The story of Shallowmead Nurseries
On Michaelmas Day on 29th September 1947 Dennis and Marcia Phillips purchased a 4.16 acre field of wheat with a black wooden shed from a Mrs Richards for £950. Recently married, Dennis had previously been a bomber pilot in the RAF during the latter part of World War II and Marcia a state registered nurse at The Middlesex Hospital.
The field or mead they bought was called “The Shallows”, as recorded on an old map, and ran from Boldre Lane down towards the river alongside Shallows Lane, hence why Dennis and Marcia decided to call their venture “Shallowmead Nurseries”. At the time they were living in a caravan at Dunsford Farm on Royden Lane, but in the spring of 1948 they camped in the black shed while their house “Shallowmead” was being built.
Together they worked tirelessly to get the business going and Dennis was highly entrepreneurial in the subsequent years.
At the same time, they also built a Derwent greenhouse with a second hand boiler for propagating bedding plants. Their first crops were half an acre of potatoes and some radishes, carrots and lettuces grown under Chase Growers barn cloches. Every one of these cloches had to be assembled using 4 sheets of glass and four pieces of wire, weighing about 11lbs. By 1968 when growing strawberries under these cloches ceased, over 10,500 of them had been purchased and moved all over the nursery from one location to another!
Anemones, early strawberries, melons, cabbages and cauliflowers were added to the list of crops being grown. Most of the marketing was carried out through T.J. Poupart, a fresh produce company based in Southampton.
Two pigsties were also built and a pair of gilts called Grizzle and Grunt were bought for breeding and led to a herd of 60 pigs being fattened on the north-west corner of the nursery. In 1952 swine fever wreaked havoc on this part of the enterprise, but Dennis persevered with the pig fattening business for another 21 years.
The two fields adjacent to Shallowmead Nurseries were being developed into another horticultural holding called New Forest Nurseries Ltd. Lavish amounts of money were spent by a Mr Verralls and his mother on a new house (now known as Boldre Lane House) along with a tarmac road going from Boldre Lane down to a new propagation house, four Dutch light greenhouses and a brick hut for the electrical switchgear and meters from the new transformer they installed on the electricity pylon.
Rumour had it that Mr Verralls was more interested in horse racing than growing crops; and his wife, a resting actress, preferred sunbathing down by the Shallows to assisting with the nursery! At the end of 1952 it seemed that money was running out and Mrs Verralls senior sold the “Far Field” (known as “Middle Shallows” to Dennis and Marcia), which doubled the size of Shallowmead Nurseries. This is the field where Shallowmead Cottage is situated.
In 1954 New Forest Nurseries Ltd finally ran out of money and Dennis was offered the field called “Further Shallows” with all the glasshouses and other facilities (but not the house) for around £2,000. A loan was raised to finance this purchase which then brought the size of Shallowmead Nurseries up to thirteen and a half acres. The brick hut is still in use and houses some of the electricity meters, and the tarmac road eventually became the main nursery entrance, until 2015 when it was moved to another part of the site. The Dutch lights were used for tomato production until they were demolished in favour of the more modern aluminium and steel glasshouses which provided greater yield. Later on, tomatoes would become the main crop in the nursery.
In 1956 Shallowmead Cottage was built for the nursery foreman and his family.
In 1957 the black shed was extended to provide a staffroom, two outside toilets and storage space for produce waiting to be dispatched. A new staffroom was built in 1988.
New Forest Produce was set up by Dennis and other local growers to market their produce using a logo with a New Forest pony on the label. Shallowmead Nurseries had the first number of the New Forest Produce organisation issued, which was NFP 201 – the two hundred was added to make the organisation look larger!
Strawberries were the main crop at this time, later to be replaced by tomatoes when a then untreatable disease in the soil called red core, meant that strawberries could no longer be grown profitably. Before this occurred, Shallowmead Nurseries had gained quite a reputation for “Pick Your Own Strawberries” – a useful way of selling off the remains of the crop after the best had been sent to Southampton and London.
In 1962 the first of three modern piggeries were built at the bottom of the nursery. A grain silo was purchased and a corn mill and mixer were installed in an old Nissan hut in the north-west corner of the nursery. By 1964, 700 pigs were being fattened at any one time. However, entry into the EEC meant that pig production was no longer financially viable, so the last pigs left Shallowmead Nurseries in 1973.
In 1963, the final one and a half acre paddock known as George’s Field, beyond the Far Field, was purchased. The resulting total acreage meant that the nursery now qualified as an agricultural holding and was awarded a holding number.
In 1967 the first two Stevenson glasshouses “A” and “B” were built so that early tomato production could start to replace the profitable, cloche-grown strawberry crop. In 1968 two Robinson glasshouses “C” and “D” were built and by 1973 “E” and “F” completed the one and three quarter acres of heated glass, a state-of-the-art production unit for growing tomatoes. The glasshouses were heated by two industrial steam boilers fuelled by gas or oil. Tomato production was very labour-intensive all year round and at every stage; from growing to picking and on to grading and packing, clearing and sterilising the houses ready for the new crop.
In 1974 Shallowmead Nurseries became a limited company, with Dennis and Marcia as Directors.
To replace the pig fattening enterprise, Dennis decided to start propagating and growing outdoor conifers, mainly hedging varieties such as Leylandii.
Also in 1974, his daughter Dinah started working on the nursery after training as a nurse in London. In 1977 her first husband Peter Basham joined the company having worked for Stevenson’s Nurseries and trained at Hadlow College.
By 1987 tomato production was becoming less viable so a transition to growing nursery stock in the unheated glasshouses commenced.
During 1987 Dinah and Peter also became directors of the company.
By 1993 tomato production was entirely replaced by wholesale indoor and outdoor conifer and ornamental nursery stock production. Glasshouse “C” was converted to a first-class propagation unit, a huge improvement for the propagator Rod Thomas. Dinah, with help from her husband Eric, started raising the profile of the company by exhibiting at various trade shows throughout the country.
In 2000 Dennis and Marcia resigned as Directors to enjoy a well-deserved retirement, leaving Dinah and Peter to manage Shallowmead Nurseries Ltd. The company continued to run as a long-standing family business, employing loyal local labour and providing top quality services and plants at competitive prices.
In 2012 Dinah and Peter were ready to retire. They resigned as directors in February 2013, when Shallowmead Nurseries Ltd was taken over by a new management team who are restructuring the company, exploring new avenues and redeveloping the whole site. The team has already cleared one and a half acres of woodland on the site and has erected two large purpose-built greenhouses, as well as relocating the offices and entrances to the premises, allowing easy access for their clients. In addition, they have registered the company with the New Forest Marque as they believe that growing their own stock is key to their future success. We look forward to sharing our news of exciting plans and developments on the site with both new and existing clients. Watch this space!