Friday, 30 July 2021

The man who hangs our baskets

AS you would expect, the director of Windowflowers is a fan of flowers.

AS you would expect, the director of Windowflowers is a fan of flowers.

But you might be surprised to learn that Miles Watson-Smyth’s interest was first sparked by a rumbling tummy when he was 10 years old rather than what was then his father’s business.

He recalls: “We were given allotments to grow vegetables at school and I was so hungry at that age that I found it was a good way to supplement my food intake as well as being able to keep warm in the greenhouse.”

He has fond memories of spending his school holidays potting up geraniums tp hlep his father, Michael, who started Windowflowers after the Second World War in which he had served in the RAF.

Mr Watson-Smyth says: “In those days, when health and safety wasn’t such a well-known issue, the potting machine used to work at twice the speed that it does now but it was all good fun.”

His father was encouraged to start the business in 1947 by his brother-in-law, Lord Alan Campbell, baron of Alloway, who is now the oldest member of the House of Lords.

Mr Watson-Smyth, 46, says: “He was a prisoner of Colditz for four years and he came out of the war and told my father that one of the things that kept him going was seeing little flowers coming out of the concrete.

“He told him that he must start a business which provides flowers in city centre locations so Windowflowers was born.”

At first, the company used old ammunition boxes to grow the flowers in a greenhouse in Mr Watson-Smyth’s grandmother’s garden. It wasn’t until some years later that his father bought a nursery just south of Heathrow airport before moving to Burnham in 1972.

Today, Windowflowers grows one million plants a year in more than three acres of land at the specialist nursery.

It also provides twice-weekly maintenance for 10,000 hanging baskets in towns and cities from Leicester to Brighton, including Henley.

If you are in the town centre early in the morning, you will see the company’s staff going around watering the baskets from a small tanker.

The company also provides hanging baskets outside Downing Street, the Ritz Hotel and Old Covent Garden Market as well as providing plants for Claridge’s Hotel and the headquarters of the Royal Horticultural Society, which organises the Britain in Bloom competition.

Last year, Windowflowers also created an Olympic display at the Guildhall in the City of London and outside St Paul’s Cathedral as well as hanging baskets in the colours of the London 2012 logo, which were displayed in Westminster.Mr Watson-Smyth, who lives in Medmenham with his wife Tatty and their three children, is particularly proud to see his hanging baskets in Henley and hopes the record 150-plus baskets purchased by businesses and residents this year will boost the town’s bid to win Britain in Bloom.

The company is Henley Town Council’s chosen contractor and already provides hanging baskets in Bell Street, Hart Street, Duke Street and Singers Park as well as maintaining the flower beds in Station Road, Market Place, Red Lion Lawn and at the top of Gravel Hill.

Mr Watson-Smyth said: “I very much enjoy working here and feel very proud of my local connection.Having the opportunity to work so closely with my local town means it’s very important to me that we do well.

“I think flowers give a special welcome to our visitors, residents and commuters. You can put banners up but flowers produce something that nothing else can provide. I think they appeal across the demographics, from children to our senior citizens and families — the breadth of the population is attracted to them.”

He particularly enjoys seeing people taking photographs of the baskets around Henley.

“It’s lovely when I see people taking pictures,” he said. “I do go up to them and tell them they were grown by Windowflowers. Everyone comes up to me saying they are brilliant and so appreciated or ‘my mum loves them’. By the time late July comes they are a mass of flowers.”

Mr Watson-Smyth, who plays cricket for Remenham, has been in the family business for the last 23 years. He started off watering flowers at Burberry in Regent Street but has now been Windowflowers’ director for 10 years. His sister Miranda is finance director and his wife is company secretary.

The company takes its social responsibility very seriously and Mr Watson-Smyth spends time encouraging horticulture among schoolchildren — just as he was encouraged as a boy.

Current projects include working with a school in Hackney to interest the children in growing their own vegetables.

“It teaches the children about nutrition and where their food comes from and the environmental aspects as well,” says Mr Watson-Smyth.

“I think that if your business is successful you should try to do some voluntary work on the side and I love doing it.”

He has been a board member for London in Bloom for many years and says he’s given the Henley in Bloom organisers as many tips as he can on how to gain those vital extra marks from the competition judges.

He also chairs the craft committee of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners to which the Earl of Wessex also belongs.

“It’s quite scary because I sit there and think what can I ask his royal highness to do?” he laughs.

Mr Watson-Smyth loves his job but misses getting his hands dirty.

He says: “When I came in to this industry I was doing that and it’s a great shame that I now spend more and more time on the computer. But it’s a lovely job — what can be better than putting flowers on the streets of Britain?”

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