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The story behind our Geraniums

Welcome to our wonderful collection, our Geranium collection… (well as we all know, technically they are all Pelargoniums!) but we have always known them as Geraniums, it is easier to say and write too!!  But as we all know true Geraniums are hardy perennials that live in the garden, but if you look at the Species Pelargonium you will see why all the confusion.  When the first specie varieties came to the UK in the 1700s, new varieties were bred from these and it was then realised they were different to the hardy garden types and were then classified as Pelargoniums.

Sorry, we digress…. Our Pelargonium collection was started by my Grandfather Jack Cox.

Jack lived in Oliver’s Battery on the edge of Winchester, so named as it was associated to the English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell’s siege of Winchester in 1645.

Jack was a commercial nurseryman and on his retirement he expanded his passion for growing, he loved plants and became a keen amateur grower and exhibitor for societies ‘BEGS’ (British & European Geranium Society, now known as ‘PAGS’ Pelargonium & Geranium Society).  He exhibited at various shows and won countless awards and even bred a few himself, one in particular that we still grow is Jacey. 

On his death in 1972 my parents Derek & Janet James took his collection of geraniums back to their small 10 x 8 greenhouse situated in the back garden at Harefield and as with all hobbies it expanded, we had to move to a house with a bigger garden and found a former pub called “The Vernon Arms”, and so a family of four children living in a de-licencesed pub with a back garden filled to the brim with glasshouses – no ball games were allowed!! 

Mum then left her teaching job to take on nursery growing full time and Dad soon followed after being made redundant from his job as a civil engineering draughtsman, this hobby was now too big and became a business and “The Vernon Geranium Nursery” was born.

In 1984 we moved again to bigger premises and found a site big enough to house the ever expanding collection in Cheam, it was now too big for just mum & dad so my brother Pip & I got involved and helped with the running and expansion of the nursery and as with all family-run nurseries other members of the family got roped into help and soon my sister Liz and brother-in-law Richard became permanent staff on the nursery. 

Then back in 1994 by chance conversation I heard about the imminent (possibly permanent) closure of Allwoods and couldn’t let that collection just end so I decided that working on the Vernon nursery was great, but being surrounded by all my family had it’s moments! so I took the plunge and set off on my own and bought Allwoods.

This worked for both companies really well.  Allwoods is a long standing world renowned firm and Vernons became Europes most famous Geranium nursery, the range of varieties were unsurpassed and they were an amazing firm, unfortunately time doesn’t stand still and my parents were now well into retirement age and suffering some ill health and neither my brother or sister wanted to carry it on so the decision was made to sell the Vernon business.

A buyer was soon found – ‘Thompson & Morgan’ – the deal was done in 2010 and the The Vernon Geranium Nursery was no-longer a part of our family.  Thompson & Morgan were mainly interested in the huge database of customers the Vernons had not the plant collection.

So most of the amazing collection of plants were left behind in Cheam, the greenhouses were left in disarray and there was no-one but my elderly parents to look after them and the plants suffered – this is when we got involved, we couldn’t stand to see this amazing range of plants be left to go to dust so we said we would take over what was left of the plant collection and incorporate it into our business – it took a week, making 3-4 trips a day for us to transport the pelargonium plant collection to our nursery. However there was an added complication as we at that point didn’t have a greenhouse big enough to house them so we had to expand our growing area (and quickly) and added an extra 100 x 120ft greenhouse and hoped that would be big enough.

We also got lots of pots, trays and boxes (well after 25 years of trading in Cheam they had amassed quite a lot of stuff!) so we had the daunting task of emptying the nursery at Cheam & it look several skips and umpteen trips to the tip.

But on the plus side the amazing Geranium collection that my grandfather originally started came into being at Allwoods and remains in the family! And what a collection it is, some 600+ different varieties from tiny miniatures to varieties that can grow into standards and all sorts of colours & scents and yes like my grandfather we keep adding to our collection by breeding our own new varieties, this year alone we have launched a brand new Angel “Treasured Memories” in memory of my wife’s father who passed away after his short battle with Pancreatic Cancer.  And this Autumn we launched our new dwarf zonal “Allwoods Lemon Drizzle” a stunning buttermilk yellow flower on low compact foliage.

But where’s Vernons?  We here you cry… well after several years of Thompson & Morgan trading as Vernon Geraniums we believe they have now closed the firm down as we cannot find it anywhere and there is no mention of it on their companies pages.  So we are even more thankful that we were able to rescue and maintain the original collection of plants my grandfather and parents spent years tending and nurturing

Well that just leaves me to say thank you for taking the time to read this – I don’t often get the chance to write as I am usually down in the greenhouse, so I’m making the most of it!  I hope you found it informative and enjoyable and would welcome any feedback.


Happy Growing.

David James


Derek & Janet James had four children of which David is the youngest son, his passion for growing plants started at a very young age, and after his Mum & Dad put a greenhouse for the ever increasing Pelargonium collection on his vegetable plot in the garden, he had his own allotment in the local village at the age of 14. This passion for growing has continued and he is never happier than in the greenhouse or with a cup of tea!

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