History of the Nursery & Garden
Thorncroft Clematis - The Story So Far
by Ruth Gooch, Founder of Thorncroft Clematis Nursery
Thorncroft Clematis literally grew from my father’s hobby of gardening. His knowledge and passion gave me the inspiration to begin, what turned into, a life of clematis for all his family.
The story of our nursery really began in the early 1980’s when life took an unexpected turn. Our eldest son William developed a complex form of epilepsy aged just three years which left him with severe learning disabilities.
Being unable to take on a ‘proper’ job, due to hospital appointments, admissions and time at home caring for William, and with the help and encouragement of both my parents (Dorothy and Geoffrey Tolver) and my husband Jonathan, I began nurturing plants in a polytunnel in my garden.
We quickly found a ‘gap in the market’ for clematis which Dad, with his ‘green fingers’, was brilliant at growing from cuttings, and our collection of clematis grew like wildfire.
In 1985 we (me, Jon, Will and our youngest son, Peter) moved, along with my parents, to Reymerston, buying and extending an old cottage that had three acres of land.
Initially the nursery was only wholesale, but in 1988, having been reading Barbara Taylor Bradford’s ‘A Woman of Substance’, I had an idea………….! My mother was retiring from her job as a Laboratory Assistant, and as she had previous experience in retailing, we decided to open our little nursery to the public the following year.
Also, to promote our new venture, we broached the idea of exhibiting and selling our clematis at the Norfolk & Norwich Horticultural Society’s Flower Show at the Royal Norfolk Show. They were enthusiastic to have us at the show so, being somewhat unprepared, our ‘exhibit’ was in and around the awning of our touring caravan! This show was a fantastic success for us, selling virtually every plant we took, and customers desperate to know when they could visit the nursery to buy direct from us!
Buoyed by success, we embarked on making the nursery ‘customer friendly’ and opened for retail sales at Easter, at 10.00 on 24th March 1989 and our first customer arrived at 10.05!
And so, our boys grew up around clematis; occasionally Will would try his hand at serving customers, thrusting a clematis into a customer’s arms saying, ‘Have this ‘Comtesse de Bouchaud’ it’s a nice one’! He picked a correct clematis name, unfortunately he called all clematis ‘Comtesse de Bouchaud’ which did cause some confusion!
Peter, meanwhile, could often be seen lurking by the shop door offering to carry people’s purchases to their cars – he made quite a bit in tips! As the nursery grew, every penny we made was ploughed back in to the business. Over the early years we exhibited at the Royal Norfolk Show and Sandringham Flower Show, where we had the pleasure of meeting the Queen Mother and Prince Charles each year. Peter was usually with us, and Prince Charles always compared his growth rate with Prince William’s!
We won our first Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘Gold Medal’ at Wisley in 2000 which allowed us to apply to exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show.
By this time the business was expanding rapidly, and Jon left his full-time employment to join us at the nursery, thus allowing us to attend many more flower shows – Hampton Court Palace, Shrewsbury and Southport.
Achieving our first ‘Chelsea Gold’ in 2007, the head of the judging panel came along to congratulate us, saying that we ‘should be very proud of ourselves having won the highest award, at the most prestigious flower show in the world’! That was an amazing thought, and still is, especially following our humble beginnings! And our attendance at all those shows could not be possible without the amazing help of some of our dear, and loyal friends!
We began mail order in early 1990’s and this expanded rapidly, especially when we were awarded Best Mail Order Clematis Nursery by Gardening Which? Magazine. This award had the most phenomenal effect and we literally could not grow enough clematis to satisfy demand.
We have always tried to be forward thinking and enjoyed being ‘The First’ -
specialist clematis nursery to mail out plants, all year-round, in two litre pots.
specialist clematis nursery to have a website – designed and built by Jon.
specialist clematis nursery to have secure on-line ordering.
1996 – saw our first book published
In 2001 Peter went to New Zealand for a few months’ work experience at the clematis nurseries of Alister and Jenny Keay, Merv Gerrard and Peer Sorensen. Working for what was effectively two summers in 8 months (one in the UK and one in NZ) with clematis, we thought this may put him off the idea of a career in horticulture – but not so, he returned even more enthusiastic!
Our second book was published in 2011.
2016 saw us handing over the nursery to Peter; we are truly proud of the way he has moved our little nursery on, watching it go from strength to strength and continuing to be innovative and committed to offering the very best clematis, and the highest standards of customer care.
We wish Peter, his wife Gill, and his team, all the very best in the future – Thorncroft is in safe hands.
The Story Continued - by Peter Skeggs-Gooch
Now the family business is in my hands, the third generation and I feel a weight of responsibility on my shoulders to maintain the hard work and high standards my family have set. They certainly set the bar very high.
With the retail industry taking a huge leap from bricks and mortar stores to online we where fortunately positioned to continue our growth to become the UK's leading Mail Order Clematis Specialist and now with numerous Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medals to our name and retail industry recognition of our Mail Order Service we look forward to a bright future.
After a few years of planning and preparation, in January 2021 we moved to a new location and are now situated at Rails End Nursery, Ashton-Under-Hill in Worcestershire. The move was the last step in securing the future of Thorncroft Clematis for years to come and we are immensely grateful to a few dedicated and generous people for their help and support getting us to where we are now.
We look forward to the future in our new home and hope to see you, our customers here in the future at one of our special event days.