A GARDEN centre boss who watched half his business burnt to the ground last year is now in a race against time to relaunch its new building before Easter.

Marc Charnley, owner of Crooklands Garden Centre, in Dalton, saw a major part of the premises destroyed a fire last September.

The 3am blaze began in scrap cars at Dalton Motor Breakers and led to a 200 metre exclusion zone.

More than 40 fire officers tackled the flames which spread to the garden centre while Mr Charnley looked on in horror.

He called in favours from 20 builders, electricians, painters and fitters in an effort to launch the firm’s new £100,000 gift shop and furniture store on the first week of April.

The 38-year-old said it had taken late nights, early mornings and family savings to construct the 200 square metre stone building in time to meet the demands of their insurers and attract Spring gardening customers. He said: “I built this business up from rubble with my father 14 years ago. It was just neglected ground and old cars when we arrived and we developed it into something we were proud of.

“I was called out on the night of the fire and watched helpless as it burned — it was terrifying.

“The flames were huge and the aluminium building which makes up part of the business was doused with water. On side of it was so badly twisted that engineers said it was un-safe and we had to take it down. My father was devastated.”

Mr Charnley said the fire left the business with one temporary boarded wall separating the remaining building from the outside wind and rain.

“It was a miserable winter.

“We had to cancel our Christmas displays and our cafe trade was hit.”

Crooklands Garden Centre began 25 years ago when Mr Charnley’s father Lewellyn, 66, of Dalton, began trading plants and bedding materials.

Marc Charnley said the fire had been ‘extremely stressful’ but had given them an opportunity to make the premises better.

“If we’re doing something we like to do it right. The new building is starting to look great, I just hope it’s ready in time.”