THE husband and wife behind New Hopetoun Gardens have handed over control of the garden-centre business they founded around four decades ago to its employees.

Dougal Philip and wife Lesley Watson have transferred a controlling interest in the business, in Hopetoun Woods between South Queensferry and Linlithgow, to an employee ownership trust.

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The couple, who regularly judge the showgardens at the Royal Horticultural Society’s shows at Chelsea and Hampton Gardens, plan to support the 37 staff, while gradually taking more time off from the business over the next five years.

Ms Watson has been a presenter on BBC’s The Beechgrove Garden.

Co-operative Develop-ment Scotland, the arm of Scottish Enterprise which supports business growth by promoting collaborative and employee-ownership models, said fellow director and co-owner of the garden centre Morag Macrae had worked closely with the couple to help ensure the future success of the business under the move to employee-ownership.

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The garden centre was set up in the walled garden at Hopetoun House in 1978. The business moved to its purpose-built facility 20 years later. Mr Philip and his wife, originally landscape gardeners, began by selling plants and shrubs they felt worthy of inclusion in clients’ gardens.

CDS supported the directors of the garden- centre business, which includes a gift shop and the Orangery tearoom, by providing a succession review and employee-ownership feasibility study. It noted the process of selling the business had then been initiated by setting up an employee ownership trust, describing this as a “means of enabling staff to own a company without having to raise their own funds”.

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Mr Philip said: “We’re delighted to have had the opportunity of handing over ultimate control of our business to our wonderful and valued team. We’re extremely grateful to them for their dedication and hard work over the years – they’ve been instrumental in the great success.”