English Gardens co-founder passes away

English Gardens co-founder passes away

John P. Darin, 91, acquired the Michigan-based florist, landscaper and garden center with his relatives in 1954.

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Dearborn Heights., Mich., February 8, 2018 -- John P. Darin Jr., 91, a co-founder of English Gardens and resident of Orchard Lake, passed away Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018.  Mr. Darin was affectionately known as John Sr. to the hundreds of people employed at English Gardens, as his eldest son, John, also worked at the company.

Visitation will be Sunday, Feb. 11 at AJ Desmond Funeral Home, 2600 Crooks Road in Troy, Mich. The funeral will be held Monday, Feb. 12 at Orchard Lake St. Mary's Shrine Chapel, 3535 Indian Trail, in Orchard Lake, Mich. Times will be determined shortly.

So English Gardens associates may say goodbyes to Mr. Darin and pay respects to the family, English Gardens stores will be closed to the public on Monday, February 12.  We will share more details as they become available. 

English Gardens is a family-owned business with five retail garden centers and a Landscape Company in Metro Detroit. English Gardens ranks ninth largest in the nation among nursery and garden centers, according to Garden Center magazine's 2017 Top 100 list. The company offers various garden products, flowering and tropical plants, fresh-cut and silk flowers, patio furniture and garden accessories, landscape design and installation, as well as a large selection of Christmas trees, lights and decorations.

Also read: English Gardens | Meeting customers halfway - English Gardens in Michigan pays close attention to customer preferences and looks to expand services accordingly in the future.

Born Sept. 18, 1926 in Joliet, Illinois to Italian immigrants, Darin is a life-long resident of Metro Detroit. His parents moved the family to southwest Detroit in 1936 to work in the automobile industry.

Darin attended Detroit Public Schools thru the 8th grade. He learned at an early age about taking care of his family when he had to quit school and began working to help his family financially. He went to work at a local gas station and did side jobs with his father, who was a tin and coppersmith.

Darin joined the Navy in 1944 during World War II and was stationed on the USS Tarawa, off the coast of Cuba. 

After the war, he joined his three brothers at Darin Brothers, a heating and cooling contractor in Allen Park, Mich. In the early 1950s, the building business experienced slowing sales. He, being the youngest of the brothers, decided to join two of his brothers-in-law and purchase English Gardens.

Also read: 5 steps to boost your garden center’s brand visibility - Garden marketing pros share best practices to help IGCs create a unique, consistent brand that attracts and retains customers.

In 1954, they acquired English Gardens, which had one store on Ford Road and Outer Drive in Dearborn Heights and was open nine months of the year. 

Darin and his wife, Phyllis, were married Oct. 30, 1948. They are former members of Orchard Lake Country Club. Darin is a founding member of the Dearborn Heights Lions Club.

“My dad was always a builder,” says his eldest son, John. “He could visualize something, draw it, and then build it. He did the initial designs on several of our stores and he helped build them, right alongside the contractors.”

Darin also built the three homes he has lived in since 1950.

“He did everything with a high level of energy and built it big,” says John. “He’s always had a ‘go big or stay home’ attitude.”

The English Gardens stores gave the brothers-in-law a way to provide for their families. The three worked side by side to grow the business. In 1968, they purchased the flower shop next door, adding a full-service floral department to what had become a year-round store. In the 1970s, they also began selling Christmas merchandise, including life-like and fresh-cut Christmas trees, lights and decorations.

That original store on Ford Road and Outer Drive is still open today and spans two blocks along Ford Road.

Growth over the years has been steady. The founders continue a conservative approach to expansion, by listening to customers and the marketplace. 

One of the founders, Andrew Donatiello, retired from English Gardens in 1970.

In 1980, the company opened its second store in West Bloomfield, constructing a garden center with a greenhouse along the building’s front. Its location was selected based on the number of floral orders and deliveries that were coming from the area.

In 1985, a separate corporate office building opened in Dearborn Heights, along with a state-of-the-art floral design center which allowed the company to centralize many of its operations.

Plans for the third store began the following year. The Clinton Twp. store opened in 1987 on a 5-acre site. The store was built before much of the surrounding retail was developed. Today, nearly every retailer in the Metro Detroit area has a store along the M-59 corridor, representing both high end and discount offerings. That store expanded in 2005, when a 20,000-square-foot enclosed greenhouse structure was added to the building. 

In 1988, English Gardens opened its full-service landscape department offering professional design and installation services. During the fourth quarter, the landscape company provides interior and exterior holiday decorating services. Holiday lighting clients include The Mall at Partridge Creek, The Village of Rochester Hills and the City of Royal Oak.

The company’s fourth store opened in 1994 in Eastpointe. English Gardens transformed a former Frank's Nursery & Crafts store into one of the area's premier garden centers. This new store was designed to accommodate the company's seasonal product offerings. The front of the store features four glass greenhouses, which have 15 roll-up doors that can be opened during the spring and summer, providing customers with an outdoor shopping experience.

English Gardens built its fifth store on a five-acre site in Royal Oak. The store was fashioned after the garden centers in Europe and features a 40-foot clock tower at store entrance. The all-glass structure is highlighted with soaring 25-foot tall greenhouse atrium in center of store.

Special services of English Gardens include a Garden Pharmacy, where associates diagnose plant troubles and provide solutions; as well as a Patio Furniture Design Center for custom orders. The Outdoor Living Department includes patio furniture and accessories, barbecue grills, and garden décor, such as fountains, statues, accessories and garden art. All stores, except Eastpointe, operate full-service floral departments providing custom - designed arrangements, fresh-cut flowers, flowering and tropical plants.

English Gardens employs more than 200 full-time people and 400 or more on a seasonal basis. Spring and Christmas are the busiest seasons. Mother’s Day and Christmas are peak holidays.

English Gardens was named member of the year by the Michigan Green Industry Association in 2017 and was selected as the 2015 National IGC Retailer of the Year by IGC Magazine for notable leadership and innovation in the independent garden center industry. The award was established in memory of Dick Morey, founder of IGC Magazine and an advocate for the independent garden center sector. In 2003, English Gardens was named Retailer of the Year by the Michigan Floral Association.

The company is consistently voted "THE BEST" by readers of Hour magazine and The Detroit News.

Ten of the company’s 16 shareholders, who are the children and in-laws of Darin and Henry Vespa, work in the company. They include:

John Darin, President (Son of John & Phyllis Darin)
Debbie Lowman, Chief Information Officer (Daughter of John & Phyllis Darin)
Lynette Walker, Purchasing Manager (Daughter of John & Phyllis Darin)
Dean Darin, vice President, Retail Operations and Merchandising Manager (Son of John & Phyllis Darin)
Judy Darin, sales associate in Dearborn Heights floral department (Dean’s wife, daughter-in-law of John & Phyllis Darin)
Bob Walker, Business to Business Development Manager (Lynette’s husband, son-in-law of John & Phyllis Darin)
Kevin Lowman, Special Projects Manager (Debbie’s husband, son-in-law of John & Phyllis Darin)
Frank Janosz, Vice President, Purchasing Live Goods (Son-in-law of the late Henry & the late Marie Vespa)
Linda Vespa Yugovich, Vice President/Buyer (Daughter of the late Henry & the late Marie Vespa)
Rick Vespa, Vice President, Purchasing Hard Goods, and President, English Gardens Landscape Company (Son of the late Henry & the late Marie Vespa)

English Gardens store locations include:

Clinton Township, 44850 Garfield Road at Hall Road
(586) 286-6100
Dearborn Heights, 22650 Ford Road at Outer Drive
(313) 278-4433
Eastpointe, 22501 Kelly Road at Nine Mile Road
(586) 771-4200 
Royal Oak-Troy, 4901 Coolidge Highway
(248) 280-9500
West Bloomfield, 6370 Orchard Lake Road
(248) 851-7506