Master Grower: Downderry Nursery

Read more about the sweet-smelling nursery chosen as the festival's Master Grower in 2019

Simon Charlesworth, Downderry Nursery
Downderry Nursery, at Hadlow in Kent, was named as the RHS Master Grower for the Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival in 2019.

The nursery specialises in lavender and rosemary, cultivating plants for garden use and oil production. It offers hardy lavender such as Lavandula angustifolia and L. x intermedia, as well as frost-hardy, half-hardy and tender lavenders.

What's the story of Downderry Nursery? 


Co-owner Simon Charlesworth, by his own admission, had an ‘eclectic mix of jobs’ before becoming a nurseryman. The former bookshop assistant and postman, who has a PhD in land drainage, developed a passion for lavender while helping a friend to set up a nursery.

"I started Downderry Nursery in my garden near Maidstone in 1991 and grew sun-loving plants in a 3 x 2.4m (10 x 8ft) greenhouse, selling by mail order," said Simon. "Everyone went for lavender so that’s what I decided to specialise in."

A collection of 60 lavenders was granted Plant Heritage National Plant Collection status and in 1997 the nursery moved to Hadlow.

It has a 0.5ha (1¼ acre) walled garden plus a 1ha (2½ acre) field, with up to 200,000 plants on site, comprising 80 cultivars. In 2000, a breeding programme was established to create new selections for the garden market and oil production.

What was the display for Master Grower?

Lavender from Downderry Nursery

The Master Grower display at the festival featured rare lavenders and a mix of popular types. Rows of lavender and field cultivars for oil production formed the backbone of the display, while a tabletop still showed how oil is obtained.

A star rarity in the feature was Lavandula aristibracteata from northern Somalia.

"Its flowerheads look like a vertical squirrel’s tail and foliage scent is a cross between lemon balm, geranium and mint," said Simon. "It’s a cracking plant with a wow factor."

The Floral Marquee at the festival was home to Downderry Nursery's aromatic display. 

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.