A beautifully illustrated book on the history of Allwoods containing a real insight into this long established firm along with many unseen photographs is now available.
Our History continued.....
Allwoods was started in 1910 by three brothers, Montagu, George & Edward.
Montagu had run the carnation department on a large nursery, having started by washing pots and working his way to the top. George had worked on various nurseries in the UK and in America. He brought the new American ways of growing carnations back to Britain, growing in beds rather than individual pots. Edward was working in the brewing industry as a Barley Buyer. He was the one with the proper job and who had the capital to start the business.
These young men, from a large Lincolnshire farming family, went in search of a nursery to rent, they came to Sussex as the land was acutally cheaper than in Lincolnshire (how times have changed!!) The growing conditions were also more favourable, warmer with better light. They found a small nursery to rent in the village of Wivelsfield, they were also able to buy a field the other side of the road. George started to develop the nursery, Montagu had to give six months notice at the nursery where he was employed. During these months he was accused of dishonesty by his then employers, but rather than hushing this up - he used it to his advantage within the hortiucultural press and gained the new firm lots of free publicity.
They built on the nursery a glasshouse 30 feet by 100 feet, in which they grew carnations in the American style - in borders 3 feet wide and grown in actual soil, previously they were pot grown which was obviously more labour intensive, having to hand water every pot! By growing in the gound they could produce carnation blooms cheaper and so sell for less than the other nurserymen.
Another major development came with the introduction of a whole new race of plants. By crossing the original garden pink 'Old Fringed' with the Perpetual Flowering Carnation. These new pinks were named by the Royal Horticultural Society Scientific Committee as "Allwoodii" pinks. This meant pinks could be blooming from May through to October, whereas previously to this time they only flowered for a few short weeks in the height of summer.
All modern pinks grown today are descendents from Montagu and his teams first plants.
Allwoods put on a display stand at the International Horticultural Exhibition in London in 1912. This was held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. They won the Gold Medal for their exhibit of carnations. The following year the event was organised by the Royal Horticultural Society and became the Chelsea Flower Show. We continued to exhibit until 3 years ago when due to Nursery expansion we found we could no longer spare the time in May. Allwoods were one of the very few original exhibitors to still be at Chelsea and still be winning Chelsea Gold Medals! The firm developed and expanded, putting on displays at all major Horticultural and Agricultural Shows around the country. In those days of course taking orders to despatch plants that were delivered by rail !
During the 1930's they took over another nursery at Clayton as well as building lots more glasshouses at Wivelsfield and employing over 200 men. When the working day was over, Mothers called their children off the street in Wivelsfield to avoid the rush of bicycles. Of course there were no cars in those days!
Allwoods survived the 2nd World War by growing herbs as it was not permitted to post out flowering plants only food. They also grew onions for seed, this caused a problem when a local bee keeper complained that his honey tasted of onions after his bees had been gathering pollen fron the onion flowers!
After the war further nurseries were added until they owned five. These were Wivelsfield, Clayton, two in Burgess Hill and one at Henfield, totalling 25 acres of glasshouse from where Carnations were despatched from Sussex across Europe and America.
Allwoods were the largest growers of carnations in the world !
Sadly Montagu died in 1958 and is buried in Wivelsfield churchyard, following his death the firm started to decline, Edward had always spent more time farming and George returned to his native Lincolnshire to retire. The firm continued under several owners, all finding it difficult to make a profit until it was eventually taken over by a team of workers that had started with Allwoods after being demobbed in 1946.
It was a chance converstion at a Flower Show in Kent in the summer of 1994 that we heard of the impending retirement of the owners of Allwoods. We visited the nursery at Hassocks and arranged to take over the Business. The nursery was in a very poor state, being "run-down" for closure and we managed to buy it in time to rescue this famous and utterly unique collection of plants. We brought the expertise from our upbringing (David's parents own Vernons Geraniums, and Emma's parents own 'The Plant Lovers' the oldest cactus nursery in the UK) and united in West Sussex with the most famous and unique Carnation and Pinks nursery in the UK. We took over Allwoods on the 1st of October 1994.
In 2001 we moved Allwoods from a rented site to settle into Summerfield Nursery. This is a more accessible, bigger site and we have spent every hour and all our spare energy in developing it. We are pleased to be able to show you this wonderful collection and proud to continue the work of the founders. We have even bred our own new varieites which have been prefixed with Summerfield. We are always on the lookout for new varieties to increase our already large collection.
With our many years of horticultural experience and David's Mail Order skills, picked up whilst running Vernons, we know what our customers want - good quality plants at reasonable prices and we pride ourselves on being able to achieve this.
As part of our commitment to the enviroment we are pleased to annouce after many trials we have finally found an environmentally friendly coir based compost that reduces the use of peat on the nursery and we are successfully growing all our stock plants in a peat reduced compost. We also aim to recycle wherever possible and keep chemical spraying to a mimimum.
We wish you a happy and successful growing season.
David & Emma James