1904 was a landmark year for the industry and for the business which was to become the current-day Blue Diamond Group.

In it's earliest 'guise', Blue Diamond originally emerged as the Fruit Export Company in the beautiful island of Guernsey, Channel Islands.  The company was created by a group of prominent local businessmen whose family links still feature today.

John W. Dorey was appointed manager and his son, Percy, was company secretary. the latter proved to be the driving force of the Fruit Export Company.

The company's founders displayed their business skills at an early stage when they acquired a distribution company in the UK with agents scaling the length and breadth of England.  This network became the backbone of Fruit Export's success in getting tomatoes to market.

A further stroke of ingenuity saw the company buy wicker baskets locally and go on to commission the manufacture of huge numbers of wooden baskets and then tomato trays.

Today, Blue Diamond is recognised as a genuine Guernsey success story and continues to be owned and managed on the island with plants still at the heart of the business. Blue Diamond now employs around 3,500 people at its Head Office and 44 garden centres across the UK & Channel Islands.

Fruit Growing Advice
1589-16th Century Fruit Growing Advice

One of the earliest documents found offering advice on how to grow fruit in the island Thomas Andros, dated 1589.

His Commonplace Book, preserved at the Priaulx Library in Guernsey, describes the use of herbs for health and how to grow a range of fruit.

On the front page is written:

'Tho: Andros is my name with my pen I did write the same if my pen had been better I woulde have mended it every letter. 1589'

Thomas Andros was born and lived at Saumarez Manor, of which his father John was Seigneur. The Andros family were originally wool merchants from Northamptonshire and  ‘Frenchified’ their name from Andrew.

The first John Andrew had come to Guernsey in 1545 as Lieutenant Governor, with the Puritan Governor, Sir Peter Mewtis; he was probably already married to The de Saumarez line had given way to the Andros’, amidst much rancour and litigation; the Andros family would eventually sell the Manor back to the de Saumarez

From Small Beginnings
1792 - From Small Beginnings

Guernsey was the setting for one of the first glasshouses to be built in the UK.

The restored greenhouse at Candie Gardens was originally developed in 1792 when the property that is now the Priaulx Library was lived in by the Mourant family.

At the time, the French Revolution was raging and Guernsey’s world-renowned Admiral, James de Saumarez, narrowly escaped capture by the French, local resident Pierre Mourant was concentrating on the development of his Candie greenhouse. He was an enthusiastic gardener and had it built so that he could experiment with growing exotic crops such as pineapples.

The two old glasshouses on the site have attracted a fair deal of attention from historians and horticulturalists through the years. One specialist reported: ‘The two glasshouses are of particular importance being among the very few in the world still standing that were built in the 18th century. There can be little doubt that they were constructed as vineries, their crops were surely among those that set an example that, when followed, led to the establishment of the island’s glasshouse industry.’

Candie House was built by Peter Mourant, a merchant and business man who made his money from brandy running and smuggling. The death of his wife, Marthe Mollet, in 1798 is recorded in a family bible held in the Library.

The house was bought by Joshua Priaulx in about 1830 and sold on to his brother, Osmond de Beauvoir Priaulx. Osmond, who had a perfectly adequate house in Cavendish Square, London, leased it to Sir Peter Stafford Carey, Bailiff of Guernsey.

The Bailiff occupied the house until his death in 1886. There is a brass plaque in the library inscribed with the words “Sir Peter Stafford Carey, Bailiff of Guernsey, died in this room.”

(Photo: a glasshouse full of flowers in Candie Gardens)

Caledonia Dream
1850 - Caledonia Dream

When Charles Smith converted the old Andros estate of Normanville into Caledonia Nursery in the 1850s, he initiated the flower trade on a major scale.

He sent camellias, daffodils and narcissi to Covent Garden. Other growers, who saw his success, followed suit with some using typical local ingenuity and disguising their crops in radish baskets to avoid customs duty. By the new century, the value of flower exports was an impressive £40,000. Half as much again was raised by sending bulbs to Holland and the USA.

Grape Expectations
1860 - Grape Expectaions

In the 1800s, Guernsey was viewed as an exotic destination capable of growing equally unusual crops.

By 1860, the island had a strong export trade in grapes. In fact, it was such a healthy sector that the glasshouses in which they were grown were widely known as ‘vineries’ – a term which still endures today.

With an enlarged harbour, Guernsey’s export trade in fruit, vegetables and flowers could expand substantially. Some 51,000 packages of grapes were sent to England in 1884, together with 52,000 of tomatoes, 22,000 of broccoli and 11,000 packs of flowers. The grapes achieved the then impressive sum of £40,320.

The island was reported in national journals to be enjoying ‘a tide of material prosperity’ and prompted one writer to exclaim that ‘pauperism is reduced to a minimum’.

By 1874 visiting horticulturalists reported with delight that ‘vineries of considerable magnitude’ were being built in the island.

All work and little play
1883 - All work and little play

Awareness of the island through its prized horticultural exports led to the emergence of it as a tourist destination for those seeking ‘a touch of the exotic’.

The climate and ‘exotic vegetation’ attracted Renoir here for a month in 1883. ‘What a pretty little place,’ he wrote to a friend. Literary giant Victor Hugo also admired islanders’ horticultural skills. ‘One day Paris will make these islands fashionable and they will make their fortune. They deserve it. They have the singular attraction of combining a climate made for leisure with a population made for toil,’ he said.

Full Steam Ahead
1884 - Full Steam Ahead

The advent of steam ships triggered a substantial increase in the production of grapes because it was far easier for growers to get the fruit to the London markets in prime condition where it met with strong demand from discerning buyers.

1884 was the first year that main crop tomatoes were exported to the UK market.

The most popular varieties grown were Black Hamburg (a type still found in local glasshouses) and Muscat and Alicante. All of these were table grapes. Other delicate fruits grown in the mid 1800s included melons, peaches and figs.

Seeds of Success
1889 - Seeds of Success

The first seeds for the cultivation of tomatoes came from the USA and were believed to have been grown for their aphrodisiac qualities. Early trials were carried out in conservatories but were not hugely successful. The fruit was seen as slightly unsavoury because of the widespread belief that it was a stimulant.

By the second half of the 19th century, demand had increased and growers began to experiment with the fruit by raising it down the centre of glasshouses full of grapes and peaches.

By 1889 several companies had been formed specifically to grow tomatoes. As demand for more vineries increased, craftsmen who had been employed in the shipbuilding industry turned their hand to erecting glasshouses. This change of direction was particularly good for the island because demand for wooden ships was waning.

Soaring Success
Soaring Success

The meteoric rise of the horticultural industry meant that, by the start of the 20th century, it was a major island employer. The Guernsey Growers’ Association was founded in 1894 to provide the latest advice and help for those in the industry and anyone who wished to become involved.

The year 1904 was a landmark one for the industry and for the business which was to become the island’s current-day Blue Diamond company.

In its earliest ‘guise’ Blue Diamond emerged originally as the Fruit Export Company. It was created by a group of prominent local businessmen whose family links still feature today.

John W. Dorey was appointed manager and his son, Percy, was company secretary. The latter proved to be the driving force of the Fruit Export Co.

The company’s founders displayed their business skills at an early stage when they acquired a distribution company in the UK with agents the length and breadth of England. This network became the backbone of the Fruit Export’s success in getting tomatoes to market.

A further stroke of ingenuity saw the company buy wicker baskets locally and go on to commission the manufacture of huge numbers of wooden baskets and then tomato trays.

Early Organics
1910 - Early Organics

The natural growing methods used in the industry’s early years were a blueprint for today’s environmentally-aware approach.

Seaweed was gathered by ox cart at the turn of the century and proved a superb fertiliser for agriculture and the growing industry. It is a practice currently enjoying something of a revival with small-scale growers who are keen to raise domestic crops as organically as possible.

Sterilising the soil by steaming it was also commonplace and it was common to see the boilers towed to various vineries one or two months before planting.

Over time, the ‘green’ growing methods were replaced with more intense approaches, including the use of artificial fertilisers and chemical sterilisation.

The Roaring 30's
1930 - The Roaring 30's

Between the two wars, horticulture sustained the islands economy. By 1939, 2,240 vergées of glass had been built.

Conflict of Years
1940 - Conflict of Years

The Island did its best to carry on as normal during the uncertainty and worry in the months before occupation. Blackouts were imposed and islanders listened to developing world events with concern but they continued sending their produce to UK markets.

A Major Thirst
1946 - A Major Thirst

One unusual consequence of the horticultural industry’s needs was the flooding of a St Saviour’s valley. The creation of the Reservoir was a result of a surge in demand for water for vineries and fields full of flowers.

While some growers managed with windmills and boreholes, the scale of the horticultural industry in the 1930s, coupled with rising domestic consumption, led the States to decide to create the 240 million gallon reservoir. Work was not completed until after the Liberation. Some vineries continued to have their own windmills, linked to boreholes. Visitors flying into the island were greeted with a landscape which dazzled them with glass and which was dotted with small windmills.

Road to Recovery
1951 - Road to Recovery

Post war recovery was strong for the island’s growing industry. Seven million 12lb chip baskets of tomatoes were exported annually soon after the Second World War.

The Tomato Marketing Board was established in 1951 and this later became the Growers’ Cooperative. Growers were helped by advice from the Experimental Station and the Advisory Service. In 1961 the death knell for chip baskets was sounded and they were replaced with modern trays which could be stacked. A central depot was built at Bulwer Avenue and it was common to see lines of tomato lorries queued outside. The fruit was then taken to the harbour or airport. Tomato production went ‘high tech’ with the development of metal-framed glasshouses and the use of peat modules. The new growing methods saw production rise dramatically by almost 50 per cent.

From Boom to Threat of Bust
From Boom to Threat of Bust

New growing methods continued to help boost production in the 70s and early 80s.

Areas which had produced 35,000 tons of tomatoes in the 1930s, were now growing 50,000 with a market value in excess of £10 million.

By 1978, the overall value of horticultural exports was £35,200,000. It was an impressive total for any industry and particularly one based on a tiny island.

The threat to Guernsey’s tomato industry came in the unlikely form of government subsidies for growers in Holland and the ability of Spanish growers to tap into the UK market as well as the increased cost of freight over the English Channel compared to some of our competitors. This competition, coupled with a surge in the price of oil, led to a dramatic fall in profits. The industry began to investigate new crops in the 1980s. Some of these experiments were fleeting – star fruit and kiwis – but others joined the ranks of regular planting. Peppers and aubergines proved popular.

The decline of the ‘Guernsey tom’ continued and by 1987 the industry had shrunk from providing three quarters of the island’s income and jobs, to just 10 per cent.

By 1993 only 20 growers were still raising tomatoes and the industry had contracted to just six per cent of GDP. Three years later it was valued at £53 million.

Rising from the Ashes
2000 - Rising from the Ashes

The growing industry has diversified to enable it to reap success in recent years. Superb growing conditions, including Guernsey’s renowned light levels, have attracted horticultural businesses here and local ones have changed direction.

Horticultural exports have hovered around £50 million with a good proportion of this accrued from the sale of plants raised locally.

The export of flowers by post continues to be an element of the local industry. Nearly half a million boxes were exported in 2006.

Cut flowers exports to the retail market continue to drop, with just 92,515 boxes exported in recent years. Exports peaked at just under one million boxes in the 1990s.

All sectors have been affected by the decline, although specialist producers with a high quality product and a name in the market remain profitable.

The edibles sector has now settled down to a small number of specialist growers producing quality niche crops for multiple outlets.

Looking Forward
2009 - Looking Forward

The entrepreneurial spirit which Guernsey has exuded for centuries continues to make itself felt in the horticultural industry today.

Islanders’ current approach has been highly praised recently by the Financial Times. Praising the standard of living, quaint lanes and low crime, it reported: ‘This could almost be 1950s Britain, but you cannot achieve one of the world’s highest levels of GDP per capita in a community of little over 60,000 on a 24-square mile island, by living in a time warp,’ it reported. And horticulture is playing a clear role in the island’s success. Growers today are creating niche markets in lucrative areas such as herbs, plants and organic crops.

Seed producers and nationally renowned plantsmen, Thompson & Morgan, have a nursery here, as does globally renowned Guernsey Clematis, created by international expert and former Chelsea Flower Show Chairman Raymond Evison.

1904 Onwards
1904 Onwards
1904 - Onwards

The Dorey family has been a pivotal part of Blue Diamond and its earlier existence as the Fruit Export Company since 1904.

The very first meeting to consider forming Fruit Export was held at John W. Dorey’s Grandes Maisons Road home. The gathering was attended by a cross-section of the island’s most successful businessmen and the name ‘Dorey’ featured strongly.

Early appointments were to make John W. Dorey Manager and his son, Percy, was made Company Secretary. Percy soon became the driving force of the company and much of its success is founded on his business knowledge and enthusiasm.

Percy Dorey was in Guernsey during the occupation and was one of five members of the States Controlling Committee who had to run the island in conjunction with the Germans.  His specific responsibility was to manage the Glasshouse Utilisation Board.  After the war his son, John who served in the RAF, became the Managing Director until he retired in 1978.

John's son, Geoffrey Dorey started at 'The Fruit' in autumn of 1962, helping Sid Collins in the sundries store as well as with some of the old hand drivers on the rounds collecting grapes for export. After a couple of years spent studying at College in London, Geoffrey returned to his family roots of Fruit Export and went on to become the company's Managing Director in 1978. He took on the dual-role of Managing Director and Chairman from 1990 until Mike Vaudin joined as Managing Director in 1998. Today Geoffrey continues to play an important role within the company, and upon retiring from his position as Chairman in 2015, was honoured with the title of Life President.

In the early years, horticulture was part of an economy also based on quarrying and shipping at the turn of the century. Fruit Export Co, in a stroke of business genius, acquired a distribution company in the UK and effectively instantly put in place a network of outlets for produce grown here. It was an arrangement that developed through the years as Guernsey growers rose to the demands of emerging markets.

Innovation and a unique approach have always been the platforms on which the company builds its success. Percy’s interest in the replacement of horse drawn vehicles with motorised ones and John’s involvement in mechanisation all played their role in developing the business.