Growing Strong at Hillcrest Nursery

PUBLISHED: 10:43 11 October 2016 | UPDATED: 10:38 12 October 2016

Allison and David Thomas

Allison and David Thomas


Philippa Pearson discovers a husband and wife team offering a huge range of plants grown and served with a personal touch at their Holwell nursery

Bee enjoying lavenderBee enjoying lavender

Beautiful plants, attention to detail, lots of horticultural knowledge and experience and a lovely place to be: this sums up Growing Strong at Hillcrest Nursery in the village of Holwell near Hitchin. Husband and wife David and Allison Thomas are the nursery owners. David, with his many years of horticulture and technical knowledge, is the face of the business while Allison tends to the garden design and planting scheme side. The couple work together across all other aspects of the business which they took over in 2003. 
Hillcrest Nurseries was previously a specialist hosta centre, now it has an extensive range of all kinds of plants from feature trees sourced in Italy to shrubs of all types, a super collection of perennials and grasses as well as herbs, alpines, vegetables, fruit and seasonal bedding plants.

The couple grow many of the plants on site and also source from specialist growers in the UK and Europe for more mature and unusual specimens.

David worked for many years managing garden centres. It was at one of these that he met Allison who was working with a garden design company. Within a few months of meeting, David took over the Hillcrest Nursery site and Allison started her own garden design business. The two businesses later merged, and to complete the merger, the couple married.

Ripening apple treesRipening apple trees

Walk round the nursery and you’ll discover a fabulous selection of perennials, grasses and ferns. You’ll find old favourites as well as some unusual plants.

David and Allison are on hand to help you with choices and suggestions so that you get the right plant for your garden or planting conditions. They take pride in the range of plants they offer and always take time to talk to people. This ethos has paid off as gardeners travel from a wide area to visit the nursery.

‘New plants are always arriving each week but if people can’t find what they need or are particularly looking for we are happy to order things in,’ David says.

Many plants are sourced from the UKMany plants are sourced from the UK

The couple make a point of having plants of all types available and looking good throughout the year. There’s a good range of spring bulbs available in the autumn, lots of tulips and alliums. These are sold loose so you can buy as many or as few as you need.

‘I use bulbs a lot in my planting schemes,’ says Allison, ‘and do lots of different colour combinations across a long period covering late winter to spring. I always plant twice as much as I think I will need. The bulbs always get used and it makes a great display.’

Seasonal bedding plants are always available, there’s a good range of Christmas trees in December and the couple grow many vegetable plants from seed for spring. I was delighted to see Sarah Raven seeds for sale. The little shop has a good selection of lovely garden tools too - things that you will always need and that also make good presents. Mingled with the new tools are reconditioned ones restored by Allison’s father, adding further interest and temptation.

Butterfly enjoying a BuddlejaButterfly enjoying a Buddleja

This husband and wife team has gained a reputation for an outstanding plant collection together with excellent plant and growing advice. I would say it’s a must visit to find the perfect plant for your garden and to enjoy the treasures on offer.

Allison’s autumn garden tips

Plants kept to one side for one of Allison's planting schemesPlants kept to one side for one of Allison's planting schemes

1. Autumn is a great time to plant new borders or renovate existing ones. The soil is still warm from summer and this gives roots a good chance to grow before winter, allowing plants a head start in spring when the weather improves.

2. Take a notebook and walk around the garden, jotting down things you’d like to improve or change. It’s always useful to take photos throughout the year as well, to have a record of how spaces and borders look through the seasons.

3. Look at garden structures and consider either adding new features like an archway or pergola or moving upright structures like an obelisk nearer to the house.

Old tools mix with new in the shopOld tools mix with new in the shop

4. Choose flowering bulbs that will extend the planting season as long as possible. Start with mid-winter bulbs through to bulbs that flower in mid to late spring. Always buy and plant more than you think you need.

Visit the nursery

Growing Strong at Hillcrest Nursery

Crocosmia in later summerCrocosmia in later summer

Bedford Road, Holwell SG5 3RT

The nursery is open seven days a week throughout the year except for January when it is closed and a few days over Easter and Christmas. Visit for full details.

The gardenshopThe gardenshop

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