Future of Wortham firm is rooted in growing skills for its workforce

Directors David Howard and Christine Howard pictured at RHS Chelsea 2015

Directors David Howard and Christine Howard pictured at RHS Chelsea 2015 - Credit: Archant

Skills are blooming at a family plant-growing business which has invested in training to nurture careers and sustain the firm's perennial appeal.

More than 2 million perennial plants are grown at Howard Nurseries each year.

More than 2 million perennial plants are grown at Howard Nurseries each year. - Credit: Archant

Howard Nurseries, based at Wortham, near Diss, is currently preparing plant stock for next year's RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Chelsea Flower Show

To ensure the best possible preparation the firm, one of the country's largest wholesale perennial specialists, has taken advantage of training schemes to up-skill its employees.

Staff attended West Suffolk College to gain a Level 2 award in Leadership and Team Skills from the Institute of Leadership and Management.

Director Christine Howard said: 'I've done a lot of training myself and I wouldn't be where I was if it wasn't for that.

'I can see the value in it. It has helped communications and boosted morale – it's been good all round.'

The company received funding to subsidise the training from Skills Support in the Workforce and the Employer Training Incentive Fund.

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Set up in 1969 by Christine's father David Howard, the firm grows more than two million plants each year, supplying independent nurseries, landscape designers, local authorities and historic gardens nationwide.

The pedigree of the plants has meant that over the years the nursery has supplied about 40 show gardens and 30 smaller gardens at Chelsea, winning a gold award this year.

Miss Howard, 35, said: 'It's amazing where the plants end up, right from the Scottish Isles all the way to Jersey. We have a good customer base and business is steady.'

Mr Howard, 77, said: 'British people are garden-minded but now we are selling to more and more garden designers.'

The nursery currently employs 25 full-time staff and 25 part-time staff and has recently completed an extension to its packing shed.

Miss Howard said: 'We are a family-orientated place with high staff retention and we are always investing in the next generation.'

The firm prides itself on looking after its staff and this month saw its 13th member of staff celebrate 25 years with the business.

Peter Gibbs, 41, from Mellis in Suffolk, started with the firm soon after his 16th birthday in 1990. He said: 'I can't believe how much the business has evolved over the last 25 years. Every aspect of the business has been totally modernised.

'You have to consider job security these days, I have a family to provide for but I couldn't think of a better place to do it.'

Miss Howard said it was important to constantly pursue new initiatives.

'This year we've had a big overhaul on the catalogue and have updated the stock system with a view to move into online ordering,' she said.

'We have also been looking at our marketing and labelling systems – we are getting more focused.'

As a Green 100 company the family has implemented a number of green solutions on site including solar panels, reservoirs and the use of office shredding for packaging.

Mr Howard said: 'We've expanded as we've gone along without the need for large bank loans and we've kept going strong – we're in a good position.'

Miss Howard, who is starting to take over the business from her father, said: 'We went onto Twitter for the first time this year. You've got to do it now or you are left behind. I think it's helped raise our profile.

'The business world is changing and we have got to continue to change with it.'

Do you have a business success story? Email kate.royall@archant.co.uk