Yorkshire nursery looks back on 100 years of growth

One of the UK’s largest horticultural nurseries is celebrating its 100th year in business this month.

Monday, 21st June 2021, 12:55 pm
Horticultural nursery Johnsons of Whixley is celebrating its 100th anniversary this summer.
Horticultural nursery Johnsons of Whixley is celebrating its 100th anniversary this summer.

Johnsons of Whixley was founded by war veteran Eric Johnson in June 1921 and was bought by John Richardson in 1964; it has been owned by the Richardson family since.

The company has sold around 220 million plants during its long history, supplying the commercial sector, garden centres and affiliated horticultural trades.

Founder Eric Johnson started the company with minimum assets, selling his fruit, vegetables and garden plants from markets in Knaresborough and Otley markets.

Towards the end of the Second World War, Eric bought seven acres of land in Whixley and ER Johnson Nurseries, based at Cattal & Whixley, was born.

By 1964, when Yorkshire horticulturist John Richardson and his wife Dorothy took over, the company was producing 150,000 plants annually, employed 11 full-time staff and had a turnover of £30,500.

Today, Johnsons has almost 200 acres of land and 120 employees, rising to 150 seasonally. The business sells between five and six million plants and trees each year. Despite the pandemic and Brexit, turnover for 2020 was £13.2m, the second-highest in the company’s history.

John, now 83, is the company chairman and still works a four-day week. His son Graham is the group managing director, with support from his brothers Iain and Andrew, who are directors.

John’s grandchildren, Luke, Robert, Eleanor, Paul, Shaun and Jonathan, are all involved with the business, as is his daughter-in-law Tracey.

John said: “I always enjoyed physical work and growing things, so my life has been pretty ideal. There have been problems caused by things outside of our control, like the parks no longer buying directly from 1977, Dutch Elm Disease, Covid-19 and Brexit, but we have been able to survive them all so far.

“It is with great pride that I have seen my sons continue to develop the business year on year, and now I watch my grandchildren take up the reins to the even further successful growth of the company.”

Johnsons will celebrate the centenary with events throughout the year, including a party, an extra day’s holiday for all staff and 12 charity plant donations.