James Dobbie, the founder of Dobbies Garden Centres, was born in 1817 – a time when the industrial revolution in Britain had put gardening in reach of ordinary people, giving them a wonderful new hobby.
The first seed
This was the ‘hot bed’ of interest in which the young James Dobbie grew up and by the age of 23 James was exhibiting flowers in local shows, going on to win prizes at the Highland Agricultural Show ten years later.
A career move at 38 saw him become Chief Constable at Renfrew in the West of Scotland, but far from curtailing his hobby, James carried on winning prizes with his beautiful pansies, phloxes and marigolds, as well as leeks and onions.
A flourishing business
In 1865, James Dobbie packeted seeds from a leek which yielded an incredible 16oz of seeds and sold out in two days. James resigned as Chief Constable in 1866 and devoted himself entirely to J. Dobbie ‘Choice Seeds & Flowers’ of Renfrew. The business thrived and in 1887 James Dobbie elected to sell it on to his chief assistant of many years, William Cuthbertson, who took on a partner, Robert Fife, a well-known horticulturalist, though it continued to trade under the name of Dobbie & Co.
In 1894, land was bought at Orpington in Kent for seed growing and the company was granted a royal warrant.
In 1900, Dobbie & Co launched their mail order catalogue, sending seeds across the country – so by 1905, when the grand old seedsman died, James Dobbie’s name was known by gardeners all across Scotland and England.
Sales from Dobbies’ impressive catalogue continued to grow and by 1910, demand for seed prompted the firm to move to much larger premises in Portobello, Edinburgh.
The move to the 70-acre site at Melville, on the outskirts of Edinburgh happened in 1934 where the company headquarters remain to this day.
Dobbies was acquired in 1969 by Waterers – another distinguished horticultural business based in Surrey – and the amalgamation allowed business to flourish both north and south.
David Barnes, the managing director of Waterers, then acquired Dobbies in 1984 and the business continued to develop, when David Barnes’ son, James, joined the Board.
By 1992 Dobbies was focused on expanding its garden centre operations, and with the addition of visitor attractions it quickly became known as a leisure destination for all the family. In 1994 Dobbies underwent a management buyout before allowing additional capital to be raised.
Between 2008 and 2016 Dobbies continued to thrive and expand under the Tesco group, opening at least a dozen new stores around the country.
Today Dobbies is owned by a holding group led by Midlothian Capital Partners and Hattington Capital and continues to operate with their own local identity, building and developing strong links with the local communities around each centre. Dobbies has grown to become one of the UK’s leading garden centre businesses with 34 stores throughout the UK.