This generation, the next generation, and conceivably the next… are working together to keep Papa and Mama’s (Opa & Oma’s) dream growing!
We moved from Ottawa to Chatham 50 years ago, in 1968. Papa (Martin), now 96, worked at the Fram factory (now a municipal works garage) right behind our farm home. He would walk through the alfalfa field to get to work. Always in love with his plants he decided to build a hobby lean-to greenhouse against the horse barn. Jerusalem Cherry plants were easy to grow for him. He grew so many he would take me and my two younger brothers to the Saturday Kinsmen farmers market to sell them, a bit of a tough gig but it was the start of things to come.
Needing more space he acquired two abandoned tobacco greenhouses and with the help of family and friends reconstructed them to make a very quaint, little garden centre which was to become the original home of ‘The Glasshouse’. Mama (Angela) added charm to the place with her handmade pottery creations she displayed in the small storefront.
Always working side by side with Papa, the horticulture bug developed in me too. My parents retired the business to my wife, Sue, and I around the mid 80’s. We were quite fortunate to be able to purchase a small corn field directly across the road where the new Glasshouse would be built, little realizing what the bits of growth and expansion over 30 years would lead to. Fast forward and here we are with our own little family and the bugs, got them too!
Sarah, Erin, and Simon have always worked alongside us in the business which is the most rewarding part for Sue and I. Home off the bus and they always knew where to find us…that’s if they wanted a job or two to do. Simon, now 26, runs the landscape installs, and loves moving big rocks and trees with the equipment. I always loved that part the most too, so much so that on occasion I still steal that job back from him. Building waterfalls and big gardens will always be a passion for both of us, as it is where the business really set its roots. There’s nothing more rewarding than the transformation of someone’s living space so quickly and beautifully.
Incidentally Simon and I took the very same college landscaping program. The differences were, they were 30 years apart and some of my classmates were now his teachers. Another difference was my accomplishments didn’t include the winning of a national landscape competition…were we proud of him though!! I still remember him visiting the job site when he was around twelve and climbing up and falling asleep on the tractor seat dreaming of this day… yeah right!
Erin is quite business minded, I must say. In today’s business world that’s necessary. You need to know how to deal with customers and employees, business, policy, and effective marketing. Erin has this and has always been rather creative too. She claims she got that from Oma. She would dart over to her pottery shop after school where Oma would throw her a ball of clay. Erin often wonders what Oma would think of the new Betula Boutique if she could see it now. Erin was instrumental right out of university in the success of this department and knows Oma would probably be in there every second day if she were still around. Erin also has a knack for attracting talented, hardworking employees…ohh so sorry Erin ‘Team Members’. We are very proud of the great people who have left their footprints here over the years. Many come back to pay regular visits and reminisce.
Sarah is our oldest and has found her life and career passion elsewhere. We are very proud of Sarah, but as parents like to keep reminding her that we may need a fourth generation to help carry on the gardening business as Erin’s little Donovan won’t be able to do it all on his own.
We can’t say enough about the support we have received from our community. Chatham-Kent is small and with all the big box stores today it’s surprising any independent can make a go of it. Yet we’re glad to say we are doing great and it is because of people who still value personal customer service. We believe there is still loyalty in today’s retail world but you must work hard to achieve it. It is so easy to buy on-line or from mass merchants but real satisfaction comes from people you know and trust. We look forward to many more wonderful years of serving our great community!
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This article was written and submitted by: Dave VanRaay, along with some family photographs
Glasshouse Photography by:
Mark Requena Photography