My deepest apologies to preteen boys. When I look back at my grade eight school year, I recall a lot of rather loud and rude guys. Sure, we girls were no models of elegance ourselves, but when I remember all the burping, cat calls and off-colour remarks from my male classmates, one oasis of civilized behavior stands out. Solid as a rock, always friendly and polite, never dragged into popularity contests or other muck. That was Rob. Carrying forth these positive traits, Rob Radcliffe is a successful business man today as part of Lakeview Gardens, the beautiful garden centre located in Innisfil, Ontario.
Recently, I made my second visit to Lakeview Gardens. I needed a Mothers Day gift for my mum and I was eager to take a behind the scenes peek at the greenhouse operations on their annual spring preview tour. Rob led the tour himself and when I left, I was thoroughly educated, energized for my own gardening and supplied with a collection of gorgeous and colourful garden flowers. Let me tell you some of the reasons why I am the newest big fan of Lakeview Gardens.
1. Bugs. Yes, bugs. I love to buy a few big baskets of flowers for my garden planters but I do not love chemicals. Without pesticides, I take a risk that the plants that I purchase with my hard earned money might be gobbled up by nasty creepy-crawlies. The Radcliffes employ swirskii mites, predatory good bugs that protect the plants in a natural way.
2. LG is a family biz. Since 1979, not too long after those eighth grade glory days, the Radcliffe family has called the nearly 3 acre property at 1712 Killarney Beach Road home. Rob's father, a Yorkshire born and trained horticulture specialist, is Stephen Radcliffe. In 1986, when previous business partnerships ended, Stephen partnered with his wife, the bubbly Gaynor Radcliffe that you will surely meet at the garden centre entrance. He also partnered with Rob at that time. Thirty years later, Rob's wife, Rosemarie, grown children, including son Andrew, and other extended family members are vital parts of the team.
3. Everything is done by hand. Three generations of tireless workers, basically half a dozen people, hand seed 10,000 flats of annuals and vegetables. Every one of those flats contains 48 plants. Impressed yet? They also do 4,300 hanging baskets and an astounding 45,000 assorted pots from 4 inches up to 2 gallon sizes. These plants are also hand watered. Suddenly, my own gardening chores seem minuscule.
4. Bees. I love bees. We all should because without them, there is no food for any of us. If I wasn't such a chicken (bee stings - ouch), I think I would enjoy keeping bees of my own. However, I will leave that to the experts, the Radcliffes, who keep a few hives and produce some local honey for sale. Did you know that you must leave at least one third of the honey behind for the bees to eat over winter? These hungry little guys eat a lot too - between 40 and 60 lbs. of honey!
5. Parking is terrible. Actually, that is a good thing! There is a small lot and plenty of concession road to stop along, so who needs a vast car lot when precious ground can be used for so many other purposes? Believe me, the ground is well used. Lakeview Gardens has more than 26,500 square feet of greenhouse space and even the narrow patches of soil between the greenhouses gets tilled up for more planting space. No fertile corner is wasted!
6. Much more than a garden centre. Yes, you can drop by the garden centre from 9 -5 from Monday to Saturday, and pick up your flowers and veggie plants, but so much more than is going on than meets the eye. Lakeview Gardens has contracts to supply large customers such as cemeteries and military bases with flowers. You will also find Radcliffes, and their fresh produce, at 3 different farmers markets including the one in Bradford. How do they do it? Cloning or some sort of magic can be the only reasonable answer.
7. The Royal treatment. I have saved the best for last. Once Gaynor Radcliffe has learned your name, she will remember it and always call you by it. Any family member will carry your purchases up to the front cash for you and keep them off to the side until you are ready to leave. After that, you will be pleasantly surprised when your newly bought plants are carried out to your car. I challenge you to find that kind of treatment at any of the big garden centres.
Mrs. R, you did something right and you still are!