'2020 was the ultimate in roller coaster business journeys', says Graham Richardson, who fears the stakes have never been so high as 2021 starts.

Graham is the group managing director of the 100-year-old commercial plant nursery, Johnsons of Whixley, in Kirk Hammerton, whose turnover reached £13.2 million in 2020 - the second-highest figure on record.

Johnsons sold 5.3 million plants during the year, welcomed 495 new customers, made 25 donations, completed more than 10,000 quotes and made 11,000 UK-wide deliveries.

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The success is all the more significant in the face of the challenges of Covid-19, a break-in that destroyed thousands of plants and Brexit.

It has been topped off by Johnsons being shortlisted for Family Business of The Year in the Family Business United Awards, having previously won The Press Business of the Year and Family Buisness of the Year.

Johnsons is one of the UK's largest commercial nursery businesses, supplying high-profile schemes including the Forth Road Bridge, HS1, Royal Parks, the Athletes’ Village at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and five-star Grantley Hall.

Graham said: “It’s great to start 2021 with some positive news. We are incredibly proud to have been shortlisted amongst many other fantastic family businesses. It would be a great result to win, especially during our centenary year.”

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Hoeing the roses at Johnsons of Whixley nursery in 1964.

Graham said the pandemic had created new challenges such as furlough, social distancing, face masks, isolation and shielding, and Johnsons' senior team had debated whether to shut down on March 23, 2020. However, it was decided they would instead dig-in and carry on.

Sales plummeted initially before a gradual recovery as garden centres reopened and construction began again.

"Demand for garden plants, fuelled by those at home, rocketed to the point that supply could not meet demand. Subsequent monthly sales beyond April began to compensate, and while sales ended some way shy of the previous year and a little down on budget, planned profitability was remarkably maintained.

"I have no doubt we will reflect on 2020 as a challenging but defining year – an excellent end result, a workforce who, after turbulence never failed to deliver, a pandemic that cost us thousands in mitigation yet has only resulted in one case from a known external source and the growing threat of Brexit that despite a 12-month planning period continued to frustrate."

Graham estimates import costs will increase by up to 10 per cent as Brexit-associated costs and the roll-out of 'often duplicated plant health restrictions' come into force.

"Never have the stakes been so high; however, we will invoke our Brexit spirit and deal with whatever comes our way. I suspect the result won’t be pretty in the short term, but we are at least looking forward to a new normal when the pandemic finally recedes, and the term ‘Brexit’ is consigned to the history books."