Garden centre deepens roots with transfer of ownership

The founders of a well-known garden centre, one of whom has been a regular presenter on BBC show The Beechgrove Garden, have handed over control of the business to its staff.

From left: Morag Macrae, Dougal Philip and Lesley Watson. Picture: Scottish Enterprise 2019.

New Hopetoun Gardens, located in Hopetoun Woods between South Queensferry and Linlithgow, has until now been a family business, having been set up by Dougal Philip in 1978.

It was initially located in the Walled Garden at Hopetoun House, moving to its current purpose-built facility after 20 years.

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Philip and his wife Lesley Watson, who were originally landscape gardeners, started off selling plants and shrubs – and it is now known for the “quality, range of choice, friendly service and expert guidance it offers”.

The couple regularly judge the showgardens at the Royal Horticultural Society’s shows at Chelsea and Hampton Gardens, and Watson has been a regular presenter on The Beechgrove Garden.

The team at New Hopetoun Gardens – known by customers as “The Plant People” – looks after 18 individually themed gardens at the centre and its Orangery tearoom.

A controlling interest of the company’s stakeholding has been transferred to an employee ownership trust, while the couple will continue to be involved, supporting its current team of 37 staff, as they gradually step back over the next five years. Their fellow director and co-owner Morag Macrae has worked closely with the couple to ensure the future success of the business.

The move comes after the couple attended a seminar, hosted by legal firm Anderson Strathern, on employee ownership, and realised the model represented a good fit.

Philip said: “We’re delighted to have had the opportunity of handing over ultimate control of our business to our wonderful and valued team. They have shared our vision for the business 100 per cent, so it’s fitting that they will now be able to build on that and reap the benefits going forward.”

Co-operative Development Scotland – the arm of Scottish Enterprise that supports business growth by promoting collaborative and employee ownership models – provided a business succession review and employee ownership feasibility study. Ownership Associates guided the directors through the transfer of the business’ shareholding, and legal services were provided by Anderson Strathern, while French Duncan helped on the accountancy side.

Sarah Deas, director at Co-operative Development Scotland, said: “New Hopetoun Gardens has a superb reputation, and becoming employee-owned means that the future of the business is secured for its talented team of staff, who are now in a position to shape its future and benefit directly from its success.”

There are around 110 employee-owned companies operating in Scotland, with about 7,500 employee-owners generating a combined turnover of roughly £950 million.