Charles Notcutt: Inspirational leader of the horticultural community who oversaw research and built up the family nursery business

Notcutts remains the UK's largest family-owned garden centre company

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The Independent Online

Charles Notcutt was an inspirational and popular leader of the horticultural community, establishing and developing many trade bodies, and overseeing education and research. He was instrumental in the rapid growth of Notcutts, which was founded as a family nursery business in 1897 by his grandfather and which remains the UK’s largest family-owned garden centre company, with 18 centres nationwide.

He joined the business in 1958, the year the business created Britain’s first garden centre, in Woodbridge, Suffolk. During his tenure the company won many gold medals at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show, building on a successful family record since 1912, when the Show began. He was a member of the RHS Council for 10 years and much involved in judging.

A great champion of the RHS shows, he was particularly keen to make a success of the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, which he saw would make it possible for nurserymen to sell plants in significant volumes, unlike at Chelsea.

He was a tower of common sense within the RHS; when there was a move to alert the public to the dangers of poisonous plants, he pointed out that putting a skull and cross bones on the plant labels was not going to help promote sales. The idea was dropped.

He was heavily involved with the HTA (Horticultural Trades Association) from 1959 until 1971 and when a separate association was created in 1966 for the Garden Centres (GCA) he was its first Chairman. This representation and forum for the industry was important as garden centres became ever more popular.

His natural ebullience was infectious and he could always be relied upon for supportive advice. As horticulturalists lacked a professional body, he became a co-founder of the Institute of Horticulture in 1984, becoming its first Treasurer, and President in 1987.

Charles Roger Macpherson Notcutt was born in Ipswich in 1934, an only child. His mother Jean provided him with his Scottish roots, while his father Roger was the second generation of Notcutt nurserymen. Roger died when Charles was four years old; Charles and his mother moved to Edinburgh.

After National Service with the Royal Artillery in Hong Kong and Germany Notcutt joined the family nursery business. After training at Pershore Institute of Horticulture, he returned to Woodbridge in 1958 and was appointed director in 1961, managing director in 1964 and chairman in 1974. Having built up his trusted team at Woodbridge, he steadily developed the Notcutts chain of garden centres, always emphasising their horticultural excellence.

Among many honours, Notcutt was awarded the Horticultural Trades Association Pearson Memorial Medal in 1977, as well as the prestigious Victoria Medal of Honour (one of only 63 held at any one time, being the number of years in the reign of Queen Victoria) in Notcutts’ Centenary year of 1997. In 1993 he was awarded the OBE for his services to horticulture.

As well as being a charismatic and passionate man, he had great warmth and a wonderful zest for life with a great capacity for friendship.  He was charitable and generous with his time, beyond his immediate family. So many horticultural organisations, both national and local, benefited from his enthusiasm, steadfast loyalty and commitment. 

Notcutt was vice chairman of the Perennial Society, chairman of the Joint NFU and Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) Nursery Stock Committee, and on the NFU Nursery Stock Committee. He was a committee member with the Worshipful Company of Gardeners, the Tree Council and the Farmers Club and was also much involved in horticultural education with Writtle College Essex, Otley College Suffolk and the NFU Horticultural Development and Education Committee.

His interested in research and the technical problems of plant production led him to be involved with the East Malling Research Station, the John Ines Research Institute, and the Glasshouse Crops Research Institute.

Locally he was President of the Suffolk Agricultural Association, President of The Woodbridge Rotary Club and also founding chairman of the Abbeyfields Deben Extra Care Society in Woodbridge. He became elected to Woodbridge Town Council in 2009-2015 and served as mayor in 2012/13.

He didn’t waste his time – he was always looking forward to the next thing on the agenda. (That might well describe his approach to meetings, when he was in the chair.) Notcutt was awarded an honorary doctorate in civil law from the University of East Anglia in 2001.

Charles loved travel and trees, enthusiastically and happily combining these two in his membership of the International Dendrology Society, acting as Chairman of its Tours Committee during 2002-2008, an ideal role for him.  His own travels covered all seven continents, including trekking to Mount Everest with his younger son and also visiting several of the world’s volcanoes with him. His great love, though, was always the Scottish Highlands. He was always proud of his Scottish roots and was therefore always seen in a kilt at any significant occasion.

There was a wonderful celebration in 2008 when Charles commemorated his 50 years working for the family firm. The affection from his staff, to whom he was always so loyal, was palpable. He continued in a lifelong role as Notcutts’ president, and it was a proud moment for him when his daughter Caroline was appointed vice-chairman. µ

Charles Roger Macpherson Notcutt, horticulturalist: born Ipswich 30 May 1934; OBE 1993; married 1964 Angela Morris (marriage dissolved; one daughter, two son), 1977 Gill Hutchinson; died 1 July 2015.

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