The growth of a blooming great business
Geoff Cameron is the owner and director of the multi-award-winning and one of Ireland’s most recognised garden centres, Cameron Landscapes and Garden Centre on the Ballylesson Road. The company was established in 1968 by his late father, Ronnie Cameron and has grown into the impressive family run business it is today under the watchful eye of Geoff, his sister Kathryn and their respective partners Heather and Shaun.
What prompted you to get into the business, or was it a given that you would follow in your father’s footsteps?
From a very young age my father took me to work with him after school and on the weekends, he showed me the ropes and taught me everything he knew, I guess he was already training me to take over from the business. It was never a given that this would be my role, but I feel lucky to have been in this position and to also have fallen in love with the industry. I soaked up everything my father taught me. My first passion came with the machinery, which I guess is only natural for a young boy. It was later that I developed an eye for the plant side of things and it wasn’t until I attended Greenmount Agricultural College and learned about the science behind the plants that everything fell into place. It was shortly after this that my Father passed away and I was handed the reins. It was a difficult time, but he’d taught me well though and I was already involved in all other aspects of his Company, so we were able to carry on without him. My father was what the industry calls one of the few real ‘plant men’ – I hope I can claim that title too!
So you are first and foremost an expert in landscaping but your role must be extremely varied, what do you enjoy most?
I really enjoy the plant element of any job, the picture you get in your head looking at the early scheme, knowing what to plant and where to plant it. But my favourite part is when you come back maybe two years later and you get the finished picture just as you had planned it – job done. It feels great!
Tell us about the growth and development of the business?
My Father dreame of buying Ballylesson House and opening a garden centre, but it took a lot of persuasion before my mother Pat agreed to part with her savings! They bought the house in 1968 and so began Cameron Landscapes and Garden Centre, or Ballylesson Garden Centre as it was then. My mother concentrated on running the centre while my father took himself out and developed the landscaping side of the business. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s he worked with many local authorities and private clients, which resulted in the company’s rapid growth and Cameron’s becoming one of the leading landscape contractors in Northern Ireland.
It was in 1987 that I joined the company officially and we began to develop the grounds maintenance division of the business. We quickly had a team of over 50 staff working tirelessly across the whole of Northern Ireland.
In my time here, I have changed the Garden Centre four times expanding the building, adding a new car park and café and then completely renovating and extending the café, not that I’m taking all credit for this. It was a huge family effort but this is one of the things that has made me most proud. We now have a few other projects up our sleeve and I can’t wait for the spring and summer to fill the place with plants and flowers from all over Europe, it’s the perfect environment to showcase our vast collection. I’m a very proud man.
Cameron Landscapes is an award winning business – is this recognition important to you?
Absolutely, amongst many other awards we are the proud owners of no less than 6 Bog Oak awards – this award, recognised by the ALCI (Association of Landscape Contractors of Ireland, of which my father was a founding member) is given to the best overall scheme in Ireland for private or commercial projects. Competition is always fierce and it’s a real honour to be recognised as one of the best, we’ll always strive to win more of these!
Where’s the most interesting place your work has taken you?
To date that would be 10 Downing Street. Being involved in the G8 was a strange process, it was very interesting working with not only designers but with the huge amount of security people too, all this to deliver a comfortable 24 hours. We hope the world’s leaders appreciated our planting!
What projects are ongoing at the minute?
We’ve just completed a £250k renovation and the centre is looking fantastic, but we won’t rest on our laurels, we are launching two new divisions in the business this year, our allotment site and our environmental division. The allotments will provide around 20 sites for people keen to grow their own plants and vegetable but who don’t necessarily have the space at home.
The Allotments are located across the road from the garden centre and we’ve already had lots of interest and some bookings despite the fact it hasn’t officially been launched yet. More and more people are keen to ‘grow their own’, and we can not only offer them the physical space, but also provide them with guidance and all the seeds, compost and young plants that they will need to make it work, I’m confident that this will be a success.
The environmental division will deal with environmental hazards, such as oil spillages, which can do enormous damage to land and property. We have invested in all the necessary equipment and have appointed a fully qualified full-time member of staff to work on this. Our clients in this element of the business will primarily be insurance companies.
And finally…How would you sum up your journey so far?
Exhausting, challenging, fun and fulfilling, It’s been a roller-coaster ride but one which I have enjoyed enormously!
For further information on Cameron Landscapes and Garden Centre please visit www.cameronlandscapes.com