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Lockyer’s Country Gardens

Article by Kelly S. Thompson and Catherine Stutt

Photography by Daniel Vaughan

Celebrating 100 years

With the greenhouse full of fall mums and asters, the bedding plants gone for another year, Lockyer’s Country Gardens is merely cycling through the seasons. It’s a lot of work, but a familiar transition – one the company has done 100 times before.

With a country just getting back into an economic and social rhythm after the shock of the First World War, in an agricultural area finding its new path after the McKinley Tariff of 1890 which threw egregiously punitive duties on County barley, local farmers were reinventing their crops.

Many turned to tomatoes, the County became an epicentre of canning, and one local business couple joined the movement, supplying up to 2.5 million seedlings annually to local growers. One hundred years later, the family is carrying on the tradition, although they sell fewer tomato plants these days.

In October 1919, Sid and Ruperta (Purd to her many admirers) Lockyer purchased the greenhouses of Earl Spencer on the Bloomfield Road, a mile west of Picton. The Lockyers grew vegetables and soon branched into flowers, a nod to Purd’s talent for floral design skills. Eventually, Lockyer’s expanded the retail business into wholesale.

In the spring, the greenhouses and hot beds were filled with tomato plants grown for farmers and canning factories in the area. To maintain the millions of plants grown annually, Lockyer’s employed more than 30 people who transplanted and cared for the seedlings. In 1934, after acquiring the family farm, the vegetable business came into its own. In the 1940s, Lockyer’s supplied the local military bases at Picton Heights and Mountain View with produce.

When Sid passed in 1948, the family continued his legacy. Creighton, the eldest son and the grower, moved the business to Sandy Hook Road. Highway 33 was to be widened, and the greenhouses were in the way of the project. At the same time, his siblings Chris and Ruby purchased the property at the cover of Main and Chapel streets in Picton where they opened the Lockyer Flower Shoppe. Chris retired in 1978 and Ruby continued the business until 2005.

Today, it’s still in the family. Greg Moore operates the business with his spouse CJ Dearlove, the company’s general manager. “I haven’t got my passport yet to leave the County,” he joked. Greg started in the family business at age seven and took over officially in 1989. Since then, change has been as consistent as the seasons, with expansions, new plants, and unique hard goods.

Lockyer’s is the largest on-site greenhouse in eastern Ontario, with more than 20,000 square feet of growing space and two acres of land for plant growth. Open all year round, seven days a week, friendly staff are always at hand to offer growing advice to novice and experienced gardeners, making for an extensive education obtained by wandering through the aisles. Inside the greenhouse, humidity is high no matter the time of year, tricking visitors into assuming all year is summer vacation.

In the summer, people wander in for the prettiest annuals to perk up lawns whereas late winter promotes displays of Christmas trees and poinsettias, which are all grown on site. Late fall offers bulbs for colourful spring gardens and spring means a smorgasbord of flowers and shrubs. A constant at Lockyer’s is the element of change, which rotates in with the seasons. “What really keeps me going is the change of the seasons, because we grow based on the season,” said Greg. “Every quarter is different, so we’re always seeing a change.” Greg and CJ are committed to seeing County residents through the falling leaves to tulip bulbs of spring, with many plants started from seed at the greenhouse.

After decades in the business, it’s evident Greg still loves his work, but the main source of both his joy and frustration lie in one thing: the weather. “Wind is particularly frustrating,” said Greg. “That’s what really drives us. For us, sunshine is so important. That’s what causes me to have negative moments.” On days where the sun is shining and plants are growing, there is nowhere that Greg would rather be than with his hands covered in soil in his family greenhouse. Time in the greenhouse business hasn’t diminished Greg’s love for Lockyer’s. In fact, watching his plants grow and produce each year is part of what makes him so passionate about his job. “What’s really inspiring me is we put a seed in the ground, watch that little thing develop, then transplant it and we see it go out the door. As you’re driving around the community, you see your work in people’s yards. That’s the whole cycle.”

Greg is always looking toward the future not only of Lockyer’s, but of the plants he nurtures. “The surprise is the demand continues to grow,” he said. After each crop, Greg sits down to assess what plants worked, which ones didn’t and where to focus his attention the following year, and CJ picks over the records to determine what garden décor is spurring the inspiration of local families and businesses.

As a testament to his reputation in the world of flora, many local farmers trust Greg and the Lockyer’s staff to start their seeds, thanks to the large greenhouse that can protect tender seedlings from birds and pests. Greg insists there’s more to Lockyer’s than plants, including the service that comes with what they sell. “Quality and customer service. I don’t know which comes first,” he said. Indeed, the word community seems synonymous with Lockyer’s, both in the literal and figurative atmosphere of the greenhouse itself. “It’s more than just about dollars and cents,” Greg insisted.

Greg’s garden business undoubtedly remains in the family. The couple’s golden retrievers serve as the ultimate door greeters, swishing tails and sniffing approval while customers shop. “At one time, people came to see me, then CJ, and now the dogs,” said Greg. Of course, there are the cherished family cats dedicated to pest control and lazy afternoon snoozes in the sunny greenhouse. True to the family atmosphere, many visitors now bring their own pets to search for the perfect plant.

Greg and CJ genuinely care about their plants and their customers too. They are committed to improving the County through beautification and dedication to the delicate nature of local ecosystems. With their 100-year company anniversary approaching, Greg is solidifying his position in Picton one flower at a time, strengthening as each season passes.

 

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