Written by Dasha Morgan | Photos by Anthony Harden
As the snow begins to melt in your backyard, garden catalogs start filling your mailbox. When one sees the beautiful colors and varieties of botanical beauties that are being offered—from South Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts, and elsewhere—happy spring gardening thoughts formulate and blossom. It must be time to begin planning your landscape and garden.
What should be planted this spring? Do I want to add anything to my vegetable garden? Is there something specific that I should change or improve to make the garden more beautiful all summer long? Oh, I hope it doesn’t rain this summer like it did last year and ruin the tomatoes. The arrival of these catalogs are indicating that it is time to make decisions. If you wait too long, the truly beautiful plants will be out of stock.
With this in mind, perhaps you might want to visit a local greenhouse, off the beaten path: Painters Greenhouse near Old Fort. The trip there will be well worth the effort. This enormous greenhouse (over 100,000 square feet of growing and retail space) is filled with an amazing assortment of plants—from perennials to tropicals, annuals to shrubs and trees, and succulents to aquatics. They even offer a variety of individually designed combination planters and baskets.
Painters Greenhouse is only open from March 1 to the end of June and is open Wednesday to Sunday. This is the planting season, so do take careful note, as loyal customers are certain to return early to buy quality plants. The two greenhouses and one cold frame, as well as a large open air area, will be overflowing with every kind of plant imaginable (over 800 varieties)—from small to large, with striking blossoms and colors, some needing sun, some needing shade.
Ninety-five percent of the plants have been grown start-to-finish on the premises with no “middleman” involved. The production team works throughout the year to propagate and plant the majority of the plants. They sow seeds, divide bulbs and fern runners, and place plant cuttings into pots all winter long. It is a labor of love. Amazingly they keep prices extremely low. For instance the 4” pots of herbs are only $2 and the 6” pots of annuals and perennials generally run $4. A highly sought after plant is the enormous Boston Fern—or Weddin’ Fern—which is only $13 a hanging basket and sells like hot cakes. With prices like these, Painters Greenhouse competes easily with the big box stores.
Painters Greenhouse has made a commitment to locate and purchase only non-GMO vegetable and herb seed varieties. This is important to them. The plant’s health is monitored from the very beginning. No lengthy transportation is involved, so quality is paramount and evident.
A Little Background
In 2009 Brad and Deenie Owen decided to retire. The Owens were living on a 320-acre farm in Pennsylvania with long, cold winters. Brad had been a wetlands ecologist with a Ph.D. in ecology from the University of Alberta. He specialized in stream and wetland evaluations. Deenie comes from the medical field, most recently having worked in a pain management practice in Pennsylvania. She home schooled their two daughters and for many years was a member and president of the Organic Food Co-op. After vacationing in Western North Carolina, they made a major decision to retire to this area and enjoy the climate. Deenie volunteered at Painters Greenhouse in the spring of 2010, while it was still under the ownership of Stephen and Susie Painter.
Just as the Painters were considering retiring and closing their business of over 35 years, the Owen’s older daughter, Dana, and her husband, Jerome Stenger, also were considering a move to North Carolina. Both Dana and Jerome had enjoyed botany and worked in greenhouses in the past and were looking to move on from their current positions in biology and library sciences. Perhaps buying Painters Greenhouse might be the answer? Perhaps the Owens family should continue this thriving business? Putting heads together, they came up with a plan. Brad and Deenie Owen would buy Painters Greenhouse; Jerome and Dana Stenger would move here to help run it. Stephen Painter agreed to stay on as a consultant and advise them for a year; Emily Sampson, a veteran at Painters Greenhouse, would become the Head Grower with the help of Jessy Piercy. It all happened in short order. Yes, the Owens were off and running again—their retirement days were over, with many events on the calendar and crowds of loyal customers able to continue buying the quality plants they so loved. There are now six full time employees year round and perhaps ten or more helpers in the retail season.
A Learning Curve
Of course it has been a steep learning curve for everyone. Each member of the team learned to specialize in their area of expertise. Brad Owen has become the construction and maintenance person. Deenie Owen tackles the office responsibilities with ordering and finances. Dana helps with ordering, finances, advertising, and website maintenance. Jerome documents all plants, products, and oversees plant health and needed pest prevention. Painters Greenhouse strives to use an integrated pest management system by using a preventative practice of thoroughly examining the plants on a regular basis and keeping them healthy and able to resist disease. If a pest problem does arise, they try to use nontoxic treatments. They make sure all edibles are only treated with natural products. In addition to their ‘off-season’ duties, the entire family participates in the retail part of the business during the selling season. They have become friends with many of their customers and very much enjoy the interaction with them.
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