David Driver, age 87, who built his vegetable trade from a stall in the London market to a £3 million business, has harvested a bumper crop of tomatoes from his patch at Water Mill House care home.
David has lived here since 2019, he said: “I’ve grown vegetables all my life – they’ve been my work and my hobby since my 20s. I’m very grateful that I can continue doing so here. During the war, when I was a boy, I used to help my older brother grow all sorts of vegetables. It must have made an impression on me as I started working for a fruit and veg company in Spitalfields Market in the late 1950’s. It was hard work – I had to get up at 2:30am to get to the market. In 1960 the owner passed away and I took over.”
David made a success of the business, distributing fruit and veg across the country, turning over £3 million annually. When imports started to go through Liverpool, rather than London, it became harder to trade nationally, so David retired at the age of 59 to travel the world.
David continued: “As well as working in the trade, throughout my adult life I grew tomatoes and runner beans in my own garden. Tomatoes are one of my favourite crops and I’m delighted with what I’ve been able to grow at Water Mill House this year!”
Richard Forsythe, lifestyle co-ordinator, set up the gardening club in spring this year, as a new outdoor activity for residents to enjoy. Our home has a wrap-around landscaped garden and a sunny roof terrace, and residents who live on the ground floor also have their own small gardens.
Richard said: “We knew how important growing vegetables was to David and we are thrilled that we can help him to continue that passion.
“He went to the garden centre and bought everything he needed to grow tomatoes. He’s not as mobile as he was so we helped him pot the tomato plants in grow bags and he’s really enjoyed tracking their progress. David has a ground floor room with its own garden although he grew his tomatoes in the main garden so they’d have more space.
“We’re so impressed with what he’s produced – beef, cherry, salad and plum varieties – that’s he’s had the joy of picking himself. David asked our chef to boil him up some beef tomatoes, which are his favourite, and the rest we put on plates on the bistro counter. The residents would take a plate full and eat them. Some also went into the salad for the dining room. Everyone agreed they were delicious!”
Richard continued: “Our gardening club has around ten members – most them used to have gardens or allotments. They’re keen to help tend to the gardens here and together we’ve tidied up the garden, and planted petunias and fuchsias in raised troughs at the front of the home. We’ve also grown strawberries, after residents requested them, and coriander, parsley and winter violas.”
Resident Shirley Allen, age 96, said: “I’ve always had a garden, the largest was before I got married, it was about an acre in size. I really enjoy the gardening club here – once you stop gardening, you lose the ability to do it, so I always try to keep going.”
Resident Hilda Warren, age 90, is the club’s ‘nurse’ with a talent for reviving ailing plants. Hilda said: “The garden is my life saver, I don’t know what I would do without it. I love to look after plants that need some TLC and bring them back to health. For the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee we planted three pear trees and they struggled in the very hot weather. I looked after the one that was nearest to my room and thankfully it made a difference as it always has very healthy leaves.”
Victoria Forsythe, home manager, said: “The gardening club has been a great success and it’s such a pleasure to see the fruits of everyone’s labours. It’s very important for residents to be able to continue their hobbies and passions when they come to live with us and we always try to accommodate that. The lovely thing about the gardening club is that the residents all sit outside with tea and coffee afterwards and chat about their memories of their old gardens. It’s a real highlight of the week.”