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Wychbold garden centre marks 75 years of growth
8:40am Friday 13th July 2012 in Local
IT is unlikely that the founders of a small seeds trial ground at Wychbold in 1937 could have dreamed of the growth that was to follow in the next 75 years.
The motorcar had just become the prime form of transport and a decision was taken to move the thriving seeds site from alongside the main railway line to where it could be seen by people from their cars - the nearby A38 in Wychbold. That move would give rise to Webbs garden centre, the family firm that remains at the same site to this day.
Now the company, which employs a large amount of people from Droitwich Spa and Bromsgrove, is marking it’s 75th anniversary.
The gardening roots of the business are traceable even further back to the middle of the 19th century when Edward Webb was a successful agricultural seeds merchant trading near Stourbridge in the West Midlands. By the end of the century Webbs Seeds had become a household name and Webbs was appointed seedsmen to every monarch in succession from Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Edward’s grandson, William, took over the business and involvement in the Wychbold area began with the purchase of Astwood Farm in 1925 where both agricultural and horticultural seeds were trialled to assess their quality.
But it was in 1937 with the move to Wychbold that Webbs became a destination for garden enthusiasts. The famous Webbs thatched building, the floor of which was designed to incorporate wood from all countries of the Commonwealth at that time, was completed and the Wychbold Trial Grounds became a landmark.
Double-decker buses and coaches from far and wide would bring visitors to the site to walk around the magnificent displays of flowers and vegetables. The war years saw Webbs continue to breed and trial seeds (with anti aircraft guns situated by the river behind the seed grounds) and on throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s, successfully exhibiting at all the major flower shows during this period.
Richard Webb, great grandson of the original Edward Webb, began the development of Webbs as both a garden centre and nursery in the late 60s and early 70s.
He said that from 1970 to 2005, he had particularly enjoyed building the plant nursery to supply garden centres across England. He said he was delighted to be given the Royal Horticultural Society’s highest award, The Victoria Medal of Honour, in 2011, and explained, “I feel that it was an award that recognised not so much my own contribution, as that of the whole Wychbold team, to gardening in the Midlands and beyond.”
As gardening's popularity flourished, the site at Wychbold expanded and developed to meet the growing demand. Television fame soon followed when Webbs made an appearance on Gardeners World Live and Anneka Rice's Challenge.
In 1996 Webbs won gold at Chelsea Flower Show, with a garden designed by Marigold Webb. The winning design not only proved a favourite with the judges but also with HM The Queen.
In 2000, visitors to Webbs were invited to relax and be inspired in the Riverside Gardens, also designed by Marigold Webb. Four years later, the more contemporary New Wave gardens were opened, adding even more for visitors to enjoy.
In 2006 Webbs opened a £5m redevelopment, seeing the Wychbold site become Britain's biggest garden centre. In 2007 and 2008 Webbs was given the highest accolade, when it was crowned UK Garden Centre of the Year by the Garden Centres Association (GCA) representing the best garden retailers in the country.
Today, the business is led by Ed Webb, great, great, great grandson of the firm's founder. He said: “With a long history of bringing the region’s gardeners the latest plants and horticultural innovations we are immensely proud to remain 100 per cent family owned and fiercely independent.”