June 23 marks the 65th anniversary of English Gardens. When co-founders and brothers-in-law John Darin Sr., Andrew Donatiello, and Henry Vespa acquired English Gardens in Dearborn Heights in 1954, they were looking for a way to better provide for their families. And since that day, family has been the heart and soul of this company. From welcoming in the next generation of family members who join the business, to treating those long-standing employees as one of their own, one core value of English Gardens is its people.
Keeping it in the family
For more than six decades, family has been a central part in running the business. Currently, 10 second generation, three third generation and two fourth generation family members work at English Gardens.
John Darin Jr., son of John Darin Sr. and President of English Gardens, was the first of the founders’ children to join the company.
"As a child, I worked at the store to spend time with my father," says John Jr. "I would stay later than everybody else to sweep the floors, stock the shelves and take inventory. I was weaned on the family business and couldn't imagine working anywhere else."
John was joined by his sister Debbie and cousin Linda Vespa. From there the second generation slowly found their way into the business -- filling roles and helping out while still going to school, or coming back after college to join the company full-time. Even in-laws marrying into the family couldn’t resist the allure of this growing company, and left their own careers to be a part of English Gardens.
Through hard work and dedication, English Gardens has grown to be an industry leader. With six retail locations offering a full-service nursery, garden center, and florist as well as a full-service landscape design and installation company with two locations.
The Next Generation
As the newest generation of English Gardens family members are ushered in, they are learning the ropes from the bottom up just as their parents did. They take pride in the company and hope to be part of its growth in the future.
Tyler Vespa, son of VP Rick Vespa, is a third-generation family member who has worked as a Sales Associate for the past 13 years. He’s currently a Manager-in-Training in Royal Oak. He says watching his family work so hard at a business they loved rubbed off on him.
“I really grew into this role. I started part-time not knowing if I would make a career out of it. But the more time I spend here, the more I love it,” Tyler says. “Watching my dad and uncles work so hard created great morale. It makes me feel good to contribute to that.”
Johnny Darin, son of VP Dean Darin, is also a third-generation family member and works as a Department Manager in Plymouth. Johnny started working at English Gardens right out of High School, and knows he will be here for the long haul.
“The best part of this job is the people. The people I work with and the customers. I love providing great customer service,” Johnny said. “I would love to build my career in the stores so I can continue to work with people.”
Gracie Vespa, daughter of VP Rick Vespa, another third generation member, is the Marketing and Events Coordinator. She says she never fully understood what her grandfather and great-uncles had built until she was an adult.
“The scope of this is hard to grasp as a kid. Moving out of state and seeing smaller garden centers made me fully understand how special English Gardens is.” Gracie said. “I am excited to be a part of it and help catapult the company into the next era.”
Our newest employees are 4th generation family members, Olivia and Donny Ogle, grandchildren of Vice President Frank Janosz.
Both are sales associates at the Commerce Flower Market and have started their journey with English Gardens this summer, while still in High School.
“I am definitely open to working here after college,” Olivia said. “This is a great first job, though. My grandpa really wanted me to give it a try, and all my cousins have done it, so I thought why not.”
Donny, who works with his sister, agrees. “Working with family makes us close. It is one of the perks of having this job.”
Growing up at English Gardens
Growing up in a family run business made for some quality time with relatives and some great childhood memories.
Gracie remembers the stores feeling like a museum when she was little.
“Going to the store was always so magical. It was special. My mom would let me pick something before we left. I always chose a bouquet of Gerbera Daisies,” Gracie says. “The smell of the stores brings me back to being a little kid.”
Johnny remembers visiting stores with his grandpa, John Darin Sr.
“I got to help him. He would take me in the truck from store to store and we would ‘solve problems’. I got to help him fix and build things, and we would help the stores out however we could,” Johnny said.
Tyler will never forget the massive family dinners after English Gardens events.
“Every year after Christmas Open House we would all go out to dinner. It was fun to be with aunts, uncles and cousins to celebrate the new selling season,” Tyler said.
Some traditions have been passed on to the next generation and never go out of style.
“My mom, grandma and me go from store to store and visit all the Santas every year,” Olivia says. “Santa will always be one of my favorite memories.”
“Christmas is always my favorite,” Donny says. “There is nothing else like it”.
As we celebrate our 65th Anniversary, we also celebrate the families that have dedicated so much to this labor of love. Especially John Darin Sr. who passed away in 2018, Andrew Donatiello who retired in 1970, and Henry Vespa who passed away in 1990, who started it all. We are looking forward to what the future brings, and celebrating another 65 years.