A chat with Norman Ousby from Lune Springs Garden Centre
Lune Spring Garden Center is located on the
main road, the A683, which bypasses Ravenstonedale but cuts
along the edge of Newbiggin-on-Lune. Newbiggin is a separate
village but is actually part of the parish of Ravenstonedale. The garden centre was the brainchild of Norman Ousby.
Norman was born a farmer and still has land, and, although he doesn't keep animals himself anymore, he still carries out the maintenance work on his land, which involves things like walling and fencing.
Before he opened the Garden Centre he was a Drug Baron. Drug Baron? I don't think so!"Yes I was", he argues, "I used to be a rep for an animal pharmaceutical business. I was also a great smoker", he told me when I was admiring the many collections of framed cigarette cards that line the walls of the cafe.
"It all started with a packet of Woodbines. I smoked one and thought it was great. Then I was sick. I didn't know what to do with the others. I couldn't risk my parents finding them and I couldn't bear to waste them so I smoked the other nine and then I was very sick and I had a very bad head.
Anyway, I thought it was an expensive way of collecting cigarette cards so all the rest of them are what I have bought." Norman now has one of the largest collections of cigarettes cards in the county, many of which are for sale in the cafe. They are mounted and framed by one of the locals, one of many people who manage to make a bit of income, thanks to the Garden Centre.
The cafe is also a retail outlet for a local blacksmith, a 'proddy rug' maker, a potter and someone who makes high quality model animals, including models of local sheep breeds. They also sell food of course, all made on the premises and all, well, what can I say except it is very short on e-numbers.
The cafe is open 8 days a week and other days by arrangement. In the ten years since it opened, they have been the choice of venue for many wedding receptions, golden weddings and other family celebrations. Once a month the locals meet for what they call a Lunch Club, a good excuse to simply meet, eat and share an hour or so in convivial company.
Many people 'in the know' divert from the Coast to Coast Footpath which comes within a mile of Lune Spring, just to sample their Cherry Slice, the best in the world! Once a week a local Guided Walking Holiday company take their guests there for dinner and Norman dishes up Smoked Trout from the Trout Farm next door and the most perfectly cooked vegetables. Where did you learn to cook? I asked Norman. "I can't" he replied, lying through his teeth. Whether it's a formal dinner for a couple of dozen people, or just a quick snack for one, you are always welcome at Lune Spring
On sunny days, the garden beckons and there is comfortable seating and a well equiped children's play area. Norman regularly holds Charity evening in the cafe. These have included an Antiques Road Show with Henry Sandon, a folk evening with Dales Folk and talks on every subject under the sun! Over the years has raised many thousands of pounds, mostly for Cancer Research but has supported other charities as well.
Norman with 'Dales Folk'
The cafe is only a small part of Norman's life. He does Contract Gardening in about half a dozen different
locations in the parish, and then, of course, there's the Garden Centre itself. Situated at an altitude of 800 ft, the things that he grows are either very hardy or grow underground. His favorites are the 'cottage garden' varieties, Lupins, Hollyhocks, Pinks, Guems and Michaelmas Daises.
Plants are grown in a large polly-tunnel, which is a bit precarious and has to be re-sheeted every three or four years. He also has a large selection of trees, shrubs and alpines plants growing outside, so you know if you buy a tree from Norman it really will be well and truly hardened off.
Attached to the cafe there is a barn, which is used as a showroom for an antique dealer. Below that there is a workshop used by a local joiner so there are, in fact, several different businesses on the site. All in all, The Garden Centre is a real asset, not only to Norman and the many tourists who visit it, but also to the whole of the Parish of Ravenstonedale.