Celebrating over 50 'blooming' years!

Norman Hambrook and his team marked 50 years in business on 1st April 2020.  The reality, of course, was that it didn’t feel appropriate to celebrate at the time.  Therefore, as Hambrooks looked forward to it’s 52nd anniversary, we spoke to Norman about how it all began, and what the next 50 years might hold.

Norman Hambrook, one of our medal winning gardens and Norman's 1970s work van

In the photo above: left, one of our RHS Hampton Court show medal winning gardens; right, Norman photographed recently and; inset, Norman’s original 1970s work van.

Inspired by his Mum and Gran’s love of plants, Norman Hambrook got his first job at 13, working part-time in a local nursery in Sarisbury, Southampton. “On my first day, the boss said he was going to give me the most important job in the nursery: watering the plants.  I was so disappointed!  But he told me ‘once you know how much water plants need, that’s when you’ll become a skilled gardener’.  Of course, now I know he was right.”

The Nursery manager at the time was Horace Allgate and Norman remembers him fondly.  “He was a lovely man and a brilliant gardener.” When the Nursery was sold, Mr Allgate and his wife, Olive, it on as a commercial business.  Norman stayed and started doing a few odd gardening jobs in his spare time. 

Eventually, Mr Allgate decided to retire and put the Nursery up for sale. He encouraged the now 24-year-old Norman to make his ‘odd jobs’ a proper enterprise.  Norman started putting business cards in the windows of newsagents. It was spring 1970 and Hambrooks as a business was born. “Mr Allgate was a tower of strength; he knew so many people and recommended me, I was able to take on my first employee within the year”.

Norman remembers those early years nostalgically.  He can still remember many of his first customers by name.  “I remember Mrs King; her husband was a busy man and so she was left to take care of a big house and large garden.  She had seen my advert in the Warsash paper shop and asked if I would come round to cut the grass.  I told her that I didn’t like cutting grass but I’d happily take care of the edges if perhaps Mr King would enjoy getting ride-on mower to do that himself? She agreed!

Norman’s early business was thriving because his skills were in demand. His horticultural experience meant he knew when to prune and how to do it, for example.  There didn’t seem to be many people around who would know how to tackle a bed full of shrubs. 

In 1976, Norman had the opportunity to purchase what is now Hambrooks’ Titchfield Garden Design Centre. A retired Naval officer, Commander Norris, had a smallholding where he grew lots of lettuce and tomatoes.  When he decided to sell, Norman bought it and began developing the site.

In 1983, Norman bought his second site.  The six acres in Curdridge that is now Hambrooks’ Yard belonged to a customer and Norman saw the potential.  The site had been run as a flower Nursery, which Norman continued for some time until the margins in commercial growing became unsustainable.

As the garden maintenance business became established, customers started asking for more than just plant-related jobs.  Could Norman lay them a patio or put up a fence?  “By now, I was a workaholic and loved the physicality of the job,” Norman explains.  His construction skills and experience grew rapidly, and the landscaping really took off when Norman was joined in the early 1990s by a talented garden designer. 

There have been some real highlights over the last 52 years, as well as some challenges.  Hambrooks were Silver and Silver Gilt medal winners at the RHS Hampton Court Show in 2010 and 2014, for example. (Norman is still miffed that the Silver Gilt wasn’t a Gold, which he largely puts down to a mix-up with the water feature supplier!)  Norman personally served for ten years on the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) board and was a founder member of the Association of Professional Landscapers (APL).  In 2009, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Horticulture Week, the leading industry journal (who clearly didn’t anticipate how long Norman intended to keep going!).

And talking of challenges, “In 2020, we should have been celebrating our golden anniversary, but Covid largely put pay to that,” Norman says. “Although much of our business is outdoors, people were reluctant to even let us into their gardens, so it was a tough time. Staff morale suffered and it felt a bit like we were fighting for survival.

Never one to walk away, Norman compares the experience to getting through the energy crisis in the 1970s or the financial crash of 2008; he always believed that Hambrooks would survive.  “We had to take the tough decision to let some staff go so Hambrooks today is a little more streamlined than it was pre-Covid.  But, rather like pruning a plant, that seems to have paid off and, in 2021, we bounced-back.”

Looking to the future, Norman wishes that he could go on for another 50 years but realises that is unlikely. “I still have the same passion but even more knowledge! I feel very proud to think that I have built a brand that people tell me they trust, and I’d like to think that will survive for many years to come.”

Although Norman still visits many clients personally, he is also looking to secure that future by building a strong team around him, from his reliable Management team to the new batch of Apprentices Hambrooks are now recruiting.  Norman would also love to find an investor who feels as passionately about plants as he does.  “You should always try to recruit people who are better or more enthusiastic than you – but that’s not always easy!” he adds.

Further reading about Hambrooks and our team:
Take a trip down memory lane with us as we reflect on the changes we’ve seen in gardening over 50+ years
Read about some of our charity work:  Open Sight garden and supporting the local Coastguard station
Explore two different gardens we have worked on over the years, one very established, the other a new-build home
Meet one of our designers, who started with us as an Apprentice




N. Haggard 20 September 2022

I just wanted to drop you a quick note to say how delighted I am with my new garden.

Jon, my designer, listened to my ideas and delivered on everything I asked for. I wanted something different to any garden I’d had before, no lawn, no landscaping but packed with plants. He designed such a lovely secret garden, around a statement tree. And I have to commend him for his unwavering patience! I changed my mind a hundred times but never did he give me the impression that he was losing patience with my endless indecision. And my confidence in him led me to place an order for over £10k.

My landscaping team, Blade and Tony, were exceptional, from their work ethic, skill and knowledge, to the way they dealt with me, the customer. My standards are very high and I couldn’t fault them.

All in all, a very professional team of people. And it showed that they all care. I’m over the moon with the finished result. I will send you a before and after photo. Thank you so much.

A delighted customer.

G. Gray. May 2022

My front garden has been transformed by Andy and Bradley who both worked incredibly hard and I am delighted with the result. Andy had the vision and skill to turn my idea into reality and I can't thank him enough.

C. Haig Sept 2021

We recently had our garden landscaped by Hambrooks and I just wanted to pass on my thanks, not just for the outcome - which is superb - but for the professionalism of all the staff involved on the job who are all a credit to you company. Mike, Dave, Les and Adam.

H. Sharp Sept 2021

I just wanted to let you know how delighted I am with my new garden. Melanie was a delight to work with and the ideas she had have worked perfectly. Also Sheldon laid the patio beautifully and him and Dave were a pleaseure to have at my house. Quiet workers and polite.

B. Rendell April 2021

I would like to say how delighted we are with the work carried out. Mel, Paul and Tony all worked very hard, they totally took on board the specific need relating to safety as well as the general garden issues. Paul and Tony were excellent at consulting and discussing with me what I felt best in terms of the brief and adjusting if and as necessary, constantly pleasant and polite to deal with. Mel had picked up on particular issues from the first consultation and offered valuable advice. The outcome means a great deal less worry for me going forward.
Altogether a very positive experience and outcome which I would not hesitate to recommend to others.

Stephen March 2021

Dom and Adam's work (garden maintenance) is greatly appreciated. Dom really listened to everything we discussed very carefully and went out of his way to understand and then act upon that discussion. We are extremely pleased with the work done - both to the pond and pyracantha.


We have been coming to Hambrooks for years and it's our favourite garden centre because of its friendly helpful staff and a great selection of plants and trees and the garden design ideas.

“We wanted to write and say how pleased we are with our low maintenance garden makeover. We are very impressed with the attitude of your staff who were prepared to listen to our requirements. Your team John and Rick brushed up and left everything tidy at the end of the day. We now have a garden we can manage and it looks great. THANK YOU HAMBROOKS.”

Mr & Mrs Venables, Southampton. April 2019

“Dear Josh & Mike We just want to say you both did a brilliant job of designing our garden along with the guys who did the work who were amazing. A few weeks on its looks even better now some of the plants are blooming. Thank you!!”

Mr & Mrs Gazzard, Winchester July 2019

“To James, John & Rikki. Thank you so much, we are delighted with our new garden. We really appreciate the attention to detail, the high quality workmanship and the standard of the finished project. We are amazed at how John & Rikki resolved the difficulties of the site and by the quality of their craftmanship. It was a pleasure to work with them and thank you for making our ideas into something we will enjoy for years to come.”