The funeral of Michael Cooling, son of the founder of Coolings Nurseries, will take place on Tuesday 26 March (11.30am) at St Nicholas Church, Church Lane, Chislehurst BR7 5PE.
Due to the expected crowds at the church, Paul Cooling asks readers to let him or his brother Dave know if they intend to come ( click here to email Paul or here to email Dave).
Mourners are invited to join the family afterwards at The Bull’s Head Hotel, Royal Parade, Chislehurst, Kent. BR7 6NR.
They have requested family flowers only but donations may be made
to the British Heart Foundation (c/o Welham Jones, 4 Belmont Parade, Green Lane, Chislehurst BR7 6AN)
Michael Cooling (13/10/1934 – 28/2/2019)
Michael was the only son of Arthur and Miriam Cooling who lived in the town of Chislehurst, where Arthur was the postmaster and had built up a small but successful market garden in his spare time.
Having trained at the Kent Horticultural Institute in Swanley and completed his National Service in Germany, Michael joined his Father in business, which was then called ‘Little Farm’. Michael had many new ideas and was an early pioneer of soil-less composts, often comparing notes with Arthur Bower.
He corresponded with George Ball in USA who was achieving great results with hybrid seed of colourful annuals. Early experiments with growing shrubs in large tin cans (salvaged from the local hospital) were quite successful, too. These early containers allowed easy self-service by the customer and could be successfully transplanted all year round.
The early 1960s saw the first Garden Centre in Chislehurst, when Michael was allowed to take over one end of a small Dutch-light greenhouse. The initial stock of pots, string, bamboo canes and John Innes compost cost 37 pounds and ten shillings, and was viewed with great scepticism by his father.
Michael was an early member of the Horticultural Trades Association - Garden Centre Group (which went on to become the GCA) and along with Jeffrey Bernhard he was one of the UK delegates at the first Garden Centre Congresses held in Germany.
In 1961 Michael married Shirley and they had two sons, Paul (54) who is married Carol and has two children, and David (51).
By 1988 it was clear the one-acre site in Chislehurst was too small to sustain the thriving business and was sold for housing. This allowed the purchase of Robinsons Gardens, a fourteen-acre site in Knockholt, whilst still having sufficient funds to build a new shop a year later.
Always one to re-invest the profits, never borrow money, and develop people who were keen to learn, the business continued to thrive. Michael was very proud to collect the first ever “Retail Nursery of the Year” award in 1997 and this was followed in 2005 by the GCA Garden Centre of the Year. Coolings remains the only business to have twice been voted the Best Garden Centre in the UK by readers of Which? magazine.
Over the last 20 years Mike and Shirley gradually withdrew from running the business to enjoy travelling and spending time in their own garden in Chislehurst.
The team that Michael put together, continues to run and develop the business and this legacy now comprises three sites over 45 acres. More than 200 families gain some or all of their income through working at Coolings.
Shirley Cooling died in February 2018 after suffering with Alzheimers disease for four years.