Founded in 1925 by the late Frank Langdon and his wife Hilda, St Bridget Nurseries is one of the longest running businesses in Exeter. Still a family business the company is unusual in that it propagates such a diverse range of plants not least 888 varieties of shrub, 261 varieties of herbaceous perennials, 200 varieties of trees (both ornamental and fruit) 43 varieties of bamboos, grasses and ferns, 209 varieties of roses plus hundreds of seasonal bedding and vegetable plants. So how did the company get to where it is today?
Frank's paternal bloodline had been in the market garden profession since the early eighteenth century but Frank had always dreamt of owning his own nursery and with just £300 to his name, in 1925 he managed to acquire an acre of farmland in Old Rydon Lane, which now forms the front corner of the main entrance.
One of the first crops grown, were St. Brigid anemones. Frank and Hilda used this as inspiration for a company name just amending the spelling to Bridget. To help make ends meet vegetables were grown as well as flowers in the early years. As the business grew the vegetables gave way to nursery stock (shrubs and trees) and in 1934 Frank bought some 30 acres of land at Clyst St. Mary where pigs were reared to ensure there was a permanent supply of organic manure.
The nursery continued to expand steadily with greenhouses and buildings being erected and more staff employed. Frank Langdon died in 1941 leaving the business to his nineteen-year-old son Norman. Under his management St. Bridget Nurseries became fully involved in the Dig for Victory campaign, nursery stock being replaced by vegetable crops, though a nucleus of stock plants were planted in a small corner of land so that production could recommence quickly after the war.
Indeed after the war the nursery expanded rapidly and St. Bridget Nurseries was soon exhibiting at lots of shows, including Chelsea, and supplying plants to customers across the country. Hilda Langdon passed away in 1965 but three years later her granddaughter, Janet, joined the firm.
During this decade the Garden Centre in Old Rydon Lane had started to evolve and in 1969 the famous old nursery firm of Robert Veitch and Son Ltd was acquired. Although run separately for many years, Veitch’s is now a subsidiary of St. Bridget Nurseries and no longer trades under its own name.
During the 1970s trade increased at the Garden Centre in Old Rydon Lane and more and more shrubs were being container grown. In 1974 the Garden Centre at Clyst St. Mary was opened on the site of the old piggery. Further progressive thinking in 1979, opened the first micro propagation laboratory to produce hardy nursery stock in the country.
The 80’s and 90’s saw continued expansion of the two Garden Centres. Each of them going through several major re-developments during these two decades, whilst on the nursery, more and more stock was being container grown.
In 2004, St Bridget Nurseries suffered a major loss with the sad death of Norman Langdon. However, just two years later and with history almost repeating itself his granddaughter, Tammy Falloon (Janet’s daughter) joined the firm as the fourth generation.
Since then, the company has won many national awards including Nursery Retailer of the Year, The UK’s Greatest Planteria Team and voted one of the top 20 garden centres in the UK by the public, plus St Bridget Nurseries were finalists in the UK Grower of the Year awards. In May, the company also scooped a large gold medal and the Mildmay-White Perpetual Challenge Trophy at Devon County Show for their exhibit of plants in the flower and garden show.
To celebrate their 90th anniversary, St Bridget Nurseries are organizing a number of special events and offers. In July, they opened the gates to the nursery to take groups to their production rose fields in Old Rydon Lane and in the autumn there are plans for an Orchid Day and Nursery Tree Field Tours. Tammy explains, ‘the tours are very special as we give visitors the opportunity to see that we really do grow our own plants. We demonstrate the propagation techniques we use and I try to de-mystify horticultural jargon so everyone can understand what terms mean and therefore help select the best plants for their garden. The scale of our growing area really leaves an impression”.
With both garden centres passionate about gardening and offering solutions for all your garden needs, it's well worth a visit to St Bridget Nurseries' Garden Centres.
Company website: www.stbridgetnurseries.co.uk
Nursery, Head Office and Garden Centre: Old Rydon Lane, Exeter, Devon, EX2 7JY Tel: 01392 873672
Garden & Aquatic Centre: Sidmouth Road, Clyst St Maty, Exeter, EX5 1AE Tel: 01392 876281