Back to our roots

editorial image

Thank goodness for the English garden centre; in temperate climes an oasis of Middle England civility, of stability and ordered values.

And not a religious nutter, boy racer or any of the other pests that afflict mankind in sight. And where the only menace comes from doddery drivers in the car park. In fact lately in the news has been Frosts at Woburn Sands, one of the best known and long established of the local concerns, which is giving over some of its land for housing development.

But perhaps some green fingered readers might recall the name from the past of the Oakley Garden Centre, between Woburn Sands and Wavendon, which, with his garden tools strapped to his push bike, was started by William Austin.

On leaving school, at the age of 14 he had joined the garden staff of a nursery in his native town of Tunbridge Wells. He then worked there until 1956, when, hoping for a better life for their eight children, he and his wife decided to emigrate to Australia.

However, Mrs Austin’s parents, who lived in Bletchley, talked them out of that venture and instead they came to live in Bletchley. During the winter William worked at Newton Longville brickworks but with a capital of £40 he then decided to launch a landscape business from his home in Newton Road.

Within five years the business had expanded to such a degree that he bought a nursery in Theydon Avenue, Woburn Sands, and a little later a shop in the village high street was added.

Then in 1962 he took over Bletchley Turf and in 1967 the Oakley Garden Centre became his, with a 216 acre farm at Hanlope acquired for the turfing side. Soon, some 80 staff were being employed, and now his four sons took over much of the day to day running.

Personally, I’ve never really dug gardening – far too much physical effort.

However, having recently discovered the pleasing ambience of a local garden centre’s tearoom (especially the ‘toasties’), plus being qualified by age to enjoy the associated benefits of its ‘Gardening Club,’ I think that my interest might now just be starting to flower.