Bob Smith’s

It must have been a combination of Diane Lindsay’s talk at Family Tree Live and then watching Gardener’s World in the evening which led to the stirring of distant memories overnight.

I was thrilled to hear Diane Lindsay in person on Friday 26th April at Alexandra Palace:  I have long been a fan of her regular column in Family Tree Magazine and enjoy her style of writing.  Her talk was entitled “Telling Your Family Story in Column Inches” and by way of encouraging the audience that everyone has something to write about, she shared a number of anecdotes.  One was a snatched, half-remembered memory of shelling peas with her grandma.  I’m sure we all have those sort of recollections:  we can’t quite place them in time, but there is a sudden vivid memory where sights, smells and sounds long-gone are suddenly re-kindled.

And then later in the day we were watching Gardener’s World and there was a chap doing his bit to reduce plastic use at his nursery by selling plants in cardboard ‘noodle’ pots and selling other materials loose, weighing with old-fashioned scales.

As I say, it must have been a combination of the two which brought to my mind a memory of visiting a nursery with my Grandad Wakefield, back in the 1960s.  We didn’t really have garden centres back then as we know them today, did we?  Grandad Wakefield (Jack) really loved his garden.  Perhaps it was when he was able to buy his own home in 1936, a semi with a decent sized garden, that he really got into gardening.  By the time he retired from his billposting job he was both growing vegetables and producing a reliably stunning floral display in the front garden.  My memory is particularly of the standard fuchsias, but the colourful bedding was immaculate.  Mum tells me he used to propagate plants and sell to friends and neighbours too.

Grandad’s front garden

But for his plant requirements his go-to nursery was Bob Smith’s at Mayford near Woking.  My snatched memory is of going there with Grandad and probably Dad too and of Bob Smith finding the plants Grandad required. Bob Smith had an intriguingly high-pitched voice and I picture him with a round, rosy, friendly face, calling Grandad ‘Mr Wakefield’.  They did Customer Service in those days!

I couldn’t remember where Bob Smith’s nursery was, but Mum was able to tell me that it was in Saunders Lane.  She remembered that in addition to the greenhouses there was also a shed where you could buy your compost, fertilisers and pest control products.  I suppose that’s how the garden centres began.

Well I googled the nursery, and lo and behold it is still there and still operating, albeit in a more limited way!  It would appear that the family business is still going, trading under the name of Briarwood Nurseries, and selling bedding plants for a short period from around now till they sell out in early June.  The nursery’s website says that Mr Smith developed the retail business after the Second World War, so maybe Grandad was a customer from very early days.  Interestingly, I found a George Smith on the 1939 register at Briarwood, Saunders Lane, a nurseryman – own account. Perhaps he was a father or grandfather of Bob.

Well there we are – a snatched memory that sprang seemingly from nowhere.  Maybe those early horticultural encounters helped to nurture my own love of gardening.  But certainly Diane Lindsay is right – let’s not underestimate those slightly hazy snapshot memories for telling our family stories.

PS you can find handouts from Diane Lindsay’s talk at https://www.family-tree.co.uk/ftre/show/family-tree-live/lecture-handouts  

Jack Wakefield in his greenhouse