Toftwood Garden Centre

A little History Lesson on Toftwood Garden Centre

Toftwood Garden Centre was opened by Allan Read in March of 2011 as a natural development of Reads Nurseries, Dumpling Green, Dereham which has been in the growing business since it was established in 1910 by his great grandfather Francis Charles Read. 

It was in the same year as George V became king, that Francis moved to Dereham from Cucumber Lane, Brundall near Norwich and first established the nursery. In those days it was known as Old Hall Nurseries and over a period of years became known as Reads Nurseries. Old Hall Nurseries soon became known for a crop which would not be the obvious one for the heart of Norfolk. 

The Norwich Queen melon – described by connoisseurs at the time “ as one of the finest in existence” was grown by Reads and was enjoyed at many a state banquet over the years as well as being sold at tip-top London stores such as Harrods and Fortnum and Mason and served up by chefs at famous restaurants.  

In 1930 James Francis (better known as Jim Read) – son of the company founder – became a partner and then sole trader in 1951 and clearly won the approval of the author of the feature in very well respected Grower magazine stating “ The Norwich Queen is a melon of such quality and appearance as to have few rivals some say none. But this golden aromatic netted fruit with its luscious white flesh is in danger of disappearing. Only one man today grows it. That man is Jim Read”. 

At its peak Reads sent an amazing 2000 melons a day to Covent Garden but in the early 1960’s the crop became very expensive to grow – they needed much heat and much labour. As the influx of cheap foreign imports, especially from Spain hit hard it prompted Reads to move towards Tomatoes, Cucumbers and Lettuce production. 

Jim Read retired in 1971 and his son David Read took over the business trying hard to find profitable crops to grow. He gradually started growing Cyclamen and soon found a way of cross pollinating them to produce his own strains of delightful plants. This was the start of the move over to ornamental plants. 

David’s son Allan, is the fourth generation of the family who worked on the nursery as a youngster and eventually started full time in 1978. He eventually became a partner in the business in 1990. It was during this period in time that the business moved over to growing mainly ornamentals selling to many independent Garden Centres and Stores in Norfolk and Suffolk.  

Allan modernised the nursery and in 2011 decided the best way to move the business forward was to open a garden centre at Hillside Nurseries, Shipdham Road, Toftwood, Dereham.  

Today Toftwood Garden Centre is run by Allan, his wife Vicky and his son Thomas who is the fifth generation to work in the business. Ironically the business still trades under the name of F. C. Read & Son which is the name that Francis Charles Read started back in 1910. The “Son” being Allans grandfather.  

The aim of the business still remains the same – “to supply the customer with a range of high- quality products at a fair price”. 


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