With every season comes a change. After ten years at the helm and seeking a slower pace of life, Adrian Marshall is passing ownership of Clonakilty Garden Centre to his second-in-command, Paula Knight. Sheila Mullins visited the green-fingered pair to hear how this arrangement has secured the future of this much-loved garden centre.
In 2013 business was ‘blooming’ for Adrian Marshall and his daughter Holly following Clonakilty Garden Centre’s hugely successful move to Lisavaird Co-op three years previously. The extra space allowed for more polytunnels, where Holly spent most of her time nurturing rows of home-grown plants, whilst Adrian happily combined working in the Centre with his landscape design consultancy. By the end of that year however, plans had to change when Holly developed an illness that meant she could no longer do such physical outdoor work. As a result, she had to prematurely retire from the business.
Although he had fantastic part-time staff, Adrian now needed more help; he began interviewing and quickly settled on Paula Knight, whom he knew as a customer for many years. Like Holly, Paula is also the daughter of a professional gardener and has horticulture in her genes. “I can tell within five minutes if gardening is in a person’s blood,” claims Adrian, “and I saw it immediately in Paula. It’s like a subliminal memory – how they handle plants and their understanding of them.”
Before moving to West Cork (where she and her Cork-born husband wanted to raise their children), Paula grew up in Gloucestershire in South West England, coincidentally not far from where Adrian hails. Lying in the fertile valley of the River Severn, Gloucestershire is known for its vineyards and fruit farms, on which Paula worked in school holidays. Although her father was a specialist grower of salads and tomatoes, Paula discovered that her passion lay in the colours and forms of garden design – a passion she shares with Adrian, although their differing styles often lead to spirited discussions!
Paula went on to work as an environmental advisor and florist before putting all her knowledge and flair into practice at her beautiful garden in Rossmore, which she designed and grew from scratch. She then brought all these skills to her work in the garden centre.
Ill-health struck again last winter when Adrian himself became seriously unwell. “Since Holly moved back to the UK, I was doing too much, between running the centre day-to-day and designing gardens. Both my family and the doctor had been suggesting for a while that I take things easier, so I started to think about selling. Suddenly it was no longer a suggestion to slow down but an urgent necessity.”
The answer to his dilemma was by his side in the polytunnel. “Paula had been doing more and more anyway and her taking over completely made sense for both of us. She understands the business and it has allowed for a smooth transition and continuity for our customers. Now that I have recovered, I will keep working here a couple of days a week, but will have a lot more time for consulting on garden design and for my grandchildren.”
Reassuring news for many local businesses is that Adrian will also continue to create his award-winning flower baskets and window boxes.
Paula is committed to continuing all that has made Clonakilty Garden Centre so popular with gardeners, especially regarding choice, quality and price, “By growing plants ourselves, we can sell large, healthy plants at competitive prices,” explains Paula. “This is why we can have such great deals on perennials, for example, three large plants for €16. We also have customers who travel from the city to see more unusual plants we have grown.
“To achieve such healthy plants we never just open a bag of compost and pot up. We use our own compost mix recipes to optimise growth.”
“Top secret recipes!” Adrian joins in laughing. “Paula really knows her stuff and the centre will continue to live up to its tagline of ‘the gardener’s choice’. She also has a lot of fresh ideas for the place.”
Paula outlines her plans, “Between myself, Adrian and the staff, the expert knowledge remains the same but I have plans to re-organise and upgrade our displays. We’re also broadening our range of composts.”
“They’ll be top-of-line composts but still the best prices in town – Paula’s a brilliant negotiator with suppliers!” says Adrian.
Also in the pipeline is a new range of bird care – food, feeders and boxes – and more gardening tools and sundries. Already known as the place for pots, that selection is now even bigger.
As always, Clonakilty Garden Centre will have a stunning selection of bedding plants for autumn and now is also a great time to plant spring bulbs, perennials and shrubs. Call in to meet Paula and Adrian and discuss any gardening queries you might have with these seasoned experts.
Clonakilty Garden Centre is located at Lisavaird Co-op Central in Lisavaird and is open 7 days a week.