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Stephen H. Smith founded the present business on 2nd December 1966. Christopher S.H. Smith (his son) joined the business in July 1985. Stephen H. Smith's Garden and Leisure currently operates two retail garden centres.
1913 to 1965
It all started on our Pool Road site in Otley. Fred M. Simpson, aged 34 started a poultry business developing quality strains of hens on the Otley site in 1913. It was to be 21 years later, aged 54 that Fred turned his attention to Horticulture, soon growing about 250,000 Wallflowers and 30,000 Gladioli each year. Fred’s interest in breeding better strains of poultry soon appeared on the nursery, but this time his energy was directed towards plants.
World famous Otley Korean Chrysanthemum
He started with Chrysanthemums. He was given some specimens of the Korean type from America. They were tall and straggly with a poor colour range, and were rather late flowering for the North of England. But in them he saw the potential for improvement - they needed to be dwarfer, have a better range of colours and flower earlier in the season. He effected all three! In 1938 the first three varieties of Otley Korean Cushion Chrysanthemum were put on the market; they were named “Lucy Simpson” after his wife, and “Margaret Simpson” and “Grace Simpson” after his two daughters. More and more varieties were soon appearing, increasing the kaleidoscope of colour, and these were distributed through Bakers of Codsall. Their fame spread throughout the world, but it did not change Fred. He was still the same humble and friendly man “playing about” in his small greenhouse.
He raised a Lupin “Otley Yellow” and worked hard to try and produce a good yellow Chrysanthemum Maximum, but like everyone else so far, Fred was unsuccessful.
Fred’s work with herbaceous Phlox was far more successful, as was his Otley regal strain, which contains varieties such as “Glamis”, “Windsor”, “Balmoral”, “Sandringham”, “Harewood” and “Holyrood”.
The first garden centre
On Fred’s retirement in 1955, the nursery continued to expand, now as a partnership between his son-in-law George Tyreman and Humphrey Woodcock. They started a small garden centre, one of the first in the country, on part of the site in 1957. A new steel framed glasshouse was added to the garden centre a few years later for the sale of houseplants.
Fred died in 1964 at the age of 85.
Stephen H. Smith buys the Otley nursery and garden centre in 1966
Two years later in 1966, Stephen Smith bought the nursery having persuaded George and Humphrey that he could further develop it into one of the largest Garden Centres in the North of England. Fortunately, Stephen persuaded George, Humphrey and all the nursery staff to remain with the business.
One of the first purpose built garden centre showrooms in the country
Stephen drew up a five year plan in 1967. Many of the old wooden framed glasshouses were pulled down to make way for a new outside framed plant sales area and the original wooden garden centre shop was replaced with one of the first permanent purpose built Garden Centre Showrooms in the country.
Mobile plant trolleys were introduced for the first time in Britain to help customers load their own cars. The new building was opened by Percy Thrower in April 1968.
Container grown plants introduced for the first time
Next, the range of plants was widened and the planting season lengthened with the introduction of plants grown in containers, rather than bare root. Other product lines were gradually introduced, with Stephen’s wife Clare adding pottery, giftware - and Christmas decorations!
Covered outdoor sales area
The garden centre continued to expand with the addition of a covered outdoor sales area in 1970, which meant customers could shop outside without getting wet for the first time. Additional glasshouses, more car parking and further retail buildings were added over the next few years.
East Busk Lane Nurseries
Stephen bought the East Busk Lane Nurseries in 1967 to replace the growing space that would be lost to retail sales on the garden centre site. Three quarters of an acre of new glasshouses were built over the next 5 years.
Production at East Busk Lane
Iincluded the famous Otley Korean Chrysanthemums developed by Fred Simpson, alongside thousands of houseplants and bedding plants for sale in his garden centre and for distribution through the local wholesale markets in Bradford and Leeds. Plants were not the only crop - Stephen’s nursery produced 10 tons of Tomatoes annually in the early 1970’s!
Humphrey Woodcock retired in 1976.
Indoor and outdoor covered sales areas are expanded
New showrooms were added behind the oringinal shop building during this period.
Outdoor plant area is redesigned and constructed
A much bigger outdoor plant area was build to accommodate a bigger range of trees and shrubs. One of the first automatic irrigation systems in the UK was installed in order to maintain plants in tip top condition.
Plant production moved from garden centre site
All production of houseplants and bedding plants on the Otley garden centre site were finally moved to the East Busk Lane Nurseries to make room for more retail sales area in 1980.
Second garden centre bought at Harden, near Bingley
Stephen's son Christopher joined the business in 1985, and together they added the garden centre at Harden near Bingley in the same year. A new extension,
comprising an indoor plant sales area, a garden furniture showroom and an aquatics shop were completed there in 1985.
First Coffee Shop
Our first ever Coffee Shop, Mr Smith’s Country Kitchen was added in 1986. Sales on the site doubled within two years.
Third garden centre bought in Scunthorpe
The Trent Valley Garden Centre in Scunthorpe was bought in 1986.
Christopher's wife Tanya Smith joined the business in 1988.
George Tyreman retired from the Otley site in 1991.
Otley re-development with coffee shop
In 1993 Stephen and Christopher opened a 120 plus seater Coffee Shop inside the garden centre at Otley and started to draw up plans to relocate the original outside plant sales area to make room for a new triple span 17,500 square foot indoor sales area. Construction was started in August 1995 and the building opened by Stephen and Christopher in April 1996.
Our first on-line garden centre website www.garden-leisure.co.uk goes live
Our first on-line garden centre website went live in 1996, with information about our company plus a limited range of products offered for sale.
Scunthorpe covered outdoor sales area
1997 saw a large covered outdoor plant sales area added at the Trent Valley site in Scunthorpe.
Arts and Crafts
The craft and artists supplies shop - ArtCraft - was opened as a trail on the Otley site in November 1997. The same concept was opened at Trent Valley in March 1998. Such was the success of the ArtCraft shop in Otley, that the department was relocated into a new 3,500 sq' area in September 1998.
Our website name is changed to www.shrubs.co.uk
Our website name was changed to www.shrubs.co.uk in March 1999 – which is shorter and easier to remember. The website is still accessible via www.garden-leisure.co.uk and also via www.stephenhsmith.co.uk.
Re-located and bigger coffee shop at Harden near Bingley
A brand new Mr Smith's Country Kitchen opened on the Harden site in August 1999, along with refurbished toilets and a new baby change/disabled toilet facility.
More car park
2000 saw extended and improved car parks at Otley and Scunthorpe with over 300 additional tarmac car parking bays.
Fourth garden centre is bought in Bolton
The Irwell Valley Garden Centre in Bolton was bought from the Golden Days Group in September 2000. Autumn 2000 and Spring 2001 saw extensive improvements to the site with refurbished ArtCraft, giftware, furniture showroom, customer toilets, garden sundries section, pet shop plus a new covered outdoor sales area, new indoor planthouse and new outdoor sales area.
More improvements around the group
Spring 2001 also saw more improvements at Scunthorpe. The giftware and seasonal sections were re-carpeted, the self service restaurant decor was upgraded and the toilets given a facelift! Spring 2001 also saw the indoor sales area at Harden re-decorated.
Colour point of sale
Large scale colour point of sale was introduced with the purchase of a wide format digital printer capable of printing 1.5 metres wide banners up to 30 metres long. A3 and smaller point of sale was improved with an upgrade to our colour laser printer.
Otley refurbished again
January 2002 saw the sundries department refurbished at Otley.
Trent Valley in Scunthorpe was re-roofed and the indoor sales area upgraded in January - March 2002, with new exterior signage designed to attract customers from the new retail park that had been built immediately across the road.
Bolton pet shop refurbished
March 2002 also saw the refurbishment of the Pet Shop at Bolton.
Harden re-roofed and re-furbished
Summer 2003 - the entire roof at Harden is replaced with a new, highly insulated steel cladding. Internal areas refurbished.
New interior lighting
Winter 2003/2004 - new high bay lighting installed at Otley, Bingley and Bolton.
Scunthorpe giftware department extended
February 2004 saw the popular giftware department at Trent Valley extended.
Otley major site re-development planned
The winter of 2004/2005 saw the start of planning work for a new indoor and covered outdoor sales area plus a 250 seater coffee shop at Otley.
Scunthorpe houseplants re-located
In January 2005 our houseplant department was re-located and the internal layout re-designed in order to tie in with the new outdoor sales area.
Bolton sundries re-designed
New shop layout and new fittings were installed in February 2005.
Harden coffee shop
The Coffee Shop at Harden was completely refurbished in March 2005, with a new design theme and new tables and chairs.
Scunthorpe shrub area re-located and covered
June 2005 - a brand new outdoor plant area is constructed adjacent to the lake, with large paved areas and extensive canopies to allow customers to shop in any weather! The existing outdoor area has been converted into an all weather compost and aggregate yard with a much extended product range. The increased size of covered sales allows an extensive display of water features.
2006 40th Anniversary Celebrations
2006 was our 40th year in business - special anniversary promotions and offers were available throughout the year. Unfortunately the 40th Anniversary staff party had to be cancelled for family reasons.
Scunthorpe internal layout redesigned and refitted
January/February 2007 saw the internal store layout at Trent Valley in Scunthorpe being completely re-designed with new entrance, exit and till area. Two new retail units have been built for complimentary concessions.
Otley outdoor plant area re-built
During the summer of 2007 the whole outdoor sales area was resurfaced and rebuilt to include a new 17,000 square foot covered canopy and new display benches throughout. The canopies allow easier shopping during periods of bad weather.
Harden coffee shop
The Coffee Shop at Aire Valley needed a larger seating area - which was doubled in size during the Summer of 2007 along with the construction of a new outdoor deck area.
Otley restaurant enlarged to 300 seats
During the Spring of 2008 the restaurant at Otley was re-designed and much extended to provide new kitchens, two new serveries and seating for 300.
Harden coffee shop servery redesigned and replaced
During the Summer of 2008 the restaurant servery at Bingley was re-designed and replaced.
All coffee shops rebranded as Hattie’s Garden Centre Restaurants
During the Summer/Autumn of 2008 the restaurants at Otley, Bingley and Scunthorpe were rebranded as Hattie's Garden Centre Restaurants, with an all new menu.
East Busk Lane Nurseries production is scaled down as a result of high heating costs.
A wider range of outdoor plants
Our range of outdoor plants was reviewed with many more varieties being added from a wider group of UK based and local nurseries. Many plants usually found only at specialist nurseries or flower shows are available all year round at our garden centres.
Edinburgh Woollen Mill
In 2010 areas were created to house Edinburgh Woollen Mills stores at Otley, Scunthorpe and Bolton.
Heavy snowfalls in December 2010 caused one of the unheated covered sales areas at Scunthorpe to collapse under weight of snow. The car park had to be cleared with a JCB digger – which left piles of snow measuring 6 feet high. We have photographs to prove it!
New covered sales building at Scunthorpe
A replacement building 20 x 25 metres was erected at Scunthorpe during Spring 2011.
Hattie’s Garden Centre Restaurant comes to Bolton!
At the beginning of 2011 we took over Mary’s Garden Café within our Bolton garden centre on the retirement of the couple who had previously rented this area from us. The restaurant and kitchens were relocated and rebranded as Hattie’s, which opened in March 2011. Hattie’s Bolton now has seating for 150 people.
Bolton garden shop redesigned
The indoor garden centre shop was redesigned with a completely new layout in April and May 2011.
Was partly refitted in February 2011 with new furniture and a new lounge area complete with wide screen TV.
Bolton garden centre was sold to Bradley Fold Garden Centre Ltd on 4th June 2013.
Our Bolton garden centre was sold to the Ainscow family, operators of the Summerseat Garden Centre near Bury, as part of the Stephen H. Smith group’s plans for re-organisation.
Scunthorpe garden centre was sold for redeveloment as a retail park on 11th November 2013.
Our Scunthorpe garden centre was sold to be redeveloped as a retail park with Marks and Spencer as the anchor tenant.