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I find your website useful and easy to us. I also enjoy your changing ads. in papers and mags. On Saturday at the Garden Organic AGM Professor Ian Lang, talking about Food Security urged us all to grow more fruit. He pointed out that in Britain we produce a mere 5% of the fruit we eat, and we should consume 9 a day not just 5 a day fruit and veg. Last November I planted your Polka raspberries. They are now strong tall vigorous canes, tallest I have ever grown and producing throughout the summer. I'll need steps to pick the late ones!! My first purchase from you was before the web, shrub roses for my allotment for the vit. C. Enjoyed your family history.
Betty Dawes, Peak District, Derbyshire

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I find your website useful and easy to us. I also enjoy your changing ads. in papers and mags. On Saturday at the Garden Organic AGM Professor Ian Lang, talking about Food Security urged us all to grow more fruit. He pointed out that in Britain we produce a mere 5% of the fruit we eat, and we should consume 9 a day not just 5 a day fruit and veg. Last November I planted your Polka raspberries. They are now strong tall vigorous canes, tallest I have ever grown and producing throughout the summer. I'll need steps to pick the late ones!! My first purchase from you was before the web, shrub roses for my allotment for the vit. C. Enjoyed your family history.
Betty Dawes, Peak District, Derbyshire

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1943 - 1973... From Childhood Entrepreneur To Nurseryman

(This text has been extracted from the book 'Escapism' which was written during the postal strike of 1973 - in those days before the likes of credit cards, telephone ordering and of course the internet the postal strike meant mail order sales ceased and so Jeremy had time on his hands to write a book!)

I have mentioned in various parts of this book, or rather indicated that I started growing plants as a kid. In actual fact, my interest in gardening and nature, began when I was about nine years of age, it is true to say that in my early youth, horticulture proved my most absorbing hobby. I used to keep the most enormous Cactus in my bedroom, together with green lizards, much to my mother's concern, as well as breeding goldfish and white mice.

As a child I was living at Chestnut Grove in Isleworth in Middlesex, and found that I had a surplus of plants and mice and, accordingly, these used to be taken on the trolley bus to the local pet shop, and a few 'shillings' earned here and there. My parents were keen amateur gardeners and were by no means professional.

Jeremy Shirley at home in the garden with parents Eric and Eve. 1956They just liked the garden to look nice, as most people do. They had made a large garden pond that produced a surplus of aquatic plants that were, or so I found, in great demand, at 2d a strand (old pence)! I don't know when I thought of commercialising on my hobby, it just seemed to happen, and eventually, I had sold sufficient aquatic plants to enable me to buy a second hand bicycle, and eventually, I saved up for a motorbike. On leaving school I choose to take horticulture as a career. Apart from taking Botany and Zoology, at Spring Grove Polytechnic in Isleworth, I took no other theoretical work. Educationally, I was not up to the standard to go to University, and I am pleased in the circumstances and position that I find myself today, that I did not! Instead I choose the only opportunity that seemed to be open to me, and this was to take a practical career with a number of leading growers in the country. I remember my first job distinctly was with a firm known as F.A. Secrett, of Bell Farm, Walton on Thames. They have a large market garden holding in Godalming at the time of this book going to press, and my first job was hand washing Leeks in large metal tanks of icy cold water! I did this day in day out for six weeks. I smelt like a Leek, nevertheless, today I like to eat Leeks, although it always reminds me of those early days! I was moved on to various jobs, like cutting Cauliflowers, and Lettuces, and getting a general idea as to how a busy market garden worked. I stayed with the Company for just over two years, and to my parents regret changed my job and had my first insight, as it was, to ornamental horticulture growing, Gardenias, Stephanotis, Chrysanthemums, Tomatoes, Lilies and outdoor flower crops on a nursery in Hampton in Middlesex. Although I reached a managerial position, strange as it may seem, very quickly, possibly because I was very enthusiastic with everything I did, I chose to leave to get even wider horticultural experience! This went on for the next few years. One company I went to gave me the position of Seed Manager, and I found myself writing a newsletter for the United States Organic Gardening Clubs. This 'brought in' for that particular company, a large amount of business!

Jeremy and then girlfriend Joan out side their 'packing shed'. 1958I was now about twenty two years of age and had the title of Seed Manager. My wage was £10 a week! I had a new Lambretta motor scooter, some savings and an interesting job. However, the particular company that shall be nameless, was in a bad way financially. It was then, that I semi-decided to branch out on my own, part time - with my girlfriend, who was nearly eighteen (My wife and co-director of this business today) On an old duplicating machine we printed off some seed lists, and I bought packeted seed from a wholesaler in Essex, which I advertised in the classified sections of the gardening magazines. Sales were very poor, and the company with whom I was working found out my girlfriend and my's side line business, and I was sacked! It was at that stage in my life or career that I thought about getting out of horticulture altogether, and I decided to go into the construction industry, knowing absolutely nothing. I joined one of the world's leading firms of pre-cast concrete building component manufacturers. I took a management apprenticeship, whilst in my spare time, my girl friend and I grew plants!

After about a year, I saw an Assistant Works Manager job at a concrete factory advertised at Shepperton Middlesex. I applied for the job, and got it with an extremely good salary. By then with my girlfriend's and my spare time efforts, we had saved for and purchased a bubble car and were seriously thinking about getting married.

We were refused planning permission on a piece of land near Addlestone in Surrey for a home, and as it was at that juncture that my boss offered to sell me one of his properties at Lightwater in Surrey. Needless to say, we were both delighted and managed to scrape together the necessary deposit and get a mortgage with the Local Authority. Everything we had went into that little property in Lightwater. We were married and on return from honeymoon, my boss who had sold me the property, gave me two weeks notice, as the company had been taken over by another organisation from West Drayton in Middlesex! You can imagine how I felt on returning home, with no money in the bank, newly married and no job! My wife's opinion was completely the reverse to what I thought it would be, and I remember her saying, "That's good, now you can start on your own". I had then graduated, so to speak to a mini-van.

Taming The Garden At Woodpeckers.I had kept up-to-date by way of interest as a hobby in horticulture. I watched the various horticultural trade publications, and knew of a Dutch bulb importer, who offered bulbs at the time, on a sale or return basis. With no assets, I went to see him, took the plunge of getting bulbs packed up into brown paper bags, with pretty pictures on the outside of the bags, and literally hawked them all round the shops in London in my mini-van. At this time, bulbs had only recently come off Government quota and we managed to scrape a living. I started packeting up seeds and selling these by mail order to wholesale growers through the Trade Press. At our home in Lightwater, we built a large greenhouse - the two of us together. despite my knowledge and experience gained in the building industry, after the first week of getting this greenhouse constructed, it blew down in a gale! Nevertheless we put it up again, this time in a blinding snow storm, which went on for days and days, and eventually my wife and I glazed and put every piece of it together ourselves. I started to grow plants on a larger scale, having previously placed small classified advertisements in the Exchange and Mart with a reasonable mount of success. My wife planted up miniature gardens, and these of course were also hawked out of the 'bulb season', all over London to many customers that I had established. However it was about this time, that yellow lines started to appear at the kerb-side with their implications of 'No waiting' or parking restriction orders. In consequence I was desperate (we now had a baby on the way) to try and do better business. So the first major gamble was made. A classified advertisement costing £21 was placed in the Daily Express from a public telephone box. I wouldn't imagine that one could do this quite so easily today. The initial response was very good, and encouraged us to carry on.

Just as we were getting on our feet at Lightwater, the problems of Town & Country Planning started to wield upon us, for conducting a business from a private residence, and in consequence, we were threatened with an enforcement notice. It was quite obvious that we could not carry on in Lightwater in Surrey and in consequence we searched the agents and countryside for an established horticultural holding or business. It was impossible to try and find a modern holding for we were obviously very short of money. Eventually we found a ramshackle place in 1963. It stood in five acres of scrub and woodland and tumble down poultry huts with a shabby nissen hut for a home. That was the start of Kent Country Nurseries.

The Property We Moved To In Challock. 1963We moved in July 1963 and working sometimes fourteen and fifteen hours a day, seven days a week, struggled to pull it into shape, both with roadside sales, mail order and my tour to the City of London, selling little Cactus Gardens and bowls, amongst my established past customers. However, I gradually let this slide, as more and more yellow lines and parking wardens appeared on the scene.

We then concentrated our entire efforts into developing the site, into as I term it today, a family 'Plant Centre'. Needless to say, there are more than just two of us today, and at the time of writing this, the staff, full time staff runs at about sixty in peak season. A nearby farm was purchased in 1969 where shrubs, trees and conifers, and a wide range of stock, in fact, much of the stock offered in this book, is now produced. Since then, we have just added a further ten acres of outside land.

Joan Loads Funeral Bouquets Into The Car.Many problems came in the early days, tremendous adversity both with Local Town And Country planning, and problems still arise. The prolonged postal strike in early 1971 was one of the latter blows, just as we were about to get into our Spring selling season, and the weather amenable for gardening. Right back in the early days in the Autumn 1964 the heating plant packed up and a whole crop of Chrysanthemums in bloom froze solid, due to lack of fuel. It was a job to make ends meet. I can well remember my wife and I literally sat down and cried. But still, we had to carry on. Later problems arrived with power cuts causing heating plant to fail and accordingly, a second-hand generator was purchased to try and overcome this. In recent years this was replaced by a large automatic stand-by generating plant, and what a boon it proved during the coal strike period of 1972, and I know will do so in future years! Power failures are quite common in this part of the world with so many overhead cables. This is very much a country district and often in high winds falling branches from over-hanging trees bring down the power lines!

The New & Modern Showrooms Of Kent Country Nurseries.The business as it is today has been developed out of a hobby and we have surrounded ourselves with a good team of diligent, hard working personnel. The mail order business is very much the life blood of this concern, and many people would be amazed and I am not divulging figures here, of the considerable capital investment that has annually been made to provide modern packing facilities, construction of greenhouses, heating plant, concrete roads, drains, automatic irrigation, office accommodation, machinery etc. It is still developing to try and give you, our valued customer, an expedient and better service. I have always believed, since starting this business, in trying to invoke personal callers, to see the stock, to see this place, that is completely independent of all price rings. I have always endeavoured to find and produce unusual plants.

To those with the courage, even with all the problems of penal taxation and planning controls, I feel it would be possible to duplicate or to start such and enterprise as this again. If one has the ability to think and work hard, mountains can be moved. I must add we have found in recent years the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, very helpful towards us. Remember this business, started originally on a capital of less than ten shillings or fifty pence as it is termed today, with our first advertisement going into the Exchange and Mart costing 6s 8d six shillings and eight old pence with a few garden plants that were available and as I have outlined in Chapter 6.

Inside The Modern Showrooms - Way Before Garden Centres Had Been Thought About!I hope that you have found a lot of useful information in an easy to read and understandable manner. I am fully aware that there are catalogues and brochures giving long lists of Latin names. To my way of thinking, this conjures up very little interest to those who want to start or to become involved in this delightful leisure pursuit.

I hope that should you decide to visit us or send an order by mail, whether you be professional man or woman, or a vital part of industry, or factory hand, that I have been able to arouse your interest and curiosity! However large or small your order, I will personally try to see that it is met with expedient attention. Meantime Happy Gardening. Happy Escapism!