100 Years of Highfield – a brief history

2020 marks a very special celebration for all of us at Highfield. This year, we celebrate our centenary year of business and we would love to share with you a brief history of Highfield and where we are today. First and foremost – Joan Greenway, Managing Director, has been the absolute driving force and inspiration over the last 33 years since taking over as managing director behind everything that you see here today.

Our story starts in 1920, when a nursery was established in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire growing willows and forestry trees – The Western Forestry and Willow Company. Rapidly outgrowing its premises, it was transported, lock, stock and barrel by rail to Whitminster where it soon became established as one of the best mail order nurseries in the country. Highfield Nurseries was established as part of the land belonging to Highfield House in Whitminster. Edward Bazeley, the founder, handed the Nursery over to his son Bonham after the Second World War following Bonham’s service in the Royal Navy. The business continued to expand and a small shop and plant area was added for visiting customers. In 1975, Joan joined Highfield followed in 1982 by her son, Tim.
In 1987 Bonham decided to retire and his fellow directors, Joan Greenway and Trevor Wellington bought the business. The mail order business continued to expand as the company exhibited at Chelsea Flower Show winning numerous gold medals for their fruit gardens.

With an eye to the future, Joan set in motion development plans for our current site in Whitminster. The site we now occupy was originally a rose and soft fruit growing field. Joan saw the potential for a garden centre and in March 1992 we opened with Geoff Hamilton of Gardener’s World fame cutting the ribbon. Unfortunately, the timing of the garden centre opening was not perfect as the country was going through a recession and money became very tight. The large bank loan and constant pressure from the bank manager caused many sleepless nights and things looked bleak for a year or so with very little stock on the shelves. Just in time, a major supplier stepped in and offered to stock the shelves on very favourable terms and, from that time on, the business never looked back.
Over the last 28 years, the garden centre has expanded many times, first with the extra building to house World of Water and then two extensions to the main building. The 19 acre field to the south of the garden centre came up for sale in 2003 and was purchased taking our land holding to 26 acres. This field has canal-side frontage to the old Stroud Water canal and is currently producing arable crops.

The once successful mail order business declined over many years. As more garden centres sprang up, gardeners were able to go out and personally select plants as they wanted them, rather than waiting for the ‘correct’ planting season. The very sad decision was made in 2010 to cease mail order trading when Trevor Wellington retired taking his vast knowledge with him. Our original nursery site in Whitminster still produces vegetables, seedlings and other seasonal plants for our garden centre and we are immensely proud that our original nursery ‘roots’ have not been forgotten.

The inside layout of the store constantly changes to keep everything fresh. However, some things do not change and many of our staff have been with us for decades – whereas the site has developed and changed beyond all recognition. With the closure of the mail order business in 2010, the garden centre has undergone major re-developments. From 1992 we started serving food within a small coffee shop certainly not grand, but served a purpose for our happy customers. Then in 2005 we upgraded premises and an extension was added to house our new ‘Greenways’ restaurant. This proved ever so popular. With such high demand and rapidly disappearing seating, Joan decided now was the time to take on our biggest project to date – to design and create the new restaurant which we all know and love today. In 2013 Joan and Tim project managed the £2.5 million development, making sure that the spectacular views over the countryside were the main feature of the development.

Today, there are three generations of Joan’s family working for Highfield. Tim, her son, is a Director, Sue her daughter is the Clothing Manager, while her granddaughter Emma is an office administrator and currently works in our cash office, preparing figures for analysis, and organising our popular customer coach trips.

Moving forward, we are excited to announce that we have been granted planning permission to extend our restaurant and retail space, including our car park to provide more, much needed parking spaces. We would like to thank each and every one of our loyal customers, and our incredible team of staff who have supported us over the years and have seen Highfield grow and develop.

Written by
Joan Greenway, Stella Gray & Emma Russan