I started this business nearly 30 years ago in a fit of pique. I was furious and perplexed that I couldn't buy the plants that I'd fallen in love with and was determined to do something about it. To my mind, these plants all had something in common - they were highly sculptural and tremendously green. To quote from our first catalogue : "In the jargon of horticulture, these are known as 'architectural plants'. Not because they belong in buildings but because the plants themselves have their own 'architecture' - strong, sometimes spectacular, shapes which bring a distinctive year-round presence to a garden"
In the spring of 1990 we launched ourselves onto an unsuspecting and bemused British public, without the faintest idea as to whether anyone else shared our passion for these peculiar plants.
Since then we've discovered, to our relief, that we weren't the only ones. The business has prospered and we've learned a great deal about the plants, how to use them, who buys them and why.
The early success of the business was helped – enormously – by the amount of press coverage we used to get. Suddenly, we were famous. Stupidly, I thought fame was a self-perpetuating process. It wasn't. By the beginning of the 21st century our exotic, maverick and thoroughly peculiar approach had become boring old establishment. However, we were still expanding and having the nursery where it was (partly near Horsham and partly near Chichester) wasn't working and I was looking for a new site where we could really spread our wings.
In 2004, Chichester College took over the running of Brinsbury Horticultural College between Pulborough and Billingshurst. They heard I was looking for land and offered me over 30 acres next door. Right on the main A29 road, nice level land and slap bang next to West Sussex's only horticultural seat of learning.
Was this too good to be true? Apparently not. In February 2015, we moved the whole business to the new site. By then, after 10 years of battling with bureaucrats and 10 years older, I was looking for a succession plan and the remarkable Guy Watts hove into view.
Guy had worked for me from the age of 14 in his school holidays, then his university holidays and then full time until he decided to row across the Indian Ocean (?!). He then started his very own horticultural charity in London called Streetscape. After 5 years, he forsook his own business to come back to run Architectural Plants in 2016 and that's where the renaissance began.
A note to demonstrate Guy's preternatural and precocious grasp of business; aged 14 while potting up some bamboos longafter all the other staff had left the premises, he asked "Angus, I've worked for lots of different businesses and they all seem rather disorganised but you seem rather well organised. How do those rather disorganised businesses survive?" Predictably, my unhelpful reply was along the lines of "If you ever find out mate, let me know". My reply was irrelevant. Guy's question was not. How many 14 year olds ask questions like that? The boy stood out from an early age.
With Guy in charge as M.D. (and now co-owner) and me making occasional skirmishes into the business, the underlying ethos remains; we want to produce more and more of our own peculiar plants that we love so much. We want to remain – primarily – a grower of remarkable plants. Import less and grow more here.
As a part of this ambition we need to expand our field of influence. The garden design and construction, the café, the shop, the sculpture, the courses, the talks, the markets and the events are all part of this but we have a greater task than any of this : to get through to bright young people that a career in the horticultural industry is as diverse, dynamic, stressful and rewarding as any other industry. Recruitment of the right people is everything. We can accomplish nothing without them and everything with them.
An unfortunately corporate sounding cliché to end on but like so many clichés – it's true.
We're now next to the Brinsbury campus of Chichester College, situated on the west side of the A29, 2.7 miles north of Pulborough and 2.4 miles south of Billingshurst. Postcode: RH20 1DJ. Our Nuthurst nursery is now closed.
The Office - Nuthurst.
The Jetty - Nuthurst.
The Loo - Nuthurst.