BBC Look North’s Harry Gration this week helped unveil a statue commemorating horticulturalist John Richardson’s more than 60 years’ service to the industry.
The statue, named ‘The Spirit of the Nurseryman’, has been created by wire sculptor Derek Kinzett, and is sited inside the entrance to the business’s main building.
First established in 1921, Johnsons of Whixley was purchased by Richardson in 1964 and the business is today recognised as one Europe’s largest commercial nurseries. His three sons, Graham, Andrew and Iain, serve as joint managing directors, while several grandchildren also have roles within the business.
Starting with eight full-time staff and an annual turnover of £33,500, Johnsons of Whixley now employs 100 members of full-time staff, rising to 150 seasonally, and in the most recent financial period delivered a turnover of just under £12m.
Following numerous stages of expansion, production now covers 90 hectares across five sites, including the annual production of around two million container plants and fast approaching six million native hedging plants.
Richardson remains chairman and still takes an active daily role in governance, strategy, quality and environmental systems, and health and safety.
Having recently celebrated his 80th birthday, and after last year receiving a lifetime achievement award for his commitment to Rural Excellence in Yorkshire, the receipt of a statue in his honour came as a major surprise.
He said: “I vaguely remember something being said at the time of my 80th birthday, along the lines of something special arriving in due course, but I had no idea beyond that. It’s a tremendous honour.
“I think the statue looks very realistic in dress, attitude and stance and it will look good in front of the office. It’s very well made and realistic and you can appreciate the craftsmanship that’s gone into it.
“It might take some getting used to, but I don’t think I’ll have a problem walking past it each day. I will appreciate my sons’ thoughts every time I see it, and I like the notion that I remind them of a working man.
“However, along with every other person around the place, he looks far younger than me!”
Harry Gration said: “It was a privilege to be involved in such a moving presentation. It was clear to me just how much it meant to him, but, typical of the man, he said it was a tribute to the whole company.
“That is what makes Johnsons so special.”