The Richardson family - cultivating the art, craft and science of horticulture for three generations
Johnsons of Whixley. Founded in 1921
Johnsons of Whixley was founded by WW1 veteran Eric Johnson in 1921 - then known as ‘E.R Johnson (Nurseries Ltd)’. The company was taken over by local businessman John Richardson in 1964 and became Johnsons of Whixley Ltd in 1993.
Johnsons of Whixley is run by three generations of the Richardson family, with 12 family members operating in different roles within the business. The family celebrated 50 years in business in 2014.
John Richardson grew up on his grandparents’ market garden at Carlton, between Leeds and Wakefield and always enjoyed the practical and physical life of working outdoors.
When John acquired the business in (year), the majority of sales were retail or conducted via local markets, with customers visiting the nursery in the summer and placing orders for autumn delivery. The company made just a handful of sales to other nurseries and outlets, such as York and Harrogate parks. Initially, there were 11 full-time staff employed on 11 acres of land.
In 1971 the business became totally wholesale and this coincided with the purchase of the 50 acre Newlands Nursery.
In 1990 Johnsons was offered Endfield Nursery at Wilberfoss, which provided the business with a substantial source of transplants and a new market selling forest trees to estates and forestry planting contractors. The firm reached the £1m sales mark in 1999.
The principle of high quality plant production has continued to be a motivating factor in the development of the company, and this is reflected in it becoming the first European horticultural business of any kind to achieve BS 5750 (ISO 9000), in 1992. This led to developing relationships with organisations such as Sainsbury’s and many senior architect practices throughout the country.
The purchase of an additional 7.2 hectares at Cattal Station in 1994 provided an opportunity to expand container production economically, using many of the resources already available within the company. By 1996 the new container area was fully cropped, bringing the area of containers to 17 hectares. A new, state-of-the-art, 2,000sq.m propagation unit was built at Whixley, complete with overhead gantry transportation. Expansion continued at Endfield with the renting of additional land.
In November 2005 John Richardson was honoured with an Individual Excellence Award and Lifetime Achievement Award by the HTA and Horticulture Week. In 2007 Andrew Richardson was elected as President of the Horticultural Trades Association and awarded the prestigious Pearson Memorial Medal by the HTA - an honour he shares with his father John. In addition, 1 hectare of new covered beds were completed at Cattal and a further 1 hectare in 2008.
Today the business comprises of 200 acres and employs 100 staff, increasing to 170 seasonally. John Richardson is chairman of the Johnsons Group and still takes an active role in governance, strategy, quality systems and health and safety. His three sons, Andrew and Iain who are both joint managing directors, and Graham who is group managing director, are in charge of running the company and each oversee different areas of the business.
The current managing directors all adopt a hands-on style and are just as likely to be found driving a truck, sweeping up, or selecting plants, as they are seated at the boardroom table.