Scotland Nurseries was so named because the land and terrain planted by the Smiths with acres of heathers and rhododendrons resembled a little piece of Scotland. Tradition has it that Scotland Nurseries whether in the title of Joseph Smith or James Smith, has been in existence for 300 years!
There is no concrete evidence of this, but a glance at the history books suggests that this won’t be far adrift. A catalogue from the late 1940s stated that the company had been growing hardy nursery stock for over 150 years, which would put the company (not yet limited) in existence in the early 1800s.
An earlier copy of a catalogue from 1867 (above) shows that, at this stage, the nurseries were owned by Joseph Smith. At this time the land comprised approximately 25 acres and grew a significant amount of forestry plants for large landed estates.
On the death of Joseph Smith, his son James renamed it ‘James Smith – Scotland Nurseries’. Although James continued the business, he wasn’t a fully committed
nurseryman, and preferred shooting on the surrounding moorland with his dogs rather than working the business. James was found dead with his dogs on the land above the present car park; rumour has it that he was partial to the odd whiskey!
His sons Ernest and Thomas Smith then inherited what had become a very run-down company. Most of the property, which included Scotland House, Scotland Villa and all the 200 acres of land, were highly mortgaged. Together the two brothers rebuilt the business and gradually paid off all the mortgages. At the advent of the First World War, most of the workmen were ‘called up’ to fight on the Western Front in France and the dray horses, which did the ploughing and pulling of the carts of trees down to Matlock station, were also requisitioned.
The growing of trees was cut back, as the land was taken over for the war effort and had to produce crops, potatoes and vegetables for the Ministry of Agriculture. German prisoners of war were eventually used to work on the land to replace the men who had been enlisted. After the war, the two brothers continued to rebuild the nursery and it became very successful. In 1931 it became a limited company. At this time, many new varieties of plants were being grown, including acid-lovers like Rhododendrons and Heathers. The land at Butlers Ground and Dewey Lane was acidic, whilst the land at the main nursery was alkaline. As a consequence, a comprehensive range of native species and also some unusual varieties could be grown with great success.
During the 1930s, the company became very famous and its name became synonymous with quality and hardiness, possibly due to its altitude – it stands at 900ft above sea level. In 1939, with the start of the Second World War, the nursery again returned to growing crops on contract for the government while still growing trees, although on a more modest scale. In 1948 Colonel Peter Hilton, on retiring from the army, joined the company to learn the business. With Colonel Hilton being married to Ernest Smith’s only daughter, Winifred, he seemed the most likely candidate to eventually take over. Following the death of Tom and Ernest Smith in the early 1960s, Colonel Hilton became managing director and continued to build up the business. Andrew Hilton and Richard Hilton were also now involved, along with Hubert Smith, the son of Tom Smith.
In 1966, the business applied for and was awarded the Royal Warrant by the Queen, as a result of supplying several Royal gardens for many years. The gardens supplied were Sandringham, Balmoral and the Castle of Mey (The Queen Mother’s home on the Caithness coast). From this date onwards, the company was allowed (under strict controls of size of the crest) to display the Royal Coat of Arms on its letterheads, catalogues and vehicles. To continue to do this, it was imperative to obtain orders from the Royal Houses in future years. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the business continued to trade successfully, despite the emergence of many super-sized garden centres, selling everything from plants to craft goods and sundries. Woolworths even opened its own plant department! Many local authorities still supported Scotland Nurseries by purchasing their plants and hanging baskets. In the later 1980s, however, direct buying from continental firms, using pot grown produce and trees, effectively killed off a large part of the ‘open ground’ method of cultivating nursery stock.
As featured in Reflections Magazine (August 2011) Read the artical here (requires Adobe Reader)