Photographs: Charles Francis
June 2014: For 13-year-old plant lover Dawn Morris, the hillside nursery close to her home in the village of Landrake was a magical place. “I used to ride past on my pony,” she recalls. “And one day I shouted over the gate: ‘Would you like me to do some watering?’ That was more than three decades ago. Dawn started working at Tartendown Nurseries on Saturdays and holidays, and was offered a full-time job there when she left school. Ten years later, following the owners’ retirement, she took over the business.
Dawn and her husband Simon have since rebuilt the nursery completely, on a larger, neighbouring site which enjoys lush countryside views. ”My dad used to rent this land, and when it came up for sale, I had to buy it,” says Dawn. “I always wanted to have my own little bit of England.”
Her little bit of England is a well-stocked nursery with the romantic atmosphere of a cottage garden. “We try to lay everything out so the plants complement each other,” says Dawn. “It’s amazing what a good look you can get with foliage even before you put in flowers, with all the golds and greens. It’s like flower arranging with plants.
“People now go for more perennials, rather than hoicking out bedding plants every year, and they like coming here because of the huge variety we have. We’ve also introduced some large trees — Christmas trees, native varieties and fruit — and some really big rhododendrons and camellias. People sometimes want something instant, particularly this year, when they need to replace so many trees and large shrubs which were blown over in the winter.” The nursery also supplies ready-made hanging baskets, not just for private gardens, but also to enhance the town centres of Saltash and Liskeard.
Tartendown’s peaceful rural setting makes it a pleasure to visit — but also means that the nursery can be difficult to find. “We’re always trying to get people here,” says Dawn. “We take leaflets to as many garden open days as we can, and we use stalls at events like the Cornwall Spring Flower Show at Boconnoc as a showcase for our plants. If people see what you’ve got, they’re more likely to come off the beaten track to find you.”
And when they do find Tartendown, they always receive a warm welcome. “Customers like the fact that we’ll walk around with them, and give them ideas, help and advice,” says Dawn. ”Sometimes, after they’ve bought plants from us, they’ll send us photos of their garden, which is very rewarding.” She and Simon were thrilled to receive the Cornwall Today Garden Nursery of the Year award at this year’s Boconnoc show.
Their latest project is to build seating by their wildlife pond, so that visitors will be able to take time out and enjoy the tranquillity of Tartendown. But they have no plans to open a restaurant or a gift shop. Tartendown is a still a traditional, old-fashioned Cornish nursery — just as it is was when Dawn first knew it all those years ago.
Like Dawn, David Danning realised from an early age that he wanted to work with plants. In 1970, his parents, Frank and Marion, started a nursery just outside Wadebridge, and sold their flowers, vegetables and fruit from a roadside stall. “My father allowed me to have a lot of responsibility from an early age, and when I left school, I said I’d like to join the nursery,” he says.
He now runs the company in partnership with David Symons, who had worked with Frank Danning since he was an 11-year-old helping out on the stall. Over the years, the small family firm has flourished. It is now one of the most successful businesses of its kind in the country, and has won many accolades, of which the Cornwall Today Garden Centre of the Year award is the latest.
David and Helen Danning receive their award from Cornwall Today editor Kirstie Newton
Trelawney now employs 85 people and sells a vast range of products and gifts — but it remains a garden centre with the emphasis firmly on “garden”.
“Garden centres can sometimes become department stores in the country,” says David Danning. “But the garden side of our business accounts for the biggest chunk of our turnover, and we will never lose sight of what we were. We don’t grow anything ourselves any more, because as the business grew, we needed more retail space, but we like to get our plants from Westcountry nurseries. Having different suppliers gives us the ability to keep a wider range of plants.”
What has not changed, he says, is Trelawney’s strong commitment to both staff and customers. “We have a good team — some of our staff have been here for more than 20 years — and we strive to have a business we’re proud of, that customers want to come back to again and again.”
Nearly ten years ago, Trelawney took on a second centre, in Ashford, Devon, and the company has now acquired the former County Demonstration Garden in Probus. “We have planning permission for a large garden centre at the site, but because there is a history of gardening there, we also want to tie an educational centre in with the retail side,” David explains.
“Our intention is to have different gardens, which will reflect whatever is in fashion at the time. All the gardens we drew in the original plans featured flowers and shrubs, with not a vegetable in sight. But in the last two or three years, the move back into vegetable growing has been significant, as the ‘grow your own’ campaign has taken off. So we’ve decided to start off with veg-based gardens, where we can show different varieties and demonstrate different ways of growing them. A whole generation of people have never been shown how to garden, and we’re going to try and take some of the mystery out of gardening.”
David also hopes that the new centre will inspire the next generation of gardeners. As he and Dawn have both proved, a childhood interest in plants can grow into a lifelong passion.