Peter retiring from Spalding nursery after 25 years

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The radio in Peter Cunnington’s greenhouse will fall silent at the end of next week.

Peter, who has been running Engelberg Nursery at Low Fulney for the past 25 years, is reluctant to say he is going to retire, aged 70.

Peter Cunnington at Engelberg Nursery. Photo: SG010816-104TW

Peter Cunnington at Engelberg Nursery. Photo: SG010816-104TW

Instead, he says he is going to give up the market stall in St Albans where he has been selling his plants since the early 1960s – and his father before him since the 1950s.

That means an end to the weekly journey to the market at St Albans, his van filled with thousands of perennials, hardy and herbaceous plants, plus alpines.

They are all grown on the two-and-a-half acres at Swindlers Drove that was formerly part of the government’s Land Settlement Association scheme begun in the 1930s for unemployed workers from the industrial north.

According to Peter, there were lots of nurseries for sale locally in the early 1990s, which was when he and his former partner Susan Page spotted the property for sale in an estate agent’s window on a stop-over between a holiday in Norfolk and an exhibition in Cheshire.

Peter Cunnington: also has a large garden to look after. Photo: SG010816-100TW

Peter Cunnington: also has a large garden to look after. Photo: SG010816-100TW

By the time Peter and Susan bought the house and land in 1991, the scheme had been wound up and all the property privatised.

Peter says: “When we came here it had been empty for some time and it was in a terrible mess. You couldn’t get in the gate.”

They set about clearing the land and restoring the house, growing plants there as well as on their old nursery for a short time.

At that time they were selling on both the Wednesday and Saturday markets, staying overnight in a caravan at St Albans so they could be at the market early.

One of the biggest changes the pair have seen over the years is that whereas they used to simply take orders for plants on the stall, nowadays people expect to be able to buy a container grown plant straight away.

Peter explains: “When the plants were lifted in the autumn we’d send them a postcard to say they were ready for collection and they would come and get them from the stall. They didn’t let me down. Everybody collected. We used to have a catalogue too.”

Peter will make his final trip to the market at St Albans next Saturday, and has no clear plans about what he will then do with the nursery, where Classic FM has been playing on the radio in the greenhouse for 20 years.

However, inside the house the music is more likely to be a pop record played on an original jukebox that has been lovingly restored by Peter – another interest. He has six, one in full working order – 5p one play, 10p three plays – and the others are all in various stages of restoration. Then there’s the memoir he will have time to write...