Year of Local
This is the eighth in a series of submitted stories produced by the Year of Local, a collaborative project highlighting businesses and not-for-profit organizations in Sarnia.
DeGroot’s Nurseries began in 1957, the year John DeGroot was born.
“We’ve been around a while. The business has become part of the fabric of the community,” he said.
The business was started by his parents, John Sr. and Attie DeGroot, who emigrated from Holland in 1952. John Sr. was hired on at Dow Chemical when they arrived in Sarnia and worked there for several years.
In 1957 the family purchased a large property on Exmouth Street and began growing gladiolas. They imported the bulbs directly from Holland and sold the cut flowers, at first door-to-door, and later to Dominion Foods. The door-to-door sales created a strong connection between the family and city residents.
The flower business was so successful John Sr.’s friends encouraged him to quit his job and expand his offerings.
“The joke was that he was always cleaning windows that didn’t need to be cleaned. Someone walked right through a window one day because it was so clean,” his son recalled.
John Sr. began to grow flowers full-time. He ordered a container of nursery stock from Holland he knew would grow well in Ontario. “The original vision for the business was that they were strictly a place where people could buy plants. They soon started going to people’s houses to help them choose the best plant for their yard,” DeGroot said. The business expanded into landscape and design.
From the beginning, the DeGroot children were involved, including the six eldest siblings born in Holland and five more born in Canada. They grew flowers on property behind the house and built a store. Eventually, they took down the house to expand the parking. In 1981, the garden centre moved to its current location at 1840 London Line.
It took a European adventure for older brother Art DeGroot to decide to join the family business permanently. Art and John Sr. ran the business together for several years. John DeGroot Jr. studied Landscape Design and Horticulture at Michigan State University and eventually he and Art took over the business from John Sr.
In 2005, they undertook major renovations to the property with a building addition, new greenhouse and additional parking. In 2015 they added a growing greenhouse, making it possible to grow annuals previously ordered in.
DeGroot’s has also become a local events centre. DeGroot approached St. Joseph’s Hospice with the idea of using the greenhouse to host functions and they were enthusiastic. The first Dancing under the Stars event was held in 2006 with 600 guests. “This is just one more way for us to connect with the community,” DeGroot said.
For more community stories, please visit www.yearoflocal.com.