Groves Nurseries celebrates 150 years trading in Dorset

One of Groves' shops in the 1930s

One of Groves' shops in the 1930s - Credit: Archant

This year Groves Nurseries celebrates 150 years trading in Dorset. Lindsay Jones leafs through their family archives to find out about the greenfingered pioneers behind this successful family business

When Charles William Groves started a small garden nursery in Piddletrenthide in spring 1866, little did he know that he was sowing the seeds for what would grow into one of the largest garden centres and nurseries in Dorset - Groves Nurseries.

This year the award-winning family business in Bridport celebrate their 150th anniversary and it bears its founders name to this very day - C W Groves & Son. The father and son management legacy continues with Clive Groves and his son Charlie, the current managing director of the business. However today there are two extra pairs of managerial hands with Charlie’s sister Becky running Little Groves in Beaminster, and Diana, Clive’s wife, a core member of the team at Groves.

The 2016 nursery has many more staff and far more plants than the nursery of 1866 - an amazing 32,000 bedding plants, 12,000 trees, over 8,000 roses and 6,000 perennials are grown by the nursery annually. And for Charlie and Becky, the sixth generation of Groves running the company, their job also entails managing the online shopping and website. The latest generation are marking the 150th anniversary with the opening of a new 200 seater restaurant – an impressive glass structure, designed to complement the garden centre’s attractive layout.

Such a magnificent garden centre as this would have impressed the founder Charles William, who had followed in the family trade of thatchers in the Toller Porcorum area. He also worked as a miller and even travelled throughout Dorset selling bibles before he decided to concentrate his energies on growing plants, mainly for their seed.

The original nursery at Ivy House, Piddletrenthide was situated on a steep south-facing slope overlooking the Piddle Valley. Seeds were distributed by post and by hawkers who travelled by pony and cart throughout Dorset. As trade built, the family purchased shops in Dorchester, in East Street and South Street, to sell their seeds as well as plants and cut flowers grown at the nursery. As they grew busier further shops opened in Fordington and Trinity Street.

After three generations of Groves being born in Piddletrenthide the family, needing more land, moved to the Bridport area in 1936 where Charles William originally came from. A popular family anecdote from 1938 recalls how the then Mrs Groves was in their West Road shop when King Edward VIII, on a visit through Dorset, was attracted by the colourful floral display and purchased from her the best and biggest bouquet in the shop for Mrs Simpson!

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During the First and Second World Wars the Mrs Groves’ of the time kept the business afloat whilst their husbands and sons served their country. Fred Morey, who worked at Groves from 1932 right up to the 1980’s recalled how in the thirties Charles William, son of the founder, worked in the office while his wife and daughter and Fred worked diligently for hours on end wrapping packets of seeds for orders.

The C W Groves name has passed down the generation with the two current sons Charles Winston and Christopher William both being named by their father Clive Watt Groves. The most recent Charles William, great grandson of the founder and father of Clive, purchased the former Bridport football field at West Bay Road in 1962 and expanded the nursery.

He was also responsible for two great horticultural achievements; firstly working with the government on trials to perfect the technique of growing onions from sets rather than just seed and this led to Groves being the company that introduced onion sets to the UK. Secondly, he is to be thanked for saving the famous Zambra collection of violets amongst others and going on to build a collection of over 130 varieties.

In 2003 Groves Nurseries collection of Victorian Dorset Violets was recognised as a National Collection of Viola odorata and Parma violets. Clive has inherited his father’s passion for these beautiful scented spring flowers and has won many medals including a Silver at Hampton Court Flower Show; he was even Knighted by La Confrerie de la Violette (The Brotherhood of the Violet) at Toulouse city hall in France.

Clive also created new varieties of violets naming them after members of the family, including his wife Diane, daughter Becky and his three grandchildren, Eliza (5), Maddie (3) and Amelia (1).

It’s a little early to tell if the latest generation have inherited the Groves greenfingers but they will become the seventh generation to take this thriving family business forward and build on the remarkable legacy of their ancestors.

Groves timeline

• 1866 - CW Groves & Sons is founded by Charles William Groves and his son

• 1936 - The family and business move to Bridport

• 1938 - Mrs Groves serves King Edward VIII with flowers

• 1953 - Groves Nurseries introduce onion sets to the UK

• 1962 - Groves expands and buys Bridport Football Field (its current site)

• 1982 - The Groves Violet collection starts

• 2003 - Groves are awarded National Collection status for their Viola odorata and Parma violets

• 2016 - Celebrates their 150th anniversary with a new 200 seater restaurant


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