Time to get planting say the Wheeler brothers

The Wheeler brothers, Jason and Spencer, are gearing up for one of the busiest weekends of the year at their flower stall outside Turnham Green tube station and the adjacent garden centre, tucked away alongside the railway tracks. The combination of Mother’s Day next Sunday (31 March) and glorious weather is making many of us start thinking about buying flowers and bedding plants for the garden.

Spencer is the (younger) brother who you always see striding about on a mission to pick up, unload, deliver and keep Wheelers garden centre looking immaculate, while Jason is usually up in the office sorting out the paperwork. Both self taught as businessmen and plant experts, they got into the flower trade almost accidentally. “We wanted a business” says Spencer. “A stall came up; a friend of a friend was selling a flower stall. We went into it with no knowledge. It was pure luck.”

Their first stall, which they bought 18 years ago, was at Stamford Brook. They added one at Wembley, then one outside Hammersmith station and bought the stall outside Turnham Green tube station 15 years ago. As Spencer ran the flower stalls, Jason built up the garden centre, leasing the land from London Transport 12 years ago and reclaiming a little bit of industrial wasteland, turning it into an urban oasis which people visit from all over London. Do they ever have a cross word? “We did once” says Spencer “in the early days. We had a row over £4 worth of flowers which he threw away. But since then not a cross word. We communicate well”.

 

“One of the best spots in London”

One man who is a regular visitor comes into Chiswick by tube. “He always spends a bit of time just wandering around and he says it’s one of the nicest spots in London”.  The business now covers everything from selling cut flowers and plants to providing garden maintenance and hard landscaping. Whether they do well or not is entirely dependent on the weather and Spencer is constantly checking his phone for the latest weather report. He gets up at 3.30am most days of the week to drive from where they live in Northwood to Covent Garden market. “English flowers are the main reason to go to Covent Garden” says Spencer. “They’re grown in areas like Suffolk and Gloucestershire”.

They also buy a lot of imported plants from Holland. “Everything goes in to Holland and is exported out from there.” So Brexit is a concern: “Our Dutch suppliers are telling us to expect £100 more per delivery once Brexit happens.” Until now prices have remained stable for years. “We’ve been selling tulips for £5-£6 for ten years now. Our costs have gone up. Petrol has gone up but people aren’t prepared to pay more for flowers”.

Family businesses and entrepreneurs

“When we first started Turnham Green Terrace was lovely” says Jason. “It was full of family businesses and entrepreneurs”. Spencer has three children – two sons Sonny (18) and Teddy (16) and a daughter Ceci (7). Jason has a girl and a boy – Eve (21) and Oscar (17). Their wives don’t work in the business and none of the children are currently showing any interest in joining it, but the brothers are relaxed about it. “I want them to go out and learn about business somewhere else” says Jason. “It would be nice if they wanted to join the business” he says but at 51 and 47 respectively Jason and Spencer aren’t worried about handing over the business any time soon.

Like everyone else they are concerned about the high turnover of businesses in recent years due to the steep increases in rent and rates, but for them Turnham Green Terrace is still a good place to run a business. “We’ve had a lot of support and goodwill from the community over the years” says Jason. Their latest development is to build a bit more cover over the walkway, to showcase indoor plants. “50% our trade is now indoor plants” says Spencer. “People are buying them more and more to clean the air”.

This weekend the focus will be on spring flowers for Mother’s Day – hyacinths, daffodils, tulips, narcissi. Daffodils are selling at £1 a bunch for ten stems, cut hyacinths at £6 for five stems and mixed bouquets for £25.

Wheelers garden centre is a member of The Chiswick Calendar’s Club Card scheme with discounts on plants (but not cut flowers) here.