The death of Keith Butters is announced

Keith Butters has passed away peacefully at his home at the age of 90.  He built a market leading multi-million-pound business distributing houseplants.

As a young boy Keith Butters worked grading bulbs at Van Geest Nurseries in Spalding. Little did he know he would end up staying there for a further 27-years working closely alongside owners and brothers Mr John and Mr Leonard van Geest. During this time he quickly climbed the career ladder, covering multiple departments including tomatoes, bulbs and plants.


In addition to locally grown produce and imports from the Netherlands, Van Geest were asked by the British Government to develop a commercial banana business, challenging the status quo of the market. They quickly launched their own operations in the Windward Islands of the West Indies.

At the age of 21 Keith was on the London Dockside unloading by hand the very first consignment of Van Geest bananas off the Golden Gate from St Lucia. At that time he could not have known that he was witnessing history unfold as together the company went on to capture over half of the UK banana market during the 1960s. Many of us today cannot recall a world where the humble banana was so alien to the British palate.

Keith Butters Limited

During the early 1970s the Van Geest Empire was looking to diversify into other areas and it was at this point that Keith decided it was time to go it alone. During his years at the company he had forged a close friendship with a Mr Bill Edelman, a Dutch plant exporter who was instrumental in persuading Keith to set up his own wholesale house plant business. The two remained the very best of friends even to the end.

With support from Bill and two other continental suppliers, Mr Jonny Jakobsen from Denmark and Mr Antoine van Heleputte from Belgium who both offered Keith an extended line of credit he had all the encouragement he needed. On the 25th June 1973 Keith Butters Limited was incorporated.

The first lorry load of house plants had to be unloaded by hand into the garage of his family home on Halmer Gate. This situation was clearly not sustainable and it wasn’t long after this that he rented a couple of greenhouses on Marsh Road from a local grower Mr Jimmy James, where he was able to wholesale, cash and carry his plants for the next few years. Space quickly became a problem again but he made do until 1978 when he bought a nursery on Kellett Gate, which still remains to this day under the new ownership of Flamingo Plants.

On the nursery floor with a broom in his hand

Not one to isolate himself in his office, Keith was often found on the nursery floor with a broom in his hand, regularly heard to explain ‘it is surprising what you can learn with a brush in your hand.’ Sharp and pragmatic his business acumen was rooted in the belief that ‘if you don’t ask the right questions, you don’t get the right answers’.

This being the late 1970s, most of Keith’s plants were wholesaled to market traders and flower shops. Supermarkets as we know them today were still in their infancy. For the likes of Tesco, Safeway and Fine Fare, plants were not part of the everyday range. Garden centres in the modern sense did not really exist and predominantly offered ‘nursery-gate’ sales only. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the company really accelerated in step with the rapidly evolving garden centres and supermarkets. It did not take him long to become the leading supplier of house plants to both.

The country’s leading garden centre supplier for house plants

During the late 1980s an exclusive arrangement was negotiated with Mr Reinhard Biehler of Baytree Nurseries and Garden Centre of Weston to use their house plant area, turning Reinhard’s plant area into Butters’ living showroom where the company would take trade buyers from across the country. This gave the opportunity to demonstrate a fresh new approach to house plants and would prove instrumental in becoming the country’s leading garden centre supplier for house plants and ceramic sundries during the 1990s.

Fast forward into the 2000s and the company had progressed from that very first lorry load of plants in the family garage into a market leading multi-million-pound business. Keith decided at the age of 70 it was probably time to take things a bit easier. He wanted to spend more time travelling and to focus his energy on the things he loved and thus gracefully retired by way of a management buyout.

The name Keith Butters became synonymous with quality, reliability and value. Working alongside passionate colleagues he always maintained ‘you are only as good as the people around you.’ Quick to make a decision and equally quick to own his mistakes, he was a principled man with strong values and beliefs and did not suffer fools lightly. He has built a lasting legacy, not just on the local area, but around the country and the world.

Keith leaves behind a loving wife and family.

A celebration of his life

A private family funeral will be held on March 10th, followed by a celebration of his life in the company of his family, who would love to see those wishing to pay their respects at the Spalding Methodist Church on Broad Street at 2:00pm. In lieu of flowers the family has requested monetary donations to the Marie Curie Foundation, which can be done online through this address:

Share this...
Next Article Back
Let us hear your thoughts on this article...

To see earlier stories - Look in the News Archive