May 15, 2012
Michael Della Valle, left, and John Langendoen show the special pink and yellow pots, along with the posters available to garden centres.
Michael Della Valle, left, and John Langendoen show the special pink and yellow pots, along with the posters available to garden centres.
One of the most respected nursery operations in Ontario, Willowbrook Nurseries has taken on a project with deep personal and emotional meaning.

The Fenwick-based business has entered the second year of a cancer fund-raiser program that saw over $5,300 raised in its first season.

The program offers one-gallon containers of perennials that are packaged in vivid pink and yellow. For every cancer program wrapped perennial that is purchased, five per cent of the sale is donated to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Willowbrook’s owner John Langendoen says he began the program in honour of his wife Jocelyn, who passed away in 2009 after a long battle with the disease.

Langendoen says Willowbrook is a true family operation. “When Jocelyn passed away it affected everyone at Willowbrook. It was a devastating time for us all.”

It was decided that the special cancer pot wrap perennial program would be a great way to pay tribute to Jocelyn.

Michael Della Valle, a sales representative at Willowbrook, says the presentation of the special pink and yellow pots is very eye-catching.

Special events

“Many garden centres use the cancer program potted perennials as part of a special weekend event,” says Della Valle. “A number of garden centres had staff dress in pink, and really made it a special occasion.” Large posters are available to help promote the program.

Each pot has a gift card attached to it, and space for customers to create a memory for a loved one who has been taken by cancer. The concept of “Cure, Courage, Hope” is displayed throughout the program.

Langendoen estimates that last year 40 to 50 garden centres were involved in the program. “I want to thank Landscape Ontario for its great support with this program. It has been a big help.”

Brian Lofgren, president of Horta-Craft in Strathroy and past chair of the LO show committee, assisted Willowbrook with the concept and acted as a go-between with the John Henry Company, a packaging company in the U.S.

A presentation, complete with a giant cheque, took place at the opening reception at Expo 2011. On hand to accept the $5,380.04 donation from John Langendoen was Angela Daley, manager of the Cancer Society’s Niagara unit.

Small beginnings in 1979

Willowbrook had its beginning in May of 1979, when John and Jocelyn, along with their six-week-old son Chris arrived in Fenwick to begin their new business on 30 acres of rented land.  

“It was on a part-time basis, as both Jocelyn and I had full-time jobs,” reflects John, who at the time worked for Connon Nurseries. “I have many fond memories of working for Neil (Vanderkruk).”

It wasn’t long until the opportunity came along to purchase 17 acres, and John left Connon to work full-time at his new venture. In 1991, John and Jocelyn purchased another 50 acres. A decade later, beautiful new offices and a shipping facility were constructed.

Today, Willowbrook operates on 158 acres of land, with a peak season staff of around 120. The nursery has developed a solid reputation within the industry, winning Judges’ Choice awards at the annual Growers’ Auction operated by the Landscape Ontario growers’ sector group.

Any garden centres interested in participating in the program, may contact Michael Della Valle at, 1-800-661-5237, ext. 237. Garden centres may choose from a list of perennials.