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Co-founder of Double H Nurseries in Gore Road, New Milton, Hugh Stevenson, dies aged 90

THE co-founder of family-run Double H Nurseries in New Milton, Hugh Stevenson, has died aged 90.

Hugh established the company in Gore Road in 1967 alongside business partner Helmut Gimmler. The firm now employs more than 200 staff and supplies supermarkets across the UK.

Hugh was born on 14th November 1932 at Ashley Road Nursery, where his horticultural roots were strong.

Hugh Stevenson, co-founder of Double H Nurseries
Hugh Stevenson, co-founder of Double H Nurseries

His great-grandfather designed many of Bournemouth’s famous gardens, and his grandfather bred sweet peas.

He attended Ashley Primary school and Allhallows School but was hampered by dyslexia and never read fluently.

After horticultural college he worked for his father Hector and soon took over the running of Ashley Nursery.

An active member of Brockenhurst Young Farmers, Hugh met future wife Sylvia Farwell, and they married at Old Milton Church in 1956.

Hugh, who was a member of New Milton Rugby Club, hit the national headlines when a police officer stopped the game and marched him off the pitch as he had apparently left the scene of a minor accident while rushing to the game.

In 1960 Hector decided to sell Ashley Nursery, and Hugh and Sylvia moved to Ferndene Farm.

Hugh wanted to set up his own nursery, so Sylvia's father gifted them 16 acres of land off Gore Road where Hugh built wooden glasshouses, producing a record tomato crop of more than 100 tons per acre.

In those early days Hugh would also grow cut chrysanthemums and ship them to Covent Garden on the train from New Milton.

A talented designer and innovator, he founded Hugh Stevenson Engineering to manufacture greenhouses and other structures.

His work included lattice beams installed in the Crucible Theatre and Chelsea FC’s stadium. Another memorable but unusual job was creating the frame for a 21-seat bicycle which featured in the Guinness Book of Records.

Described by his family as having “immense drive”, he would regularly leave home at 4am and not return until midnight.

Hugh also established a successful tomato nursery in Barnham with partner Eric Wall, which is still producing some of the finest quality tomatoes in the UK.

Hugh’s ingenuity, drive and business acumen were summed up in an industry article which said: “If a young man can be regarded as a legendary figure, then Hugh Stevenson is a legend among growers.

“His methods are a constant topic of conversation whenever growers meet and his production figures are used as a yardstick by which to measure achievements on other nurseries.”

Family life included lots of time on the water, sailing at Keyhaven, and then in 1975 the family moved to Guernsey. Hugh travelled frequently to New Milton to oversee the businesses.

Hugh began the handover of the business in the 1990s to his sons Neil and David, and Double H Nurseries is now run by his grandson Andrew Burton.

In the early 2000s Hugh was diagnosed with a muscle wasting disease which later confined him to a wheelchair.

His sons said: “Lesser men would soon have lost heart. But Hugh tackled it head-on and kept active despite everything – he carried on making it happen!”

“Above all, he had a 67-year partnership with Sylvia, who counterbalanced him perfectly. He was a man of great energy, sometimes bloody-minded, but commanding immense respect from those around him as he led from the front.”

Hugh passed away at Princess Elizabeth Hospital in Guernsey on 27th April.

A grandfather of eight and great-grandfather of five, he is survived by wife Sylvia, and children Clare, Neil and David.

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