Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Retail
Of Meercats and Men

February 28, 2008  By Hugh McElhone

Last fall, my father discovered Meercats on the Animal Channel. This is
a weekly series, complete with storyline, devoted to an African colony
of animals that look like prairie dogs.

Last fall, my father discovered Meercats on the Animal Channel. This is a weekly series, complete with storyline, devoted to an African colony of animals that look like prairie dogs. They are, however, carnivorous, preferring scorpions, grubs and worms. They also have the ability to put their slender bodies bolt upright on their hind legs to search for predators and prey.

Dad was quite insistent that we watch this show but we always seemed to miss it. To keep us informed of when it was on he would call and say, “Meercats. Channel 553,” click. No, he’s not a big talker.


Anyway, buddy Keith and I hiked it up to the local co-op last weekend for birdseed and discovered, amongst the bird feeders and lawn ornaments, meercat statues. The mother stood about a foot high and was solidly made of cement, complete with a painted piece of re-bar for mounting in the yard. The literature said they were individually handcrafted and painted, and indeed, no two were alike. They also had piercing eyes that seemed to be watching you from any angle, which Keith said is very hard to do with a brush. I wanted to get one for Dad, but they were $18.99, which was a bit steep during the lean winter months.

Bargain hunter that he is, Keith pretended he didn’t see the tag and asked how much they were. Turns out all lawn ornaments were on sale for 75 per cent off. I bought two, a mother staring forward at her invisible next meal, and a cub looking off to the right.

Over lunch, we figured we would put them on the sill outside Dad’s washroom window which would surprise him during his morning business when he looked at the outside thermometer. After patiently waiting two days for both of my parents to be away, the covert deed was done.

Well, Dad didn’t find them in the morning; he discovered them late that night when the glare of the fluorescent light caught them just right. He looked out the window and saw two sets of beady eyes glaring him right in the face. He was, indeed, surprised. Surprised times 100. Shotgun sort of surprised.

Keith and I agreed it was the most fun we’d ever had for under 10 bucks.

I should mention that in our efforts to diversify the farm, we were always looking for new crops and ventures, which included operating a couple of garden centres outside two No Frills stores in Toronto. The items on sale at the co-op reminded me of those days.

Our stock began with the usual plants and soils, but continued to evolve as the season went on. Trees, shrubs and rosebushes, grown with tender loving care by a friend of ours, soon became a mainstay. More than one customer mentioned they were more expensive than those sold at Canadian Tire but I explained how they were grown and that whatever didn’t sell would go home to be planted in my yard. Of the dozens sold, only six shrubs made it there.

Once our regular customers had their gardens established they still stopped by to see if we had anything new they could add, which is where lawn ornaments came in. Stake-mounted birds, Sylvesters, Tweetys, windmills and birdhouses filled in the gaps. Keith and I even built top-notch cedar window boxes in his shop and filled some with herbs, and others with flowers and spikes. Few wanted to pay what they were worth but they all sold. It seemed customers didn’t want something they had to store in their cramped little sheds and preferred something they could throw away.

If we were operating those garden centres today, I would have bought all that stock at the co-op for 75 per cent off and re-sold it for 75 per cent more. And I would most certainly have bought every single meercat, just in case some son out there has a dad like mine.

Hugh McElhone
-Interim Editor-

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