders to be sent to them. This proved to be the first turning point in demand moving from direct ordering to garden centres. The second was the postal strike in the winter of 1971.

During the 1970s container grown plants became more freely available for planting throughout the year. Customers no longer had to choose from colour catalogue pictures, or try to visualise the plant from descriptions. This led to an explosion in demand in garden centres and decline in mail order. Small orders by mail were finally discontinued in 1994. However, the whole range of 3,000 plants grown can be ordered for collection at any of Notcutts Garden Centres, and larger orders can still be delivered direct.

Demand for plants has switched from autumn to spring and summer, when the weather is usually more conducive to gardening.

However, the cry now is for the gardener to return to autumn planting, so as to achieve better establishment before the increasingly frequent summer droughts.

Traditionally, the owners of the large country houses and gardens were the tree planters - both of numbers and varieties. There was little space for trees in the many new small gardens. From planting the rootstock on the nursery to lifting the standard tree takes some 4-6 years, so production has to anticipate demand far ahead. Fortunately, during the 1960s as the private sector demand for trees declined, the public sector demand for planting streets and new housing estates took off; the public authorities became the new tree planters.

Notcutts soon became one of the major suppliers of trees and other plants to public authorities, peaking in the year of "Plant a Tree in 73". Almost two thirds of Notcutts plants were then supplied to public authorities. Although an achievement in itself, it was recognised that such reliance on public expenditure had its dangers. Whilst maintaining this part of the business, the focus turned to supplying plants to the growing group of Notcutts Garden Centres, and also to other garden centres and nurserymen. The acquisition of Waterers Nurseries in 1982 brought not only additional container plant production, but also the valued custom of many garden centres.

This change of direction was most fortunate. Although concern for the environment has increased substantially during the 198's and 90s, public funds for planting have decreased. From the peak of two thirds in 1972/73, plants to public authorities plummeted to only 10% in 1995/96 - and yet Notcutts are still a main supplier to this sector.

Since the 1950s low maintenance planting has become essential in gardens. Demand for large herbaceous borders with many varieties of traditional plants has declined, whilst that for ground covering varieties which smother weeds has increased. Over the last 40 years the range of herbaceous plants grown has changed greatly.

Fruit trees were the mainstay of Woods Nursery, and Notcutts until the 1950s. As gardens became smaller with spraying unpopular and, more recently supermarkets have offered fruit all year round, demand has declined.

Roses have shown the greatest change of varieties. Of the 83 varieties of hybrid tea and floribunda roses listed in 1961, only four - Iceberg, Masquerade, Peace and Queen Elizabeth - are retained. The Plant Patent Act of 1964 lead to a flush of new rose varieties which had more novelty than improvement, and many have not stood the test of time. The Clean Air Act of 1967 lead to a significant decrease in the amount of sulphur being rained on to British gardens. Progress - yes, but the sulphur naturally controlled rose diseases like Blackspot. Many long established varieties showed their weaknesses. Gardeners lost confidence in roses, which declined in popularity. In recent decades, rose breeders have focussed on disease resistance, good foliage, compact size, repeat and long flowering. Notcutts, with Mattocks, have been in the forefront of introducing such modern roses, particularly the County Series of roses.

Mattocks Roses continues as a major rose brand today, with the focus remaining on disease-resistance and long flowering. The Mattocks range is listed under our Garden Centres section. 

Field Production: 1945 - 2005

Demand for ornamental nursery stock during the Second World War was minimal with the remaining crops becoming un-saleable and overgrown. Italian Prisoners of War helped to clear Creek and Sluice Farms, which were planted after the war with the few young tree stocks that were available. In the hot summer of 1947 little grew on the worn out light land, and in the drought of 1949 stock began to die. Although demand was picking up, there was little to sell. Some 50 years after RCN bought the Nursery, it nearly went out of business.

Just as RCN had realised in 1897 that he had to have fresh land, the new management team recognised it was essential to move on to heavier but workable soil. A block of such land became available in 1950, inevitably called Newfield. Creek and Sluice Farms and Gazebo were sold. The strong growth on Newfield soon gave good stocks for sale.

The little grey Ferguson tractors proved invaluable, and one of Charles' first decisions on his return was to say goodbye to the Suffolk Punches. In 1960 furrows were drawn out behind the tractor for the tree stocks to be placed in them, initially by hand, later mechanically. Great progress, except that on Newfield the furrows in the soil opened up in the summer drought and the tree stocks dried out. A lighter soil was clearly essential for mechanisation. In 1960, 15 acres of suitable farmland was rented to the north west of Woodbridge, followed in 1963 by 11 acres of park land at Bredfield, which threw excellent growth.

With traditional hand planting, stocks were planted in rows across 22 foot wide drifts. Now the rows were turned to run the length of the field. Diesel rotovators slowly churned up the centre of these rows to keep them free of weeds, throwing out dust and stones. "Was there no better machine for this?" Charles asked Johnny Crane, who said "Wat yew warnt's un 'orse" - so Charles brought back the horses! Polly and Dolly were allowed to see their time out.

But even the horses couldn't cope with another problem. The new farmland was ploughed deeper for tree stocks than it had ever been before, thus bringing up masses of weed seed. In the summer of 1962 the land looked like the poppy fields of Flanders. Fortunately, the herbicide Simazine came on the market, and Dick Cox was engaged in 1963 to be responsible for all herbicide and chemical treatments. Soon the fields were all exceptionally clean. This chemical served the Nursery well for several decades, but gradually groundsel and then other weeds built up resistance, and environmental concerns increased. Now the trend is away from chemicals with mini tractors cultivating up the rows and larger tractors drawing steerage hoes controlled by sensors.

Newfield served the nursery well during the 1950s but in 1965 it was sold for house building, thereby financing the purchase of more suitable soil, and the early garden centres.

The medium light land needed for expansion lay more or less along the line of the A12, between the light Sandling soils to the East and the coast and the heavier clays to the West. Thus field production began to move North East along the A12. 

In 1973 the pig farmer who had bought Creek Farm decided to sell it. He had farmed and manured it well, regaining its fertility, and had installed an irrigation bore - so the nursery bought the land back, but not for the same price! This irrigation proved invaluable during the severe droughts of 1975 and 1976. It was then clear there was no point in striving to grow nursery stock on light soil in Suffolk without irrigation. Bores were sunk wherever it was possible to get permission, and today all the Nursery fields can be irrigated.

No further suitable land came on the market near Woodbridge, and in 1978 the first fields at Hacheston were purchased. As demand for trees for the public sector contracted, the nursery fields consolidated at Hacheston and Loudham. Melton and Pettistree, each having had two crops of trees and of roses, are now covered with containers.

Traditionally lifting of trees was by spade - slow, hard, often wet and cold work. The first step in mechanisation was under cutting a whole row with a large U blade drawn by a cable and winch on the tractor at the end of the row, but this reduced the growth in the following year of any not sold. In 1982 a machine became available which could select only the tree required when positioned in the row, lifting it with a side mounted U blade driven by hydraulics. This and other subsequent machinery have revolutionised winter field work.

Although the spade and the hoe have largely been superseded, the knife has not. The craftsman's skills of budding, grafting and pruning continue, just as they did 100 years ago.

The only significant change during the course of the 20th Century has been the advent of plastic. Raffia was replaced by plastic tubing for tying tree stems to bamboo canes, and by polythene tape for tying in buds and grafts. When the old technique of chip budding, which did not create a union under raffia was shown to do so under polythene tape this was a major step forward. Not only did bud take increase significantly, but also the range of plants that could be successfully budded in the fields increased.

Many plants once grown in the fields are now produced throughout their nursery lives in containers. Some, however, have refused to adapt themselves and Lilacs are one of these, for which Notcutts have long been known as specialists. The large field crop of Lilacs thus continues unchanged although recently Lilacs produced via micro propagation have become available. These start their life in a test tube and are lined out in the fields after weaning for two years, before being prepared for despatch.

In 2005 field production at Woodbridge ceased so that the nursery could concentrate purely on the production of container grown plants for the wholesale market. Many of these plants were subsequently sold in Notcutts Garden Centres.

Propagation and Liners: 1945 - 2007

In the late 1950s Mist Propagation was developed, and the nursery was one of the first in this country to seize the advantages offered with this technology.

Hormone powder and modern pesticides soon followed as did the arrival of plastic. Gone were the clay pots and the wooden seed trays which Johnny Crane and his successor Frank Eley knew so well. By the mid 1970s their old small glass houses were proving uneconomic and so in 1978 a new propagation department of three quarters of an acre of glass was built on Creek Field, extended by a further half acre in 1988. It was designed to include all the latest propagation technology and when it opened it was one of the most advanced propagation houses in Europe. Optimal growing and propagation environments were provided with the well proven mist system providing very small water droplets which raised the air humidity without making the compost too wet.

A dual purpose shade and thermal screen covers the entire house. Controlled by a photoelectric cell, it opens and closes during the day for shade and at night for thermal retention. The floor is heated by a series of plastic panels with micro bore tubes through which hot water is passed. The inspection of the cuttings is done from above using a roller gantry system, so the maximum amount of growing space is utilised.

Biological control of White Fly and Two Spotted Mite as well as a range of other pests is carried out within the controlled environment of the propagation unit, and pesticides are only used where essential.

A wide range of propagation techniques are used to grow the almost 3000 varieties of plants for which Notcutts has become famous. These include growing from seed, stem and root cuttings, division, layering and grafting. 

Seedling rootstocks are raised and potted up before being brought into the glass house before grafting, so as to achieve a quick union. Grafting is probably the most skilled of all operations on the nursery, requiring high standards of knifemanship.

Propagation material is obtained from stock plants, production plants growing on before they are sold and specimen plants around the nursery. Dedicated stock plants are preferred as the plants can be conditioned solely for the maximum production of material. Much of Creek Farm is now turned over to growing propagation material.

Propagation levels in the early years of the 21st Century were in excess of 2.5 million young plants per year. Ivan Dickings, who started in the Propagation Department in 1954 became its Manager in 1978. Like Johnny Crane before him the RHS awarded him an Associate of Honour, in Notcutts Centenary year. Ivan retired in 1999.

A Micropropagation facility was added in 1982 and now a wide range of plants that are normally slow or hard to propagate are grown in the laboratory. Sterile conditions and the manipulation of natural plant hormones enabled tiny plantlets to divide, grow and subsequently root before they are transferred into compost. Whilst micropropagation was believed to make hard to propagate plants easier to propagate, after many years of experimentation it was concluded that it was best at propagating large numbers of plants quickly from a small resource of material. As such it was ideal for the rapid increase in numbers needed for the commercial launch of a new plant. Plants that were hard to propagate conventionally remain hard to propagate even in sterile laboratory conditions. The micropropagation laboratory was closed in 2005.

Liner unit at Newbourn

Traditionally the young plants produced would have been lined out in rows in the nursery fields, and were therefore called "liners". They would then have been grown on for 2 or 3 years before making a saleable size. Today young plants are potted on only when they are ready, and the growing of these young plants is carried out at the Liner Unit - a misnomer as they are potted on, and are never lined out!

In 1983 the Newbourne Land Settlement Association was disbanded and Notcutts were able to purchase 1.1 acres of propagation glass. This formed the basis of the new Liner Unit. This glass house was almost doubled in 1989, and in addition, other ex LSA local growers have been contracted to grow stock.

The liner potting operation was almost fully mechanised, with the young freshly potted plants moved around the house on conveyor belts. Knapsack mounted power packs drive 'wand' type hedge trimmers producing well branched, uniform liner plants.

The liners were graded and prepared for final potting before being despatched to one of the three container units. Preparation for potting includes pruning, and the removal of the liner pot. The liners were transported in trays, stacked on pallets. The Newbourne liner unit was closed in 2007.

Containers: 1965 - 2007

The growing of plants in tin cans first started in America before World War II. Tin cans were used in this country when available, but it was not until the advent of cheaper plastics, and in particular polythene, that container growing methods were seen as an alternative to field production.

Container grown plants have advantages over bare root plants, being easier to handle by staff and customer alike in the garden centres, and they are available all year round. The advent of container grown plant production has revolutionised the nursery industry.

In 1965 a small 0.5 acre area on the home nursery was laid out as a trial ground. The method proved successful, but the area was on a slope and in the way of Woodbridge Garden Centre's expanding Planteria.

Another trial area was built, this time on Creek Field, and this proved to be the model testing ground for a new 20 acre container unit that was started on Melton Field in 1972. This was laid out to allow maximum field utilisation with low growing plants grown on the road between the wheel tracks and high clearance tractors were purchased, as these had the ability to drive over the top of the crops. During the 1980's the large tractors were replaced with mini tractors that pull gangs of self steering trailers behind them. During the early years of this century Electric powered golf buggies replaced the diesel powered mini tractors.

Polythene tunnels were built to provide for winter protection and quicker growth throughout the year. With the compost regulated by the nurseryman and the amount of water and temperature that the plants are grown with also likewise controlled, growing plants had never been easier. In case complacency should creep in, it was not without its problems. In February 1985 all the Melton 'poly tunnels' collapsed under the weight of snow. It got worse. In late August 1987, a localised, golf ball sized, hailstorm hit the Woodbridge and Melton areas. It affected Creek Farm fields, but not the adjacent glass propagation house. It moved out onto the River Deben, travelling inland and across Melton, damaging every car as it went, denting roofs, bonnets and smashing windscreens before totally devastating the Melton container unit. Here, pots were split from top to bottom, polythene tunnels shredded, branches snapped and plants defoliated, 100,000 plants had to be repotted, 3 acres of polythene tunnel had to be re roofed.

This was nearly completed, when the storm of October 1987 blew it away.

By 1982 additional container capacity was required. That same year, Notcutts bought Waterers Nurseries, and this resolved the space problem, short term. In 1985 Pettistree container unit was started, and by 1989, 20 acres of containers had been completed and a 2¾ acre glass house had also been built, providing protection for foliage and roots alike, which are far more exposed in pots than when grown in the ground. Expansion has continued and in 2007 Notcutts Nurseries had the largest acreage of containers in the country. In 2000 a 3¾ acre glasshouse was built, with sub-irrigation capillary sand beds throughout.

Irrigation water was obtained from bore holes and at Melton a recycling process using slow sand filter technology "cleans" the water, removing any chances of bacterial infection being spread.

The potting operation was almost fully mechanised. The potting machine and associated robot takes empty pots, fills them with compost and loads them onto a trailer for transportation to the growing area automatically. The only skilled staff activity is the positioning of the young liner plant within the pot. The container nurseries at Pettistree and Melton were leased to John Woods Nurseries in August 2007, but by the autumn 2009 John Woods nurseries had rationalised further and focused their production exclusively on the Pettistree nursery site. 

Waterers Nurseries

Waterers Nurseries in Bagshot, Surrey, was started in 1825. For over 150 years Waterers showed considerable skill, patience and persistence in breeding improved varieties of Rhododendrons. Over 100 varieties were introduced, but perhaps the best known the world over is 'Pink Pearl', which was first released in 1897.

During the 1950s the late Percy Wiseman (Waterers Nursery Manager 1924-1963) realised there was an increasing requirement for compact growing Rhododendrons for the smaller garden. He started hybridising Rhododendron yakushimanum with various compact growing, large leafed hybrids. The result was an outstanding series of low growing, free flowering plants, one group of which was named after the seven dwarfs but perhaps the best hybrid is named after him.

In 1982 Notcutts was offered the nursery and garden centre side of the business, Waterers Landscapes being retained. This brought Notcutts six advantages: another Garden Centre in prosperous Surrey, a well respected trade name with many valuable garden centres as customers and much good will, a distribution base west of London, additional propagation and liner facilities, 30 acres of nursery land, when container space was running out at Woodbridge, and finally, expertise and stock of ericaceous plant which had not been a strength at Woodbridge.

The garden centre was soon incorporated into the growing family of Notcutts own garden centres.

The nursery continues to provide ericaceous and general nursery stock, predominantly to Notcutts Garden Centres and also to the trade. In addition, there is a purpose-built cash and carry department, "Select and Collect". This caters for the smaller landscape contractor, and from here the entire range of Notcutts plants is available.

In 1998 Round Pond Nurseries was added to the growing family of nursery businesses. Located only six miles from Bagshot, the 15 acres of container unit quickly became a satellite production nursery, expanding the ericaceous speciality of Waterers by adding a new range of varieties of Rhododendrons and Azaleas.

In 2000, Richalps Nurseries was acquired. As a specialist Alpine and Herbaceous Perennial nursery the broad range of promotional plants was a welcome addition to the range of varieties available through Notcutts.

In 2006 production at the Waterers and Round Pond nurseries ceased, with all production transferred to Woodbridge.

Mattocks Roses

Mattocks Roses

Mattocks Roses of Nuneham Courtney, near Oxford, was started in 1875. It was probably the best known mail order rose supplier in the country when it was acquired by Notcutts in 1985. Mattocks Roses, for it retains the name, continues to be the agent in this country for the rose breeder, Kordes of Germany. Through Mattocks, Notcutts have remained at the forefront of the exciting world of rose breeding, introducing many new varieties each year.

The most successful group of roses yet introduced are the "perpetual flowering" County Series. Each one is named after a different county in England and Wales, and so far 20 counties have been covered. Originally introduced as ground cover roses, they have found many uses in urns, tubs and planters as well as in hanging baskets.

The garden centre at Nuneham Courtney became the ninth in the growing family of Notcutts own garden centres.

Every year Mattocks exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show, and like Notcutts, won Gold Medals most years. Mattocks also exhibited at the RHS Hampton Court. In 2000 all rose production was transferred from Oxford to Woodbridge.

The Mattocks range of roses remains available in Notcutts Garden Centres in their distinctive branded purple pots. These roses will appeal to the discerning gardener who appreciates the disease resistance and superior breeding of this range. 

Shows: 1945 - 2009

In the 1950s and 60s the Notcutts Nurseries exhibited at many national and county shows. In more recent years these shows have swung from generating significant levels of sales for the nursery to being a valuable form of publicity for the Garden Centres. This has led to an easing of the Show Department's timetable but not a reduction in the requirement for skilled preparation and timing of plants.

Notcutts exhibited at the RHS Chelsea, Hampton Court and Gardeners World Shows as well as at the Suffolk County Show until 2008.

Notcutts Landscapes had been instrumental in the design and building of the many medal winning exhibits built at the Chelsea show since the war, including the three Lawrence Medal winning exhibits in 1969, 1981 and 1994. This coveted award is given annually for the best display seen by the Society at any of its shows, and is particularly sought after by all exhibitors.

The Notcutts' Centenary Exhibit, on the coveted Monument site, celebrated the centenary by recreating glimpses of previous successes at Chelsea. It drew together the most successful themes of the past Notcutts' Lawrence Medal winning designs.

In 1969 visitors could look over the Great Marquee for the first time ever, from a bridge built on the Monument site. In 1981 for the first time ever, mature climbing plants were displayed by aspect against walls. This was repeated in 1997 around octagonal walls. In 1994 plants were arranged by colour theme for the first time ever. And was repeated in 1997 within the octagons.

From the first show at Chelsea, until Notcutts last exhibited in 2008, the company won 50 Gold medals, with the other years being awarded a Silver Gilt medal. In 1986 it became the first company to be responsible for 3 gold medal winning exhibits of Notcutts, Mattocks and Ballerina apple trees at a single show.

Notcutts exhibits were renowned for their educational theme and plant associations, each year a new theme inspired customers to try at home what they had seen at the show.

Notcutts Landscape: 1902 - 2008

Roger Crompton Notcutt's landscape department was formed at the turn of the century to allow him to develop further the service that he was providing to his customers, the large country estate owners of East Anglia. RCN would travel out, often with Mr Martin, his head foreman (and, in effect, designer), to visit the owner and head gardener and discuss with them their preferred planting scheme.

A foreman, and in later years, a landscaping gang would be sent from Woodbridge. They would often stay away until the job was completed, hiring additional labour and equipment as required locally.

As RCN's reputation for quality designed and constructed gardens developed, so he undertook larger and more prestigious commissions. Locally, Notcutts were involved in the design and construction of the Promenade and Spa Gardens at Felixstowe. Notcutts planted the Avenue of Remembrance in Colchester in 1926 and the Woodbridge bypass with Cherry and Poplar trees in 1932. It was even involved in sowing grass in the early years of Ipswich Town Football Club's Portman Road ground.

After the Second World War the Landscape Department was re-formed and travelled further afield, with commissions for work in London as well as at the new towns of Basildon, Harlow, Letchworth, Welwyn Garden City and Witham.

In 1960 Mark Rummary joined as designer, subsequently Manager and eventually Landscape Director, until he retired in 1994. He had designed all of Notcutts Chelsea exhibits since 1967 and was awarded an Associateship of Honour in 1993 by the RHS.

In 1965 the existing landscape department at the Sydenham Nurseries in Birmingham became Notcutts Landscapes. There were also branches at Norwich and Tunbridge Wells.

Notcutts Landscapes upheld the tradition creating practical and imaginative designs for gardens of all sizes from country estates to tiny courtyards, for over a century. The implementation of the designs was undertaken by teams of skilled and experienced craftsmen, a large proportion of who worked for the company for many years.

Their skills and expertise have won many national awards over the years, including the prestigious British Association of Landscape Industries and Association of Professional Landscapers top annual awards.

At both branches only one point of contact was provided, from initial inquiry through the design stage, to the construction and completion of the work. All the construction staff work strictly to the detailed specifications and drawings, ensuring that the end result achieves only the very best standards in garden design.

Both branches operated from the garden centre sites: Woodbridge covering all of East Anglia, Solihull covering the Midlands and the upper reaches of the Thames Valley. During 2007 Notcutts Landscapes became a design only business and in 2008 Notcutts Landscapes ceased trading.

Notcutts Garden Centres 1958 - Present Day

Our First Garden Centre

NOTCUTTS have always retailed directly to the public. In 1897 one of the attributes of the nursery was the seed and floristry shop that was then on the side of the Georgian house that RCN bought at auction. In 1913 he bought premises in The Thoroughfare in Woodbridge on the corner of New Street.

By 1953 this small town centre shop was in need of repair and was not meeting the customer demands placed upon it. Despite concern that customers might be unwilling to travel the half mile from the town centre to buy flowers, plants, seeds, bulbs and other supplies, a garden centre was built on the nursery in 1958 - one of the first purpose built garden centres in the country. A 'Planteria' was added shortly after, a name created by Notcutts and now used throughout the plant retailing industry.

In the 1960s garden centre retailing blossomed. The big freeze of 1963 not only affected the nursery, but created a surge in demand for plants at garden centres in preference to mail order. The 1971 postal strike had a similar affect. The garden centre family group has now expanded to 18 centres, all with their own personality and each justifying a visit in their own right.

The original garden centre concept has developed into a form of retailing as sophisticated as any other. Christmas decorations, gift ware, pets and restaurants share space with traditional garden sundries but garden centres remain pre eminent in the selling of plants.

All of our garden centres offer: a comprehensive range of "Guaranteed to Grow" hardy plants, (with 3000 varieties to choose from, many grown at Notcutts' own nurseries), some of the finest garden furniture collections in the country (sourced from all over the world), a wide range of essential garden sundries such as tools, fertilisers, garden chemicals and irrigation equipment, an assortment of houseplants, and seasonally, a magical array of Christmas decorations.

Notcutts believe that the staff are the key to achieving both excellence in gardening and in business, thus benefiting both the customers and Notcutts alike. The staff are drawn from a wide age band, and bring a variety of skills and experience into the garden centre. Many of them have a broad knowledge of gardening, whereas others specialise in specific areas. All have an enthusiasm for working with customers.

It is Notcutts objective to provide the highest possible standard of customer satisfaction. Staff are keen to advise on a wide range of gardening matters and additionally they are able to provide many special services, such as gift wrapping, and of course helping load large goods into customers' cars.

Notcutts commitment to customer care aims at maximising both the customers' pleasure in visiting the garden centre, and also the staff's job satisfaction. The garden centre is an exciting, stimulating and enjoyable environment in which to shop and work.