English Gardens Beginnings
English Gardens was founded in Dearborn Heights in 1954 by three brothers-in-law; John Darin, Andrew Donatiello, and Henry Vespa. They acquired English Gardens, which had one store on Ford Road and Outer Drive in Dearborn Heights, and were initially open nine months of the year.
The English Gardens stores gave the brothers-in-law a way to provide for their families. The three worked side-by-side growing the business and creating a reputation for selling quality products at a great value.
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.
One of the founders, Andrew Donatiello retired from English Gardens in 1970. Mr. Vespa passed away in 1990. Mr. Darin passed away in early 2018.
In 1980, the brothers-in-law opened their second store in West Bloomfield, constructing a garden center with a greenhouse along the building’s front. The location was selected based on the number of floral orders and deliveries coming from the area. By this time many of their children were working in the company.
In 1985, a separate corporate office building opened in Dearborn Heights, along with a state-of-the-art floral design center which allowed us to centralize many of our 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 our full-service landscape company 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.
Our 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 and is designed to accommodate our 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.
We built our 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 the entrance. The all glass structure is highlighted with soaring 25-foot tall greenhouse atrium in center of store.
In 2019, English Gardens acquired Plymouth Nursery and opened our six store with a special ribbon-cutting ceremony with prominent local dignitaries and English Gardens executives. The store sites on a 19-acre site at the corner of Ann Arbor Road and Gotfredson Road. The store features a 12,000-square-foot retail space and 12,000-square-foot enclosed greenhouse. The outdoor selling space is approximately nine acres.
English Gardens Today
As the one-stop place for gardening tools, fertilizers and supplies, indoor and outdoor plants, flowers and landscape design, patio furniture and accessories, English Gardens is the “category killer” of lawn and garden.
Special services 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, and garden décor, such as fountains, statues, accessories and garden art. All stores, except Eastpointe and Plymouth, operate full-service floral departments providing custom- designed fresh and silk arrangements for events and all occasions, as well as a beautiful selection of fresh-cut flowers and greens with fresh shipments daily.
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 has received recognition from numerous industry organizations throughout our history. In 2017, we were named member of the year by the Michigan Green Industry Association in 2017. In 2015, we were selected as the 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.
Nine of the company’s 13 shareholders, who are the children and in-laws of Mr. Darin and Mr. 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)
- 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)
We also have four members of the 3rd generation working in the company. Learn more about what it was like Growing Up at English Gardens