Brian McCarthy, David Egarr, Carl Hills, James Carpenter, Tim Higman, Stephen Carpenter, Sue Carpenter, Colin Carpenter
We have been popping in to Carpenter’s Nursery and Farm Shop for 15 years, ever since we moved to St Albans, but many people have been shopping there for far longer. The business started 93 years ago, and has stayed in the family for the whole time, which must be a record in our local area.
James Carpenter took over from dad Stephen and uncle Colin Carpenter in December 2015, and has given the place a major facelift. The new-look farm shop and garden centre opened at the weekend, and I think loyal and new customers will be impressed by the changes.
Carpenter’s was started by Fred Carpenter Senior, and generations of the family have worked there, and continue to do so. The photos on the walls show how the business has developed over the years – look for the one of James in his red wellies next to a tractor, and the old coal-fired greenhouses. There is a pic of an ancient looking seed drill, and James explained that his dad still uses it!
Colin and Stephen still oversee the planting and garden centre side of the business, and I saw them pricking out seedlings as James showed me round the site. Occupying 12 acres of land, Carpenters is well-known for its vegetable plants, and people come from miles away to stock their vegetable patches and allotments (including us). The choice is amazing, including many varieties of tomato, courgette, aubergine, chillies, salad leaves, purple sprouting broccoli, strawberries (and lots of fruit bushes), celeriac, pumpkins, beans, fennel, mangetout, beetroot, sweetcorn – really, anything the foodie gardener could wish for. James told me that they have increased their range in the past few years as people’s cooking has changed; they would never have sold aubergine and chilli plants 10 years ago.
You can buy their own produce in the Farm Shop, as before, but now there is much more space to display the produce and move around easily. Veg is picked and sold, often the same day, so you really can’t do better for freshness and food miles. I really recommend the tomatoes, broccoli and carrots as they taste like they should. James picked a few fat radishes out of the ground, so these are perfect right now if you go in soon. Prices compare well to supermarkets, especially when you consider the scale of production here, where everything is planted and picked by hand. I asked James about organic and he explained that they avoid using artificial products on their plants as they don’t like to use them and they use organic fertilisers. Getting organic certification is difficult as it would mean the land being fallow for a number of years.
James, along with a little help, built and painted all the display units, and made parts of the counter using wood found on the site. I was delighted to see lots of local products for sale. Dizzy Bee granola is excellent, and is made by hand by Nicky Halloran from St Albans. Redbournbury Mill are selling flour, and at the weekend there will be delivery of fresh bread. Chiltern Pressed Oils have an excellent reputation in the UK, and look out for the Copley & Buckley honey, made by bees kept on site at Carpenter’s. The flavour of the honey is said to change according to what plants are in season, and supply is up to the bees, so do pick up a pot when available. Clover free-range eggs are available too, along with smart egg houses to keep them in. I want to try the Foraging Fox beetroot ketchup, which sounds an interesting change from tomato.
James has started a “click and collect” service, which means you can order from their website, and your box will be ready to collect; great if you are rushing past on your way to work. He is thinking about a delivery service for the future, once the new business has settled down.
I met some of the regular customers when walking around, and they were very proud of the new shop, and clearly felt it had been done well. Carpenter’s is a local success story, and I am sure will continue to be there for many more years to come.
106 St Albans Road, Sandridge, AL4 9LJ
Open Mon-Sat 8.30-5.30, Sun 9-4.