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 10 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. And as a published author he would have had a few better chosen words to say about it on this site than I can muster.
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 15 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…..