Business Hour

Newgate Nurseries in Whitestake is a third-generation business which is still going strong. Owner Michael Cookson explains its success. Photography: Michael Porter

Located in the quiet village of Whitestake at the boundary of the parishes of Farington, Longton and Penwortham, you’ll find the Nurseries on Newgate Lane packed will an extensive array of plants and all of the items required to keep a garden in tip top condition.

“My grandad started the business in the 1930s,” begins Michael, “as a market garden continuing through the Second World War. The business continued until the UK joined the Common Market in the 1970s when suddenly shoppers could buy a Spanish Iceburg lettuce for a much cheaper price than a home grown one, so the business concentrated on ornamental plants instead. But even then, the business prided itself of fantastic customer service.”

As a straight A student, Michael was offered a place at Cambridge University to study law, but turned down the place and instead studied a horticulture degree at Myerscough. Taking a gap year in his studies, Michael worked at a garden centre in the US, loading cars. The more knowledge the employees had, the more they got paid and so Michael, with his amazing memory, learned about more and more plants: “I returned with such a wide knowledge of different species, it really stood me in good stead,” he said.

Michael’s mum Gerry started to make hanging baskets, which the Nurseries are well-known for to this day. “She kept asking my dad for more and more greenhouse space and so we grew many plants from seeds, cuttings and plugs. We also import varieties from Holland, Spain, Italy and so on, to add to the variety of plants we offer. We started just selling to the public, but over the years that has grown to include trade customers too. We have one of the widest ranges of plants in the area now at 10,000. Mum is also still involved in the business on a part time basis.”

During the pandemic, a lot of business went online, a stream of the business that has grown and continues today: “Now, we have customers all over the place,” continued Michael. “We courier orders far and wide plus we also deliver the larger trees and shrubs ourselves in our Luton box van.”

One of the unique selling points of Newgate is the free border design service: “If customers let me have a video and photos of their garden area, we can map it out to scale and suggest a full planting scheme taking into consideration the soil type and amount of sun/shade. If the customer buys the full suggested range, we will offer a discount and the plants can either be planted by the customer of we can come and plant for them.”

And the advice doesn’t stop there: “We are the type of place where customers can pop by for some free advice. For example, they can bring in a struggling plant or leaf from it and we can help diagnose what the problem is,” Michael explained.

The Nurseries offer soft landscaping services and although don’t provide hard landscaping services, Michael and his team have a number of trusted tradesmen that they can refer customers should they need them.

Newgate Nurseries also plants commercial displays for businesses including local restaurants, the Duchy of Lancaster, and a six-year contract with HSBC Bank at the golf British Open. “We have also created gardens at Tatton Park in Cheshire and at the Southport Flower Show,” added Michael.

With three sons of his own, Michael is hoping the business moves on to the fourth generation. “It’s not an easy life,” he said, “but I have to be outside in the fresh air even if it does mean me getting up at 5am each day and working weekends. Both my dad and grandad would be really proud of how the business has grown and thrived as will I if one my sons takes over from me one day.”

An exciting addition to the nurseries this year will be a seasonal shepherd’s hut offering refreshments and snacks, so make sure you pay a visit soon. You will also find turf, compost, bird feed, firewood, pots and planters, bulbs, bedding plants, house plants. So much to choose from and excellent customer service guaranteed!



Tedd Walmsley

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