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Chelsea beckons for blossoming King's Lynn flower firm

PUBLISHED: 09:28 18 May 2015 | UPDATED: 09:28 18 May 2015

The Collison family in one of their glasshouses near King's Lynn. Picture: submitted

The Collison family in one of their glasshouses near King's Lynn. Picture: submitted

Archant

A Norfolk flower-growing family has seen business blossom by sending stock to the country's biggest flower show - but warn that not many people know about the industry at a regional level.

JA Collison and Sons, based near King’s Lynn, was approached by Marks and Spencer to send 5,000 scented stocks for the supermarket’s display at the Chelsea Flower Show, which is taking place from Tuesday to next Saturday.

The company, which turns over £3m per year and is now under the watchful eye of Ian Collison, his brother Phillip and sister-in-law Diane, began as a barn selling fruit, vegetables and flowers by his parents before his father died in 1994, and his wife June joined forces with her sons to make it work.

“We re-named it JA Collison after my mum, and really saw flowers take off,” said Mr Collison. “And when supermarkets became a sizeable force in the flower industry it grew even more.”

Having supplied to Marks and Spencers from their Norfolk base for a decade, JA Collison and Sons will now attend the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time as a flower production team for the giant retailer.

“This is the first time I’ve been to the flower show, full stop,” said Mr Collison. “It’ll be a good day, and will really help raise the profile of the industry and let people know about British flowers.”

Yet the importance of home-grown plants to the national and regional economy is, according to the flower grower, an area that could do with more light shedding on it.

A majority of all flowers sold in the UK are imported from abroad, with the main export countries being the Netherlands, Ethiopia, Kenya, Colombia and Ecuador, while only an estimated 10pc are grown in the UK.

While one of JA Collison and Son’s ambitions is to see as many flowers resourced from national growers as possible, another is to let residents in Norfolk know how particularly crucial the industry is to the region.

“Spalding is just close enough to us for us to really benefit from working here,” said Mr Collison. “It has become the heart of flower-cutting in the country, and employs a lot of people in the surrounding area.”

The fertile Fenland countryside surrounding King’s Lynn also makes it a lucrative area for growing tulips, stocks and other species – yet it was not a career choice many young people in the area seem interested in, with migrant workers making up the gap, he said.

“Recruiting staff locally is a challenge; I think the flower industry has an image problem here in a way,” added Mr Collison. “I employ workers from abroad for the seasonal work because many here won’t do it. I don’t think young people see horticulture as a trendy career, which is a shame, as it is rewarding with good returns.”

The company will grow, package and label 28 million “stems” for its supermarket customers next year, with many of the bulbs already in the ground.

The key, said Mr Collison, was making sure that consumers at the supermarket shelf knew where flowers came from and could make a decision. “That’s why the Chelsea Flower Show will be good – it’s great publicity for the industry,” he added.

Do you have a business story for the EDP? Contact business editor Ben Woods on 01603 772426 or email ben.woods@archant.co.uk

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