January 12, 2022
Lake of Bays Garden Centre
From bush to bounty: Successful garden centre started as a firewood supplier
By Chris Occhiuzzi
Going from supplying campers with firewood to opening a garden centre may seem like quite a leap, but Linda Boothby had an idea and was determined to see it through.
Two decades later, the Lake of Bays Garden Centre owner is happy she did. From taking care of gardening needs in the community to offering photogenic displays for passersby, the business has come a long way since 2001.
“When you start these things, you don’t know how they’re going to work,” Boothby said, who got her love of gardening from her mom. “I had no clue when we started the store it was going to grow so much in a relatively short time.”
Located along Highway 60 in Dwight, the eight-acre property was first purchased to meet the firewood demands of a five-year supplier contract with Algonquin Park. Boothby and her team – including her children after school and on days off – packed and delivered 40,000 bags of firewood every season, delivering to 700 campsites twice a day from May through Thanksgiving.
At the time of the purchase the property was all bush, but now it’s home to a welcoming store, greenhouses, a popular food truck, and more.
It all started with Boothby, but they now have an active and loyal 11-person staff, which includes her daughter Emily Keown as manager. The property is also home to her son Tom Keown’s Five Point Landscaping company.
“We started in 2001 on the side of the road in a trailer,” Boothby recalled. Back then, she was selling annuals and soil to locals, cottagers, and tourists.
They moved into the store later that year, and built the first greenhouse in 2002. A second greenhouse followed a few years later.
“We started with bulk sales and then you just grow with what people need,” Boothby said. “Up here in cottage country you try to be everything to everyone. We sell propane, corn for ducks, and other items in addition to our gardening products and services.”
The location is also perfect to attract tourist traffic – Algonquin sees 800,000 visitors a year, most of them travelling right past the garden centre on Highway 60.
The garden centre has added a number of attractions to entice those visitors to stop.
A food truck on site has become very popular. “This helps us pick up the traffic going by, and as they’re waiting for their orders to cook, they’ll walk around for a bit,” Boothby explained.
There are also numerous attractive displays and sculptures on the property, including a large inukshuk, which draws visitors who will take pictures and then wander around to see what other interesting items are available. Boothby says they’re also planning to build a maze area in the future.
Using the greenhouses to showcase fun items during the change of seasons is a great way to keep traffic coming to the property and also give back to the community.
“One of our greenhouses is turned into a store area for the fall, while the other is being used for a creepy haunted house,” Boothby said. “Entry for the haunted house will be by donation to Huntsville Hospital.”
Boothby and her children have long standing family roots in the Muskoka and Haliburton areas, giving them an in-depth knowledge of soil conditions and climates. While this helps them know what will thrive and what won’t, the team at Lake of Bays Garden Centre also finds great value in programs provided by Landscape Ontario.
Over the years, they have attended Landscape Ontario events as well as onsite workshops and online seminars, with topics ranging from DynaScape software to turf and tree maintenance. During the pandemic, they have participated in several virtual courses offered through LO, which is something they would like to keep doing.
Boothby says the virtual courses save travel time and expenses, making it easier for her team to take part in more training.
“With the virtual, we can go back and watch the seminars at any time, which is really helpful as we can’t make it when we’re in our busy seasons,” Boothby said. “Now, when we find some down time, we can go back and watch the seminars to see what’s new and helpful to our business. The seminars are really good; there is a lot of good info there.”
Even after two decades of successful growth, the passion to learn more and flourish is alive and well at Lake of Bays Garden Centre.