Scotts Nursery – Scotts of Merriott – goes into liquidation

Scott’s of Merriott was, as my father (who was born in the reign of the Great Queen) used to say, a name to conjure with.  In their day they were unquestionably the premier fruit tree nursery in the country. He and I (from the age of about 7 onwards) used to make an annual pilgrimage in our 1955 Ford Zephyr Zodiac from Wrotham in Kent to Merriott in Somerset to buy bareroot fruit and roses. Dad would not have gone anywhere else (except perhaps to buy from me now I have a nursery of my own) so he would have been very sad indeed to see a great name slip away.

Scott’s have been around a long time – so long in fact that there is considerable evidence to support the claim that the use of the word “nursery” as applied to plants originated with them. They grew roses in considerable number (and well) but fruit trees and apple trees in particular were their speciality.  Holders of a national collection of apple trees, one of the biggest trainers of skilled grafters with (in the 60′s) the largest apprenticeship scheme in the UK fruit industry, tragically Scott’s are no more.

They lost their way perhaps 10 years ago as they tried to “modernise” and become a garden centre. Merriott is a lovely town in Somerset, but passing trade is not its strong suit.  Marketing was weak – the last Scott’s catalogue was produced in either 2004 or 2005, they came late to the internet and customer service which had once been the best, declined.

The death throes lasted for about three years – Scotts accounts show it lost money consistently over that time and it went though an administration (reflecting an inability to continue trading solvently) and settlement with its creditors in 2007.  However all that came to an end when the liquidators were appointed in September 2009. Sadly, no one is interested in the business any more – sales are perhaps 10% (in real terms) of what they were even 5 or 6 years ago, the site is off the beaten track, the trained staff have gone to other specialist fruit tree nurseries such as Ashridge Trees, Keepers, Bernwode and others. And as a result the customers have gone too.  The liquidators have a closing down sale in the second week of November.

The sad moral of the story is that fruit tree nurseries, like any other business need to stick to their knitting.  Be clear about what you are doing, be good at it and  never stop trying to be better than you were.

Given the way the industry has moved on, we are unlikely to see the like of Scotts again – Sic transit gloria…..

19 responses on “Scotts Nursery – Scotts of Merriott – goes into liquidation

  1. Mrs. John Scott Wallis

    I appreciate your views on the ‘death’ of Scotts Nurseries, however you should have investigated your facts a little more. My husband John Scott Wallis, the Manager (and son of owner Michael Wallis, aged 93) was in May this year 2009 diagnosed with a Brain Tumour. He was given 6 months to live, but tragically only survived for six weeks, passing away on the 21st July 2009. The liquidators and solicitors were called in to close the business as a result of his death. Not only is your title offensive to family members, but you have written an article with no idea of the full story. A tragic end to a very famous nursery, but all good things come to an end some day. John leaves a distraught family, the youngest being a baby of 20 months, who I hope never gets to read your scathing article.

  2. Editor Post author

    In writing this post about the end of one of the great fruit tree nurseries, there was no intention to cause distress to anyone, least of all the family of John Wallis. I have therefore edited the article to remove one or two phrases that may have been better phrased or were misinterpreted.

    The facts remain however. Scotts has gone into liquidation and had been losing money for years before. This is not “scathing” it is just the truth. And it IS tragic, here – along with everyone else involved in the fruit industry – the passing of Scotts of Merriott is viewed only with sadness.

    Ed

  3. Morris Williams

    Found this when searching to buy some trees – A great shame – I well remember my excitement when I got the Scotts catalogue through the post and together with Common Ground’s Orchard book selected the fruit for my cider orchard – went in a van from Bristol to collect and planted it up in the Forest of Dean. Trees are now fruiting well (12 years on) and the cider is good.

  4. David Black

    Dear Mrs John Scott Wallis,

    I have just found out about the death of your husband and closure of the nursery. Please accept my condolences and let me say that I always found
    the firm polite and efficient and very civilised. They were always so personal – I used to buy plants especially for a local school that are all thriving.
    Very best wishes.

    David Black

  5. Annette Collins

    Dear Mrs John Sctt Wallis,

    My sincere condolences on the death of your husband. I only discovered this when I googled the nursery to look at goldengages for my daughter. We bought ours from you in 1975 and it is still cropping well. We supply all our neighbours and friends with them. It is older than both my daughters. We could not have asked for better.

    Best wishes,
    Annette Collins.

  6. Brendan Wallis

    I’d like to leave my two cents worth and to say that Scotts had a garden centre from the early 1970′s, and as a kid i used to work there directing the huge volume of visiting traffic when a garden centre was one of the only places you could visit on a Sunday. I would say that its demise was more to resting on its laurels , poor marketing strategy and failure to trim its huge range to suit more modern mainstream tastes- for years it carried planting and propagating vast numbers of stocks which simply weren’t sold. Its Location in a beautiful Somerset Village wasn’t ideal for footfall, and could have benefited from some form of advertising, a proper website and a coffee-shop. However, its great strength was as selling mail Order fruit trees with its nursery sited on some of the best growing soil in the country. Michael Wallis the passionate plantsman and company secretary, fondly remembered by any of his co-respondents is now 94 and sadly suffers with dementia, is probably fortunately unaware of its liquidation and the tragic passing of his Son and co-director John.
    The Site at Merriott is still owned by Michael, albeit a derelict shadow of its former self, it still has its basic functional infrastructure. A Liquidation sale was held in November 2009 which cleared most of the Machinery and container grown stock, and the financial affairs are run by Attorneys.

  7. Adrian

    went to look at the fruit trees left over after the liquidators had finished. really sad what can happen to good stock that has been left to itself. its all rubbish now. the tree have canker or rabit or deer damage none of them are labeled. fit for the chipper thats about all. shame. adrian

  8. Dr Davie Vive Kananda

    Having bought 4 Kirk Blue plums from Harrods – described as the sweetest plums : which were, I began looking for a nursery that sold Kirk Blue plum tree. To my suprise some never even heard of it!.

    It was by chance reading Mr Alan Titmarsh gardening column in the Daily Mail he mentioned again the Kirk Blue plums. That was in 1990. I wrote to the Daily Mail to pass on the letter to Alan to tell me where can I buy Kirk Blue plum trees. Alan kindly replied that the only nursery that sold them was Scott’s in Merriott. I bought three trees – still thriving and giving the best fruits. I still have the then catalogue in my library and in 2006 bought three trees again and planted them in my backgarden at the office.

    This year has a bumper harvest and I have been telling staff about the the plum and Scotts. I wanted to buy a few more Kirk Blue plum trees. On 09.08.2011 I rang the telephone number only to be told that it went bankrupt.

    I was shocked and after reading the article and the response from Mrs Scott Wallis I can understand that there is not such place for news editors to dramatise their warped version to have maximum impact to the audience to earn their crumbs.

    I like old fashioned ways and Scotts helped me and guided me through the root stocks etc. They were very helpful and delivery was very prompt to my office.

    I hope many more nursery will stock Joseph Kirks variety since 1930.

    Dr Davie Vive Kananda 10 August 2011

  9. Joyce Wilson

    I have just found this site whilst looking to buy a quince tree online.
    My sincere condonlences to the Scott family.
    I bought some apple trees and cherry trees from Scotts 30 years ago.
    I was impressed with the service and the quality of the trees when they were delivered. The trees all did well and bore good crops.
    I remember getting out of the car late one evening to hear a strange “slurping” noise. Looking across to my neigbours garden where one of the cherry trees had been planted, there was a family of hedgehogs feasting on the falllen fruit. Delightful.
    It is a great shame when such a prestigious business disappears, I have recomended Scotts to many of my friends. I always looked forward to the old style catalogues arrival each year with the line drawing illustrations, I only have one left as sadly and foolishly I lent 4 of them to a friend who never returned them. She threw them away as she didn’t think I would want them back! They were my ref. bibles for many years.
    I am so disappointed not to be able to buy the quince from Scotts, the demise of the company leaves a very large hole in the horicultural world.

    Editors comment:
    A lot of Scotts fruit , especially older apples, perry pears and quinces were bought by Ashridge Trees to be used as mother plants to provide budwood for future generations of fruit.

  10. John Woodford

    What a tragic story – please accept my sincere condolences – although very late.

    I was born and bred just round the corner in Dorset and remember visiting Scott’s as a child many times – my family bought fruit trees and roses in profusion from you in the 50′s !!

    I visited Scott’s again in about 2003 with my wife, and after spending a good deal of time and with plenty of help from the staff we selected about 10 old-fashioned climbing rose bushes for our garden in southwest France. I have to say, all are now very well established and thriving. This summer, in particular, they have been absolutely magnificent – They give my family and I such great pleasure I just had to say a very big thank you.

    John Woodford, Dordogne / Charente border – France – 07-07-13

  11. Julian Post author

    Not quite the same here, but not far off. I was raised in Kent and as a boy went with my father on his annual pilgrimage to buy apple trees from Scotts in the late 50′s and early 60′s. We would drive down in his Ford Zephyr Zodiac (c. 1953) and load up with almost anything Mr Scott recommended. The level of knowledge, the attention to detail and the commitment to service were at a level that it is hard to find today. Not everything has improved with time…

  12. jean loudon

    At 87 I’m trying to get my garden in better order so I went to Scotts of Merriott to find they had gone four years’ ago. They were always so helpful, and we bought trees and shrub roses from them, and I still have the wonderful Robin Tanner illlustrated catalogues. So now where do I go? If any of the family read this, my condolences, and appreciation of what was a very fine institution. when I was on the local parish council we bought many trees from Scotts, for tenants to plant in the front of their front gardens. this was in the 70s. Not all have survived, but many have includng a splendid small maple.

  13. Julian Post author

    Thank you for your post about Scotts. I agree – it is a tragedy. I think I fisrst went there with my father (a pilgrimage from Kent in those days) in about 1958 or 59….

    The stock trees (apples and pears) were bought by Ashridge Trees Limited who have a huge range of fruit trees. They are an internet/mail order business. They are not open to the public but are very helpful on the phone (01963 359444) and they have a good website at

    I hope this helps.

    Yours
    Webmaster

  14. Gregory Ferrari

    I just discovered Johns demise. Very Sad. I had much discussion with him on the phone about Thomas Rivers of Sawbridgeworth and also Scotts contribution andsupport given to maintain supplies of heritage British fruit varieties and their revival. When I spoke with him in 2009 he was a bit short .. and now I understand why.

    It was in the 70′s that I first came across Scotts enabling me to obtain the trees I wanted for a small orchard.

  15. David Lewis

    I too am sad to read of the “decline and fall”, and echo many of the above comments.

    May I however use this forum to ask about rhubarb stocks?

    I understand that when Stockbridge House near Selby which held a national collection of rhubarb varieties, was sold off by MAFF in the early 1980s that Scotts bought up the remaining rootstocks – amongst them many interesting but difficult to find varieties with “Cawood” and “Fenton” prefixes.

    If my understanding is correct, does anyone know what happened to these rootstocks – presumably sold off in the liquidation sale?

    Thanks for any help that people can give.

  16. Sarah Mitchell

    I am relatively local, but can not find a replacement for Scotts. A lot of mouth, but are not good at delivery! Either product quality, or plant at all!
    Constructive help. for good range and knowledge, of same? Sarah.

  17. Julian Post author

    Unfortunately, as often happens, the liquidators threw out much of the good with the bad. Rhubarb was one of the casualties and none were saved. Such a shame.

  18. Julian Post author

    I would suggest Ashridge Trees (www.ashridgetrees.co.uk). They bought most of Scotts stock trees and have a huge range of apples and pears in particular

  19. Jayne R

    My very belated condolences. I have just searched for Scotts online, as last time I had space to create a small orchard, in 1998, it was Scotts who supplied my trees.

    I am sorry to discover that I will have to find another supplier.

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