Lionel leaves home for the first time since lockdown to celebrate 95th birthday at Ottery garden centre

An Ottery business rolled out the red carpet for a loyal customer who celebrated his 95th birthday by leaving home for the first time since lockdown began.

Lionel Smith and wife Barbara were special guests at Otter Garden Centres and were welcomed with a banner, balloons, cake and a card.

Green-fingered Lionel chose the garden centre in Gosford Road as his destination of choice to celebrate the big day and choose his presents.

And staff pulled out all the stops – within social distancing guidelines – to make his visit a memorable one.

It was the first time Lionel had left home since coronavirus lockdown measures were introduced in March – and his ‘face lit up’ when he saw the plants.

Lionel Smith and his wife Barbara were special guests at Otter Garden Centres. Picture: Sue Cade

Lionel Smith and his wife Barbara were special guests at Otter Garden Centres. Picture: Sue Cade

Ottery Lionel Smith with his birthday card. Picture: Tony Seculer

Lionel Smith with his birthday card. Picture: Tony Seculer

He and Barbara have been shopping at the Ottery business for three decades.

Their daughter and son-in-law Jenny and Tony Seculer drove from Newbury in Berkshire for a socially-distanced shop with them.

“Lionel has such a love of gardening and passed that to Jenny, who took a degree in horticulture,” said Tony.

“When they got to selecting plants, it was like watching two children in a sweetshop!”

Keen gardener and former scientist Lionel moved to Devon with Barbara 30 years ago after he retired.

His first question to a new neighbour was: “Where can I find a good garden centre?”

He was duly directed to Otter and they have been loyal customers ever since.

“All our garden has come from Otter,” said Barbara.

Staff at Otter Garden Centres rolled out the red carpet. Picture: Sue Cade

Staff at Otter Garden Centres rolled out the red carpet. Picture: Sue Cade

Ottery Lionel Smith at Otter Garden Centres. Picture: Tony Seculer

Lionel Smith at Otter Garden Centres. Picture: Tony Seculer

Ottery Lionel's garden. Picture: Tony Seculer

Lionel’s garden. Picture: Tony Seculer

Lionel’s card was signed by team members and business founders Marilyn and Malcolm White and Otter Garden Centre managing director Jacqui Taylor was there to wish him a happy birthday.

She said: “We’re delighted that Lionel decided to spend his 95th birthday with us, and we hope he enjoyed his birthday cake!

“Many of our customers are regulars who have shopped at Otter for many, many years, and we feel like they’re part of our family.”

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