This year I have planted my Busy Lizzies in my old dog’s chewed up basket, which sits in pride of place outside my patio doors. The tatty old basket serves not just as a memorial to my lovely old dog, Myschka, but also as something to cheer me up as I open my patio door blinds first thing in the morning.
However, I have an unusual memory of Busy Lizzies that I’d like to share. Not about my own Busy Lizzies, but some that were growing in an ocean of pots in a quarter acre glasshouse sited on a ten acre plot in our county. The year was 1989 or 1990.
I don’t remember how my ex-partner and I found this property. I think we were just touring around looking for garden centres in that area to buy plants for my garden. In those days garden centres weren’t all owned by big biz conglomerates. There were still little garden centres where they grew their own stuff.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, after having driven into the property and met the owner working away in his glasshouse, we discovered that the whole property was apparently up for sale. It had a large new house attached to it and the whole property was at a price that I thought I could afford with the help of a large mortgage and business loan. The current owner had fallen on hard times and was cutting back his unsold ocean of Busy Lizzies he had grown but had gone leggy to encourage them to flower again so he could sell them at market. He obviously knew his growing stuff, but was absolutely useless as a businessman.
With my partner being a salesman with the gift of the gab, and with me being an accountant looking for self employment, we could see the business potential of the property. It was in a rapidly expanding commercial and residential area. Along with the quarter acre of glass, there was also a quarter acre newly built barn. Ideal for the businesses that we both had in mind. My years-later-to-be-husband was a franchise manager whose franchisees needed storage space. We would generate a reasonable income from renting space in the barn. I liked the idea of being involved with horticulture again, and had my own ideas of how to expand the garden centre into a multi faceted retail outlet. No-one had invented that sort of thing at that time.
We could even offer the current owner/occupier a job as Horticulture Manager, and possibly convert the old stone barn down the end of the property into living accommodation for him. I liked the house, the location and if all else failed I could still work, while my ex-partner made money using his sales patter and franchise management expertise.
We started to get excited and made inquiries into purchasing the complete property. My poor mother was having hysterics about the wiseness of it all. A month later though we received a phone call from the owner to say that his brother was taking early retirement and going into business with him to improve on the business potential of the property instead of selling it. We accepted defeat. They didn’t.
Two years later we got another phone call to ask if we were still interested in buying the property as the brothers were going into liquidation. What a surprise! Thankfully we weren’t interested any more. By that time a lot of water had flowed under the bridge and I was not prepared to risk my investment on such a big enterprise, with my ex-partner. Those who know me and my ex-partner well will know what a lucky escape I had.
However, I cringe when I visit some garden centres now that have had virtually the same idea that I’d had all those years ago of a multi-faceted garden related retail outlet. They are seemingly doing very well and are delightful places to visit just for the shopping experience. That hasn’t happened with the garden centre part of the property we wanted to buy. It is still a little quarter acre glasshouse with some plants for sale. I still wonder if I could have made it work.
I’m cringing even more now, twenty five years or so later, as I have just looked at the property on google maps. What has been done with the other nine acres of the property since? Another of my ideas for the property has actually been put into action, and looks like it has been very lucrative. The nine acres is on the banks of the Grand Union Canal. I wanted to use this fact for some water recreation related business development. I could see it all in my mind’s eye at the time. There is now a marina there. I suppose that part of the property was sold to some big marina company separately. The marina opened in 1996. Grrrr!
However, thanks to my late mother who made sure I was provided for after her death, I’m still safe and cosy in my own property, with no partner to bankrupt me and no immediate financial worries. I wonder if that poor man is still trimming back his unsold Busy Lizzies somewhere? I wonder if his ex-policeman brother has forgiven him for spending his hard earned pension on a fruitless enterprise?