Thompson & Morgan began in William Thompson’s small back garden of his father’s baker shop on Tavern Street, Ipswich. He studied botany and cultivated from his small garden. Soon he joined forces with John Morgan and they moved to a small nursery on the outskirts of Ipswich, before then moving again to a larger nursery.
William Thompson’s first catalogue was produced in 1855, and as his reputation grew, he became known as a grower of rare and unusual plants. People started to send him unusual seed from overseas, this led him to form friendships with famous scientists such as Charles Darwin, Sir Joseph Hooker and Sir Michael Forster.
In 1876 Curtis’s Botanical Magazine dedicated a volume to him, a rare honour bestowed on few people. His excellence was recognised again when twenty years later the RHS awarded him the Victorian Medal of Honour.
John Morgan, himself a prudent businessman and not himself botanically trained, gave William the capital to expand the business. William Thompson passed away in 1903 at the age of 80, but he had lived to oversee Thompson & Morgan become a company known for being innovative and one of the country’s leading seed suppliers.
He then became the sole owner of the business until he formed a partnership with Joseph Sangster, who until then had been the manager of Lissadell Gardens in Ireland. An exceptional horticulturalist whose knowledge and skills added another 4,000 plants to the catalogues. After John Morgan died in 1921, Joseph continued to run the company on his own. He bought land on London road, Ipswich and was joined by his son Murray who studied horticulture in Edinburgh and worked for Slococks – a leading nursery in Woking.
Thompson & Morgan’s reputation had grown to such a size that people from all over the world came to them to purchase seeds, because for the most part they were able to provide them. Thompson & Morgan became a limited company in 1939.
Murray Sangster took control of the company in 1952 when his father Joseph died, and his sons Keith and Bruce joined him later. In 1973 they expanded the business to include the site on Poplar Lane, which still stands fully operational today. 1974 saw Murray retire and Keith and Bruce took control of the company.
Thompson & Morgan fast became known as one of the most progressive horticultural companies in the world. Murray died in 1994 leaving Bruce and Keith at the helm. The late 1990’s saw Thompson & Morgan push the boundaries of innovation again when Paul Hansord – who still works at Thompson & Morgan as a managing director, developed a range of young plants that were delivered across the UK. His introductions flourished and the company is now leading the way in mail order plants constantly developing new techniques to deliver their world renowned innovative plants via the mail system to the home gardeners.
Thompson & Morgan have their own breeding site based in Suffolk; the investment in this site continues the legacy of William Thompson by producing brand new award winners year after year. Recently the Digitalis illuminations, which most botanists’ thought an impossible hybrid, has won several since it’s introduction. Including a’Plant of the Year’ at the world famous RHS Chelsea Flower show in 2012.