Student Profile

Photograph of Neil Grant

Neil Grant

Graduated: HND Commercial horticulture
Nationality: British
Occupation: Garden Centre Proprietor/Manager

Why did you choose to study at Writtle University College?
I always knew I wanted a career in Horticulture, although I was encouraged by my school to take an alternative path. Undeterred I applied for Writtle College.

I wanted a practical course that covered the aspects of production a rather than the amenity side of horticulture. My aim was to understand the management of production plus business management to one day run my own enterprise.

What did you particularly enjoy about your course?
The wide variety of subjects. These were under girded with science to act as the foundation for the practical applications needed to become a manager. When this was added to the principles of business management, including the financial accounting aspects, it created a solid platform to launch us into the real world of horticulture.

The lecturing team were superb and gave us the basis and confidence to venture forth into the world of horticulture.

I made great friends at the college and we still make the effort to stay in contact.

My Career Path
I didn't have a career plan as such and this might have been more complicated anyway as on my course I met my future wife, Linda Barker, who became Mrs Linda Grant 6 weeks after we completed our time at Writtle.

Linda's family ran a small bedding nursery on the outskirts of Sheffield and her parents gave us the chance to run it as our own business. We proved quickly that the issues they had faced 25 years earlier were still major limiting factors to developing a successful expanding business and a suitable alternative site was sought to develop a new wholesale nursery with attached retail section. The limiting factors were a north facing slope and no flat areas for building new glass houses.

With no obvious suitable production land available locally the offer of local garden centre came up and when asked 'can you run a garden centre?' the obvious answer being 24 was 'of course'. Thirty three years later we are still here. We never did produce any of our own crops but our growing training meant we completely understood what we needed and which nurseries were producing good stock.

The knowledge I obtained from Writtle still remains very valuable, as for the last 10 years, every Sunday morning I am BBC Radio Sheffield's garden expert and regularly have to drag some long lost science knowledge out of the recesses of my brain to help me answer questions.

Over the years I have represented the Midlands area for the Garden Centre Association and then became an elected director for 6 years. For 3 years I have been the Yorkshire member's representative for the Horticultural Trades Association and have just been accepted to the Retail Committee involved in influencing policy for Garden retailers. I'm still passionate about plants and use this to inform my suggestions for the future of the industry. I was a recent speaker a Ball Colegraves/HTA event "Plant Retailing Fit for the Future?"

I was nominated by our PR advisor for the Guardian Newspaper 'Small Business Network awards this spring and was amazed to hear my name announced at the event in Shoreditch, London that I was Small Business Leader 2015.

It's great that horticulture has been represented at such a prominent national events that was dominated by high tech and media businesses.