When you visit Polhill today it is hard to believe that its first garden centre in Sevenoaks (Kent) was a rundown nursery at the time father and son Jim and David Novell bought the land.
When Jim first set up shop he was 46 and David was still studying at school. When David joined the business full time after completing his education they focused on cut flowers for London’s Covent Garden Flower Market. This meant arising in the early hours to get their wares ready for the market throngs. Within 2 years they expanded into tomatoes, bedding plants, shrubs and conifers. Today Polhill employs 160 full and part-time staff across its two branches.
The Sevenoaks site originally made do with old wooden greenhouses but in 1968 the Novells enlisted a Dutch company Voskamp and Virjland to build glass replacements for use solely as a nursery for growing chrysanthemums and bedding plants. There was one drawback – it was 1970 when oil shortages were rife and they could not afford to heat them. It was at this time that Jim and David decided they needed to make strategic changes and develop the site into the forerunner of what it is today, a full and thriving garden centre and shopping village.
There was such strong demand selling to the public they needed further Greenhouses and the Garden Centre continued to expand which thankfully by this time they were able to heat. Jim and David were not shy of getting their hands dirty and mixed the concrete themselves to lay the foundations for extra selling space as the business developed.
In 1975, construction on the M25 orbital motorway began. Ten years later, on the motorway’s completion, Polhill land was used as an access road at Junction 4 to finish the final stretch. This enabled Polhill to widen and improve the entrance which is the same entrance as used today.
Coupled with the launch of the M25 ring road, Jim and David’s next objective was to ensure that Polhill became the destination. Garden Centre in the area and with this in mind trading partners were introduced around the same time, adding a further dimension
to the business. As affordability permitted, the garden centre continued to grow along with the expectations of Polhill customers and to meet the growing needs of regular clientele Polhill invested in new areas such as clothing.
Then came the hurricane of October 1987 which hit the South East with a vengeance. Parts of Polhill were lifted off the ground and a third of the centre needed to be rebuilt. This was a very trying time and chaos surrounded the country in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane and to actually get someone out to repair the glass houses was near impossible. Despite all this the Garden Centre continued trading and with the great Polhill team spirit, spare parts were shipped in from Holland and Jim, David and the team at Polhill literally bolted the glasshouse back together and rebuilt the damaged areas which took nearly a year as the devastation was so great.
The Novells bounced back from this severe setback and it was not long after that Allison Cross now Mrs Novell joined the company as stock controller, aged just 20, and made a significant impact by making the warehouses more efficient. She rose to become managing director showing a passion for customer service, buying and selling and enjoying a hands-on role.
When she began her career in the industry Allison worked in every Garden Centre department before taking a business diploma after leaving school early to follow her desire to work in the Garden Centre sector.