THE UK’s biggest grower of orchids has created more than 40 jobs after a rapid change of direction saved 50,000 plants from the compost heap.

Double H Nurseries – which supplies its flowers to supermarkets across the country – faced financial ruin when the first Covid lockdown took away most of its business overnight.

The New Milton business, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, hurriedly set up an online shop to send plants direct to customers.

A year later, its houseplant business, Love Orchids,is a permanent feature which has gone from a standing start to turn over £500,000.

It has created 42 jobs thanks to the success of the online shop coupled with increased demand from trade customers for other types of British-grown outdoor and ornamental plants.

Andy Burton, managing director of Double H, said: “We’d long been pioneering orchids in the UK but when the pandemic happened, everything changed.”

The Covid crisis left the business with seven hectares of greenhouses at its Gore Road site filled with orchids which had no buyers.

“Faced with composting plants, we wondered whether there was a way to get those flowers straight into people’s homes, and that’s how Love Orchids was born,” Mr Burton said.

The launch of the company’s first temporary online shop led to tens of thousands of orchids being sold directly to customers within weeks.

It secured the jobs of the workforce and saved 50,000 orchids which the company would otherwise have had to compost.

The online store was launched in barely a week and was promoted with front page advertisements in the Daily Echo and its sister titles.

Mr Burton took over the reins at Double H late last year from his uncle and is the third generation of his family to run the business.

“Our existing wholesale business is now back on track and employing most of these extra staff and it’s all thanks to the launch of our Love Orchids online shop in the early days of lockdown,” said Mr Burton.

“We’ve been able to put a smile on people’s faces during a tough time, and those of our new and existing staff.”

The company plans to expand further, promoting alternatives as a long-lasting alternative to cut flowers.

It has launched a new look Love Orchids website, a rebrand and a new product range.

Orchids are the most popular type of houseplant in the UK, accounting for around a third of total houseplant sales.

Double H Nurseries was founded in 1961 and supplies more than 4.5million indoor plants to UK retailers, including orchids, roses, poinsettias, and chrysanthemums. It has been a regular exhibitor at the Chelsea Flower Show.