We have been growing native bulbs on our Welsh smallholding since 1986. The initial inspiration came from my partner Alison Foot whose botanical training and deep enthusiasm for gardens eventually infected me. We soon became involved with the few people who at that time saw the importance, not only of the conservation of our native species, but their use in our gardens, woodlands, meadows, marshes and pond sides. We started propagating our stocks of native bulbs and supplying seed of native species. Since then interest in native plants has grown enormously and we had the basis of our business. This soon extended to the use of bulb species from around the world that naturalise and establish well in the British climate.
Before establishing ourselves in Wales we had worked and travelled in different parts of the world. Since becoming based in Wales, I led mountain treks in Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bolivia and China while at the same time making expeditions following my father Eric Shipton’s journeys in the Himalaya and Patagonia. More recently we began leading botanical tours and set up regular tours for them in Yunnan and Sichuan in SW China. Our travelling provided an extra dimension to our understanding of the relationship between British flora and that of other temperate regions of the world and their use in our gardens.
In 2008 Alison was tragically taken from us by cancer, but I have been incredibly fortunate in that our two daughters Astra and Aelfwyn were passionate to keep our project going. From a young age they lent a hand collecting seed, lifting and planting bulbs, joining in with preparation, packing and sending out our stock. Astra was a full-time partner in Shipton Bulbs for several years, while Aelfwyn, now a fully-fledged professional musician assisted in multiple ways.
In 2014 we were joined by my new partner Victoria Syme from Perth, Australia who I met on one of my tours in Yunnan. Vicki ran a plant nursery north of Perth Australia for 30 years specialising in native Western Australia plants. She now adds her extensive horticultural and botanical understanding to the business.
2020 brought many changes, including management at Shipton Bulbs. Astra pursued a different career in government, so Vicki joined John as a full time partner.
John Shipton & Victoria Syme