THE founder of one of Darlington's oldest family-run businesses has died at the age of 91.

Ronnie Nattrass took his smile, and his love of flowers, wherever he went, his family said, and they are all still involved in the business he founded more than 50 years ago, Flowers by Nattrass.

He began life in Kirkby Fleetham, where at 14 he started work in the gardens at Kirkby Fleetham Hall.

He had a great passion for football, playing for Durham School Boys, and could have played professionally after an offer of a trial for Bishop Auckland. Family circumstances meant he did not take the opportunity.

In 1949 he met Dorothy, and the pair married and settled in the village of Hurworth, near Darlington, in the summer of 1957.

He began working in the gardens for the Parsons family at the Old House in Blind Lane, Hurworth. Whilst his wife was teaching at Hurworth School, Mr Nattrass grew vegetables, fruit, and flowers and tended to the land. His produce was then sold from the West End garden gate to the local residents of Hurworth.

A couple of years later, The Old House and its land was put up for sale. Using every last scrap of savings, Ronnie and Dorothy bought the gardens. Ronnie built a small shop by the West End gate and employed his first ever member of staff - the beginning of Flowers by Nattrass.

By this point Ronnie delivered his fresh produce around Hurworth.

Mrs Nattrass said: "He knew virtually everyone by name in the village.

"His morning run would inevitably carry on into the afternoon. Ronnie's love of life and people were plain to see." She said he would sometimes stop for the odd pint of beer with his customers.

Mr Nattrass continued to grow thousands of stems of traditional British cut flowers such as sweet peas, dahlias, larkspur and chrysanthemums. In the 1970’s, he opened a shop in Duke Street, Darlington, which remains today as the business' main premises.

In 1981 his daughter Sally joined Flowers by Nattrass full time, and in 1989 a workshop was built in the Hurworth gardens.

The business was built up to incorporate 3 retail shops, a market garden and small garden centre employing 22 staff at its peak and today has a thriving on-line and wedding and event business. Sally’s husband along with their three daughters all play an active role in the company.

Mr Nattrass leaves behind his wife Dorothy, daughter Sally, son-in-law Mark and his three grandchildren Katie, Claire and Amy.

His funeral will take place at All Saints Church in Hurworth on Monday, June 18 at 1pm. Mourners are asked to wear colourful clothing.