Roselea shining through the cold winter days of January 2022
Earlier in the year, when warm July days seemed like a remote dream, I went to visit the Roselea Farm Shop and talked to two of the owners about the origins of the business and how it operates. Throughout the Covid Lockdowns it kept its doors open providing vital supplies to local customers. Customers always talk highly of Roselea and there would seem to be a complete absence of negative comments, which is quite an achievement.
Its ethos and operation mirrors the running of the small market gardens of the nineteenth century with customer service of a equally high standard. Techniques and knowledge minimise wastage and maximise perfect and delicious produce. As an example of all that is good about being green aware, its credentials are strong. When it comes to renewable resources I noted that some of the seed trays are the best part of fifty years old and rhubarb crowns date back at least forty years when they were transplanted from a Newbourne settlement to here. Small wind turbines and optimised use of land are exemplary.
The man who started the business was John Coles who bought the land known as Roselea in 1981 and opened in July 1983. Originally he had one of the Newbourne holdings. By the the start of the eighties the writing was on the wall for the settlements[i], which have now all been closed or privatised.
John moved out of Newbourne and into Trimley St. Martin having decided the best way forward was to start a small farm shop selling its produce. And that’s when it all started, albeit in a comparatively simple manner. At the very beginning Roselea was an open field with nothing in it. The first crop was a field of lettuces, which John sold directly to wholesalers. I can recall someone watching the first young lettuces being planted out and telling me it was an object lesson in skilful market gardening, closely akin to a mechanised process. From this humble beginning the business developed into the thriving commercial operation it is today.
John Coles. Photographs courtesy of Roselea
John died in November 2015 and left the business to the three people who now own the business. Namely, Toni, who is John’s grand-daughter, Steven Medley and Sally Rushbrook. Sally started working with John more or less straight out of school although she also went to Otley College. She started work at Newbourne in 1980 and moved up to Roselea with John when the enterprise began. Steve began working at Roselea in 1991 and also arrived via Otley College for work experience. He stayed on afterwards and is still there The third co-owner is Toni.
Sally, Steve and Toni of Roselea.
On my visit in January I sat with Sally and Steven in one of the glasshouses while they filled me in about the workings of Roselea. Sally carried the story while Steve added fine details.
“John wanted Roselea to carry on as a Nursery after his death and didn’t want to see houses built on the site. He knew we all had the knowhow because we’d helped build the business up over the years. In an act of generosity and kindness, he left it to the three of us. We’ve tried to carry it on in his name as much as for ourselves.
I went to Otley before starting work with John in Newbourne in the glass houses. I worked forty two years for him and forty of those were here at Roselea. We planted lettuces in the winter and tomatoes and cucumbers in the Summer when we were at Newbourne. When I started out at the age of 16, I was quite agile and they gave me the ‘award’ for being the quickest lettuce planter who planted out thousands of lettuces and worked really quickly. Because for the amount of money you make for lettuces, you had to work quickly to make a shilling out of it.
I can’t remember at which stage in 1981 John bought the field. When I came up here, we immediately started on the lettuces. It was literally just an open field, no drive way, no hedges. There was nothing here. It was clean and tidy when we took it on, there weren’t any brambles or such like. Originally it was a bigger field but after the A14 was built it was cut in half. I suppose the farmer didn’t want a small piece of land and sold it off. It’s three and a half acres, not that big really and we could do with a bit more sometimes.
View of Roselea from the Old Kirton Road pedestrian bridge. The Glasshouses are in the top left quadrant. Late nineteen eighties. Photo courtesy of Bryan Frost.
When we arrived, we worked on planting some vegetables and what-have-you. Gradually we put the drive way in. Sometime in 1982 we put in the old wooden hut to act as the farm shop and just went from there. It took a little while before we could open as a Farm Shop and it was nearly on two years before we opened. It wasn’t just lettuces for wholesalers but also celery and all sorts of salad crops. We don’t grow celery anymore because you need to harvest in a block, all at once and that’s difficult.
We still grow lettuces but nothing on the previous scale. We used to cut somewhere between a hundred and two hundred dozen to go into the Wholesalers but the markets aren’t there anymore and when we grow them in the summer we cut about two dozen a day for the shop. What we used to grow were what we call the round lettuce or ‘floppy’ lettuce. We still do those but there not quite as popular as they used to be. We do Little Gem, which are very popular. We do them as a red variety as well. Iceberg we grow, the red Lollo Rosso and a large leaf Cos lettuce. We have one lady who has a load of those for her tortoises. She has several of them and we supply two dozen a week. Gourmet lettuce!
Red Lollo Rosso and the ‘floppy’ lettuce
Brassicas and perfect Broad Beans. Roselea produce, 2022
We grow all the Brassicas: cauliflowers, Sprouts, sprouting broccoli, Calabrese. Also broad beans, runner beans, lettuces, spring onions and cut flowers. I usually plant the flowers and Toni picks and bunches them. We grow Sweet peas, Sweet Williams, daffodils and Corn Flowers among other flowers.
Young bulbs for springtime.
Bunches of freshly grown summer flowers, £2.95
I asked Sally and Steven, ‘What is the pattern of the Roselea year?’
“January is very quiet because there’s not a lot happening at all; the shop is quite quiet and we start putting in the broad beans about the middle of January. Lettuces start the beginning of February and we also start sowing a lot of seeds and preparing the soil outside. Rhubarb starts in February. We bought the Rhubarb from Newbourne and still using some of the same plants.
Roselea rhubarb. The crowns are over forty years old.
Young rhubarb plants for sale.
Everything is grown under glass and put into peat blocks. The first plants will probably be planted out in March sometime.
The major difference from when I started is in the climate and the weather and my worry this year is that we are in the middle of a dry spell. I have noticed a change in the seasons over the years. One of the major changes is the impact in the wildlife. When we first started here you didn’t have to cover a crop, although sparrows were a real problem and used to pick our lettuces to pieces. You rarely see a sparrow now but Pigeons are in evidence. It’s not helped by the number of people who feed pigeons. People used to shoot pigeons but nowadays, you’re not allowed to. We can’t grow anything these days without covering things up. And Rabbits and Hares! We’ve spent a lot of money putting up a Hare Proof fence. They were just jumping over into the field. You could plant a row of lettuces out one day and they would be gone by the next.
Our first new season produce starts being sold in May but we are selling all the year round. This January we’re harvesting leeks, sprouts, broccoli, celeriac and a few cauliflowers. When the new potato season begins we sell locally grown ones from Brantham. People come in year on year asking for Keeble’s new potatoes. Maris Bard are the first ones to arrive , then Estima. There are fashions with vegetables. Runner beans less popular than they were. French beans are taking over. June is the busiest month as there is plenty of harvesting and sowing. But it is busy earlier than that as well. Toni does the glasshouses, cucumbers etcetera and bedding plants. We take cuttings from our own plants.
Bedding plants for sale, July 2022
Once we get to September it can be quite busy with pansies, wallflowers and other bedding plants Christmas means orders which include Turkeys and Bread. The Turkeys come from P.J. Turnbull and Son at Gosbeck and bread is delivered from The Bread Basket in Walton. And then the year starts again.
Our customers are very loyal. Some of them are the same people who came here thirty years ago when it all started. We have very little wastage and anything misshapen we might eat them ourselves as people like to see perfect vegetables!
When I arrived to take some summer photographs the team were sharing a tea break with one of their regular helpers, Kath Reynolds. This is a happy business with high standards, naturally green credentials and a family ethos which invites the loyalty John mentioned.
Kath Reynolds, who helps out at Roselea on a regular basis.
Roselea’s opening Hours are:
Monday – Friday 9:00am – 4:00pm
Saturday 9:00am – 4:00pm
Sunday – 10:00am – 3:00pm
Tel: (01394) 448675
Directions are as follows: Take junction 59 off the A14, heading for Kirton. Roselea Nursery is approx. Half a mile on the left hand side.
Roselea is open seven days a week and always serves old and new customers with a friendly and welcoming face.
If you have any comments or would like to be part of the Trimley St. Martin Recorder’s project, please contact me at:
[i] You can read a little about the Newbourne settlements here:
or acquire a copy of Newbourne in short trousers by Leigh Beecham. 2014. ISBN 9780993074608