THE UK’S oldest garden centre boss, 101-year-old Phyllis Self MBE from Lacock in Wiltshire, is celebrating again this month (April) after being presented with a top award from the county’s Wiltshire Life Magazine.
Mrs Self, who oversees the running of Whitehall Garden Centre near Chippenham and Whitehall Garden Centre in Whitchurch, Bristol, came second in the magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award of the Year.
She said: “To be nominated for a this award is a wonderful honour and I’m absolutely delighted, particularly as it is from a magazine based in Wiltshire.”
The lifetime achievement award is an opportunity to recognise a man or woman, currently living in Wiltshire, who has made the biggest contribution to the county during their lifetime. The judges looked for the most distinguished service or remarkable achievements displayed over a period of time.
Mrs Self’s grandson and garden centre Director, Mark Self explained: “Gran was nominated for this award because of her commitment to the business. We’re all very proud of her.”
Whitehall Garden Centre at Lacock was the first garden centre Mrs Self and her late husband Rowland created in the late 1960s.
The 22 acre garden centre was launched in 1968 with just a handful of full and part-time staff and now has around 180 employees.
Three generations of the family work in the business including Mrs Self, her son Christopher Self, aged 70, who is the company Chairman, and her grandsons Managing Director, Peter Self and Director, Mark Self.
It was Mrs Self who saw the opportunity to start a garden centre at Lacock in 1968 when the construction of the A350 road from Chippenham to Poole split the family farm, Whitehall Farm, in two.
In 2001, the Selfs branched out and bought a second site at Whitchurch in Bristol, which is also called Whitehall Garden Centre.
Mark explained: “Gran still has an active role in the business. Her main duties are as Company Secretary and Head of Personnel, which means overseeing 200 staff, some of whom have been with us for 10, 15 and even 20 years.
“One of her overriding initiatives has been to keep horticulture alive and to encourage children to be involved. She has for many years invited local schools and playgroup children to visit the garden centre to learn plant care skills from our knowledgeable staff.”
Mrs Self has also been an advocate of training and has encouraged staff to take studies at the nearby Lackham campus of Wiltshire College to further their knowledge and skills in horticulture.
Mrs Self said: “I’ve never thought about stopping, retiring or anything like that. I like people too much. When people ask how I’ve got to 101, I say ‘the secret is just being busy all the time, meeting people and dealing with people’. That’s what I love about the garden centre. It keeps me young.”
Mrs Self still finds time to pursue her two hobbies – St Cyriac’s Church in Lacock and Chippenham Floral Society.
Mark added: “Gran still works her usual nine-to-five day at the office, she still drives herself to work every day and she still works a 48-hour week. She’s an inspiration to us all.”
To find out more, please go along to Whitehall Garden Centre, which is on Corsham Road, Lacock near Chippenham, call 01249 730204 or visit www.whitehallgardencentre.co.uk.