A growing family

PUBLISHED: 12:36 10 June 2008 | UPDATED: 15:14 20 February 2013

Martin Cowan

Martin Cowan

Nurtured with great care by the Cowan family through three generations, Marks Tey's Poplar Nurseries will this month celebrate its 70th anniversary. Joanne Jarvis reports


THIS month Poplar Nurseries in Marks Tey will be raising a glass to mark its 70th anniversary.

The third generation family-run garden centre is celebrating this major milestone with a number of events including a promotional weekend and a charity night to thank customers and businesses who have shown their support over the years.

During the past seven decades, the nursery in Coggeshall Road, has grown from a glass house on a small field in Great Tey Road to a 14-acre site which has a shop offering a range of garden products from shrubs and compost to terracotta pots and barbecues.

The nursery was established by Eric Cowan in 1938 who grew flower seeds for seed production. Eric moved to Colchester in 1932 to do an apprentiship in seed growing and met his wife, a farmer's daughter, whose parents gave them three acres as a wedding present.

Martin Cowan, the nursery's managing director, explains: 'Dad started the business on this site with one glass house and planted the remaining land with beds of dahlia and lobelia. Later, as the business got established, he was asked by the Ministry of Defence to grow vegetables for a local forces camp at Earls Cone which helped buy the current 14-acre site for just £500 in 1946.'


Early bloomer
Martin started growing crysantemums at the tender age of 13. When Eric retired in 1972 Martin moved to the current site on Coggeshall Road and started all-year-round chrysanthemum production and nine years later he set up a 'help yourself' kiosk outside of the nursery on the A120. 'I was selling chrysanthemums for £1 a sleeve and I was selling 20 sleeves a day, which in those days was good money,' says Martin. 'The following year we started growing bedding plants and began selling them. It was then that we realised the retail market was the way to go. However, I never expected the business to take off in the way that it did.'

Ten years ago Martin was joined by his son, Matthew Cowan, who became the nursery manager seven years ago. Matthew adds: 'To see the business develop has been great. I think the secret to our success is basing the business on customer service. As a result our repeat business is quite high and year on year we have gone forward.'

In the future Matthew would like to offer courses in horticulture. 'I would like to invite schools down to encourage younger gardeners and offer courses to show people how they can make the most of small gardens,' he says. The father and son partnership also have one more wish, to pass the business down to future generations.

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