Home to thousands of indoor and outdoor plants with some grown in its nursery, the family firm has grown steadily and now has three centres as well as an online store.
Castle Gardens and Poundbury Gardens welcome customers in Dorset, while Brimsmore Gardens does the same in Somerset. All have restaurants and Brimsmore a farm shop too.
Managing director Mike Burks and his wife Louise began by opening Castle Gardens in Sherborne in 1987 after studying horticulture at Bath University.
“From the outset we wanted to create a welcoming environment for gardeners of all ages whatever their experience, places where anyone can visit, learn and become inspired,” explains Mike.
“All of us have the responsibility to protect our little patch of the planet. Gardening with the environment in mind and working with the community have always been our ethos.
“All three sites have blossomed into vibrant centres at the heart of their communities. We work with schools, charities and local groups to raise awareness about their initiatives while promoting the importance of gardening.”
It’s estimated some 3.5 million more people, many of them younger living in smaller spaces, have become gardeners in the past few years, prompted by increased awareness about climate change and the importance of well-being due to Covid.
“We are seeing that interest in a rise in demand for house plants and container growing – window boxes and baskets. As an independent business, we are agile and that has enabled us to respond quickly to changing trends,” observes Mike.
“This is not a passing phase. Over half of our new customers are still with us.”
The Group employs 160 and, with growth returning, turnover in 2024 is forecast to be more than 15 per cent up on 2019’s £7.5 million.
Support from Lloyds Bank has been a constant for the business and proved its worth supplying a £900,000 funding package when everything ground to a halt during lockdown.
“It was quick, straightforward and the security it provided was invaluable,” says Mike.
“Our suppliers have continued to be paid on time and that good faith pays off for both of us. The supply chain is settling down. Inflation and rising maintenance costs are still a concern, but gardening is comparatively very good value as an activity with lasting benefits.”
As well as offering free support to local gardening clubs, collaborating with schools, charities and wildlife trusts are all part of the Group’s daily life.
Most recently its Poundbury Gardens centre has donated plants and compost to Craig’s Courtyard, a planting project in memory of a long-serving Cerne Abbas surgery GP, Dr Craig Wakeham, who died from Covid.
The help is part of the Group’s plan to undertake 15 social good projects and provide a boost to communities deeply affected by the pandemic.
Through its education work, a school’s garden it supports is sowing the seeds for a new generation of conservationists and Castle Gardens also hosts The Green Shed project providing work opportunities for adults with learning difficulties.
RHS Chelsea always delivers a sales boost and this year’s visitors will be able to spot some 30 shrubs and perennials the Group has supplied such as the Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket’ for the mood-uplifting The Space Within Garden.
The display, developed by land-based college Kingston Maurward, is part of the show’s Sanctuary section and another heartening sight there will be the plant pots returned by the Group’s customers responding to its hugely successful recycling scheme.
The business’s sites, which it leases from long-standing landlords, are powered by solar panels, heat pumps and biomass heating while rainwater is harvested and peat-free compost promoted.
Christmas now plays a key role in easing seasonality sales dips and enabling staff to be kept on. As well as the nursery Louise runs this operation, creating centres that have become renowned for their award-winning show stoppers.
“We use repurposed and recycled materials and source decorations from small-scale makers and fair trade businesses so we hope they last a lifetime,” adds Mike. “Our trees are collected and reused for soil improvement. We do our best to do the right thing and act with integrity.”
And for customers wanting a new star for this year, Mike is singling out UK-native the hardy Nemesia Wisley Vanilla and its abundance of white blooms that exude an aroma that children especially like, reminding them of custard and puddings.