The Bigger Picture
We meet Wirral-based Steve Nicholson of The Bigger Plant Company – the business which supplies some of the Northwest’s most adventurous garden projects with their larger-than-life foliage
As specialists in mature trees and suppliers of some of the Northwest’s most successful architects, designers, landscapers and developers, The Bigger Plant Company has made quite the name for itself since its inception in 2001.
Nevertheless, the road to success has certainly not been a smooth one for Director and Founder Steve Nicholson, and it’s the juggling act he had to master in order to get the company off the ground which makes its triumph all the more impressive.
Originally working as a gin distiller with G&J Greenalls, Steve found that he was spending more and more time in his garden, and less and less time distilling. When trying to source trees and shrubs for his garden he noticed that it was virtually impossible to find them in large, mature sizes and that, even when he did, the prices were often astronomical.
“I realised that this was our niche,” he tells me. “To supply large-size mature specimen trees and shrubs at a price that is accessible to most. The major spark in the birth of the company came when in 2000, family friends Gordon and June Sutton of Suttons of Wisbech were taking down a very large polytunnel and offered it to us. We then met up with an old family-run business in Italy called Pacini e Baldi Piante, and they really took us under their wing and helped us source the trees and shrubs to stock our nursery.
“Initially, my family pooled what money we had to pay for the building of the polytunnel, ground works, roadways, electrics and irrigation systems, then, with just a tiny amount left in the budget, we placed our first order with Pacini e Baldi. In the spring of 2001, our first wagon arrived and we started trading. At that time I was working shifts at the distillery in Warrington, so I would wake at 4.30am to commute from the Wirral, then when my shift was over I would return to the nursery to help my father tend to the stock and make deliveries.
“The week after I would leave the nursery after a morning’s work to do a late shift at the distillery, and this pattern lasted an exhausting two years until the business had a sufficient turnover to support me full time. So, with my mother taking care of the book work, accounts and admin, my father helping to man the office, tend to the trees and shrubs, and my brother helping at weekends, the company blossomed. A family company in the truest sense of the word.”
The ball now firmly rolling, The Bigger Plant Company soon started to become known to landscapers, building developers, garden designers andprivate customers in the local area, gradually able to plough back the returns to invest in larger stock, and extending the existing nursery little by little to encompass the two acres it covers today.
Fifteen years later, Steve looks back with pride, saying that the company’s biggest achievement to date remains surviving those first shaky years until the brand’s reputation was established. He still enjoys every single project with which the company is involved, saying that he still finds it “amazing, even after thousands of installations, to look back to a complete instant mature garden, or even a single solitary tree, and think that it has always been there. The effect is dramatic”.
And when it comes to keeping up with the latest outdoor plant trends, Steve is unsurprisingly a mine of information and more than happy to share a bit of insider knowledge.
“With contemporary gardens gaining favour and the shift to ‘garden rooms’, we’re really seeing a trend in formality,” he explains. “Clean lines, clipped geometric forms such as buxus, taxus and holly are popular, and trees with a formal look such as Carpinus Fastigiata look both formal and modern when planted in a row. Pleached trees are also really gaining popularity, thanks to their clean, crisp manicured look, which helps give privacy without causing issues with neighbours. We’re seeing that privacy is a really key issue at the moment, and it seems to be becoming more and more a priority for people when designing their gardens.
“Perhaps with the invention of garden rooms, more use of gardens, the rise of barbecue parties and such, people want their little enclave to be more secluded and private than ever. So with this swing, we’re supplying a lot of slow-growing evergreen trees such as Ilex Nellie Stevens, which is an ideal boundary tree for privacy and very low maintenance.”
So what’s next for The Bigger Plant Company? Clearly more passionate about the business than ever, Steve has no plans to slow down and is keen to make sure the ethos of the brand stays on track “Our business is family run and in itself is a member of our family, if that makes sense. It’s a niche business and a boutique nursery, and in order to keep to our ethos of making it accessible to as many as possible, we have to remain lean and dynamic. A mistake would be to get too large, which in my opinion would be detrimental to the personal service we provide. Of course, we want the company to prosper, and to improve that which requires improvement, but at the same time, it’s so important that we retain the identity of the company and its ethos. That’s what got us here in the first place”
The Bigger Plant Company
The Orchard, Fornalls Green Lane, Meols, Wirral, Merseyside, CH47 9RL
t: 0151 632 3532 e: email@example.com w: thebiggerplantcompany.co.uk
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