The flower pot girls of Wray, North Lancashire
PUBLISHED: 08:31 26 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:26 20 February 2013
A tragic accident set two sisters on the path to a new life running one of Lancashire's loveliest small garden centres. Roger Borrell reports
Two sisters caught the gardening bug from their grandfathers and
they spent long, happy summer days growing flowers and veg.
More than 30 years later they are back together, up to their elbows in potting compost. This time, though, theyve combined business with pleasure.
Ann Winnery and Helen Tomlinson are the jolly lasses running Greenfoot Gardens in the beautiful north Lancashire village of Wray. As garden centres go, its compact.
But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in looks. And if ever there was a place to fill you with an enthusiasm for growing things, this is it - especially if you have a small garden and use a lot of containers and pots.
Incredibly, this life-changing move was born of tragic circumstances. Helens husband, Alan, had always been a sleep-walker and one terrible night he stumbled on a flight of stairs, injured his head and died.
We worked together, running a plumbing and heating business, recalls Helen. He was my soul mate and best friend as well as my husband. We met when I was 16 and his death hit me so hard I just didnt have the heart to carry on with the firm.
Around about the same time, Ann took redundancy from her job as an administrator with a civil engineering company and she suggested they set up a container and potted plant business from her home in Low Bentham.
It was a dream wed always had, says Helen, who lives in the neighbouring village, High Bentham.
It soon became clear they needed a better base to develop the business and they heard about space belonging to the family running the Bridge House Farm restaurant and tea rooms in Wray.
We came on a bleak February morning and there was just a concrete base, adds Ann. But the location right next to the river was very attractive. Sometimes things happen in life that just seem right. This was
one of them.
It was a quiet start and the combined effects of a wet summer, a perishing winter and a worldwide recession werent kind to the green shoots of a new business. But word spread, partly due to the influx of visitors to the annual Wray Scarecrow Festival, and now things are ticking over nicely.
We are making a go of it and our accountant has been quite surprised by the size of our turnover, says Helen. Weve no regrets and we have made lots of new friends.
We wanted to go for quality in plants and containers. We have been
to a lot of garden centres over the year and you keep seeing the same old stuff. We like to think we have some things that are a bit different, such as locally-made stone planters.
Working with Ann is wonderful. We are very different but we dont fight. She is very organised and Im, well, a little chaotic!
The only downside is the business leaves them little time for their own gardens. Ive got some of the biggest dandelions youve ever seen and Anns garden is a bit weedy, says Helen.
Happiest of all is their mum, Margaret. Im so proud of them, she says. They always wanted to do this. Their granddads would have been thrilled to see them now.