The buds at Burncoose are all plumped up and ready to burst open, a cheery sign that spring is (hopefully) almost around the corner. I just about managed to dodge a magnificent downpour to explore Burncoose’s woodland gardens and take a stroll through the nursery which is impressively full and beautifully organised – my gardening great aunt would have been mightily impressed.
Back in 1984 the Williams and Knuckey families formed a partnership that would prove to be a winning combination for the nursery, which sits on the road between Falmouth and Redruth. I can’t be alone in needing to double check that 1984 is Thirty years ago, it feels so recent but it’s true and this year is Burncoose’s big 3-0.
The business started as a traditional mail order company, exhibiting at Chelsea and other flower shows throughout the UK to advertise their new and unusual plants to a loyal and ever-increasing fan base. Thirty years on and the internet has obviously transformed the nursery but family links, loyalty and the Chelsea Flower Show remain the solid foundations of this successful green-fingered operation.
The business started as a traditional mail order company, exhibiting at Chelsea and other flower shows throughout the UK
“Like so many traditional small industries, time, competition and geography were not on our side. The arrival of next day delivery services and the internet has led to a total transformation of our mail order business in the last 12 to 15 years,” explained Charles Williams, senior partner at Burncoose and the present owner of the Caerhays Estate near St Austell. The Williams’ family history is steeped in plant hunting in Asia, the results of which are enjoyed today by thousands of visitors each year to Caerhays Castle gardens. Burncoose Nurersies has also been in Charles’ family for years and he continues to be involved hands on day-to-day.
This is a family who really know their business. They are passionate about plants, it’s why the nursery has one of the largest collections available by mail order and continues to offer rare plants, and those previously unknown, to UK gardeners – this year there are no less than 250 new entries in their catalogue.
It is set in some 10 acres and everyone who works there is passionate about plants – they all know their onions, as it were. For example, Gerry, who works on the cash desk, also designs the annual Burncoose RHS Chelsea exhibition along with Louisa – this is no mean feat, as it is a show seen by the world’s press and royalty including the Queen.
“Designing our Chelsea stand is quite a long and complicated process – we have to submit plans very early, making sure there is enough to fill the space but not so much that we can’t transport it all to London on one lorry,” Gerry told me.
Walk into the nursery, look up and you can see a vast array of awards and certificates dating back 30 years – they’re everywhere! To date there’s a tally of 21 Gold and nine Silver Gilt medals from RHS Chelsea and they hope to add to that this year. The RHS Chelsea Flower Show also celebrates a birthday this year, its 101st, and the Burncoose exhibit will create a display themed on ‘101 plants from China’ with some reference to its own 30th celebrations.
The team are adding to the birthday feel by throwing the garden gates open free of charge for the duration of 2014. “It is a way of saying thank you to our local customers,” said nursery manager Andrew Mills. The woodland garden covers around 27 acres and is described as ‘a garden for all seasons’. Stephen Dance, office manager (& general dog’s body – his words!), whose father worked in the estate’s gardens for 40 years, raising and naming varieties of magnolias, makes particular reference to the bluebells so don’t miss those come spring.
Stephen isn’t the only member of the team to have family roots at Burncoose. Philip Knuckey, whose father, David, was one of the original partners, now runs the very successful landscaping side of the business using plants from Burncoose and as the nursery has grown to become one of the country’s biggest specialist plant nursery with nearly 4,000 ornamental trees, shrubs, herbaceous and conservatory shrubs, there’s plenty at his (somewhat green) fingertips.