Johnsons of Whixley, one of the UK’s leading commercial nurseries, has enjoyed its most successful half year of trading since the company was established almost 100 years ago.

Orders at North Yorkshire-based Johnsons, which has sites in Whixley, Cattal and Roecliffe, grew by 20% with sales totalling £8m between October and March, an increase of £1.37m on the same period last year.

More than 9,100 orders were placed and in excess of 3,000 deliveries carried out to locations across the UK.

Managing Director Graham Richardson said February in particular had seen a record number of orders, with both sales and top-up orders proving extremely robust.

National infrastructure projects such as the redevelopment of the A50 trunk road in Staffordshire had given a boost to clients in the landscaping sector, which in turn had benefited plant supplier Johnsons.

An early spell of good weather brought a brisk garden centre trade that saw order books swell by around a fifth on last year – despite the huge question mark of Brexit still hanging over the industry.

Mr Richardson said: “We don’t know what’s on the horizon and as we are reliant on the economic and supply chain, Brexit has the potential to be catastrophic. It makes long-term planning very difficult but one thing we can do is to invest in innovative new systems that will help us to retain the current buoyancy.”

One such system is a new plant retail line that will significantly improve efficiency. The company has invested £70,000 in a new mechanical line capable of processing up to 7,000 plants a day while halving the number of workers required to perform the task manually – vital, said Mr Richardson, if Brexit has an effect on staff numbers. This equates to a saving of around 228 personnel hours a week, or £1,000 per day, at peak times.

Johnsons aims to invest a further £100,000 in a substantial amount of covered growing and storage space at its Roecliffe site, to prepare for a Brexit eventuality that would affect imports of plants from Europe.

Mr Richardson added: “Staffing is a major consideration for us. At the moment, European workers make up around one third of our nursery workforce. And while we do not envisage an exodus as a result of Brexit, we have to be prepared. Consequently, the new production system will reduce the number of people required to complete certain tasks on the retail line.

“Not only that, we currently supplement our own production from EU sources; consequently, trading limitations would have both a short- and long-term impact on the prices at which we are committed to sell, and ultimately on what we are able to supply. To combat this, we are investing in increased polytunnel space in order to give us additional storage and an accelerated growing capacity to enable us to safeguard stock availability.”