A SPECIALIST in plant health has joined the team of a UK leading commercial nursery in North Yorkshire.

Johnsons of Whixley has taken on Rebekah Robinson to ensure staff are fully and appropriately trained, and the company's plant health system is robust.

The appointment comes at the end of the company's most successful trading periods in its 98-year history.

Johnsons, which has sites in Whixley, Cattal and Roecliffe, has sold seven million plants in 2019, seen a rise in turnover to £14.3 million, with almost 400 new customers on its books.

It has invested significantly in its equipment and workforce, inlcuding £70,000 in a new retail line with19 new employees joining the team.

Chairman and horticulturalist John Richardson said: "As a company, we were delighted when Rebekah chose Johnsons of Whixley as a nursery grower with whom to spend two years developing her understanding of nursery stock production and national distribution.

"Rebekah has now been with us for three months and is spending time in several areas of the business, where she has immediately become a valued member of our team and will provide us with real support in our determination to improve our plant health management to the highest standard."

Having started her career in arable agriculture and completed a PhD in agricultural microbiology, Rebekah moved into horticulture and also has an RHS Level 3 certificate in the principles of horticulture.

She said she was looking forward to gaining more practical horticultural experience while working at Johnsons.

Her role includes providing training to staff on topical plant health issues, auditing current plant health processes within the nursery, and suggesting changes if necessary.

After settling into the role, she said: "I’ve been spending a few days working with each team across the nursery and it has been great to see how the different areas of the nursery function together; sales, purchasing, incoming goods and production to name a few. Everyone has been very welcoming and it’s clear that staff know what they are doing."

She said she had particularly enjoyed working in the Cash & Carry which had enabled her to inspect a wide range of stock in one location.

"It’s probably a good thing I don’t have a large garden at the moment, or I would quickly spend my salary on plants!"

She added: "For the last five years I worked for the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley in Surrey. I was a senior plant health scientist and my responsibilities included delivery of plant health policy for RHS shows, providing plant health training to staff and exhibitors, and diagnosing diseased plant samples in the laboratory.

"I’m now looking forward to gaining a better understanding of the production end of the industry. I am also looking forward to adding my knowledge and experience to that already possessed by the team at Johnsons and developing our plant health systems to ensure they are robust enough to handle the future threats we may face."

She added: "The horticultural industry is facing a number of serious plant health threats at the moment and one of our key challenges will be reducing those risks whilst still maintaining our operations. Brexit also raises a number of unknowns for the future direction of plant health in the UK, so along with everyone else we will be watching this closely."