There were other aspects of running the greenhouses that presented new challenges for the Owens. A loss of power could be catastrophic, so they have multiple generators for backup. There is even a phone alarm system to call someone at night if something should go awry in the greenhouses. On certain occasions, Jerome may stay overnight at the greenhouse, sleeping on a sofa to stand guard for a possible emergency, with family repairman Brad on high alert, prepared to jump into action. The gusts of wind up to 60 miles an hour this past month have been truly worrisome. And, needless to say, the increased need for high cost propane is problematic.
Since the Pennsylvania soil is not at all like the soil in North Carolina, the Owens began planting many of the greenhouse plants at their homes, so they could speak knowledgeably about how each performs in the local conditions. Although they had farmed in Amity, Pennsylvania, (southwest of Pittsburgh), the Owens were accustomed to a rich, crumbly soil. In North Carolina, the official state soil and most commonly found is Cecil soil. As we well know, this is a red clay that contains decomposed granite and quartz, making it heavy to work.
Emily Sampson, the head grower, oversees the timing for planting each specific plant. She has to map it all out, knowing the rate of growth for each plant, so that it is in prime condition for the selling season. As a veteran of Painters Greenhouse, having worked alongside previous owner Stephen Painter, Emily’s extensive knowledge as a horticulturist brings the greenhouse to life. She graduated from UNC Asheville with a B.S. in ecology and evolutionary biology, with extensive course work in botany. She worked with several other local growers prior to joining the Painters’ team. Assistant grower Jessy helps Emily with production and watering duties and brings her unique experience as a landscaper to Painters. Jessy is continually improving gardens surrounding the retail area, providing beautiful spots for shoppers to relax and observe Painters’ plants in the landscape.
Painters Greenhouse has a soil shed with a room solely devoted to bringing in truckloads of specially mixed potting soil for planting. The staff regularly fills planting trays and pots with this mixture as it rolls off the conveyor belt. The greenhouses must be kept within a specific temperature and humidity range, so there are many furnaces and fans, as well as energy-saving shade curtains that help with both heat retention and cooling. Watering requirements must be carefully monitored, depending on the weather. The specific needs vary tremendously from plant to plant. What is needed for the aquatic plants is certainly not what is needed for succulents. The many hanging baskets must be placed in the correct spot on the hanger above, so the automated dripper will water them accurately and regularly. All hoses and their condition must be examined regularly. Growing quality plants is a full time and labor intensive job, but with many satisfactions.
The Owens have made some changes since 2010. They enjoy getting to know their customers and want their visit to be a wonderful morning or afternoon experience. With this in mind, the grounds around the greenhouses include landscaped gardens with water features and picnic areas. They decided to offer more retail items for sale, like an extensive selection of pottery and yard art, (including local artisans), and necessities such as gardening tools, soil, mulch, fertilizers and pest control treatments. They encourage their customers to grow their own food. They offer fruits, including raspberries and blueberries. They have expanded the number of vegetable and herb varieties, offering many heirloom vegetables as well as those bred to be disease resistant. New plants are continually being introduced, such as Purple Globe Artichoke, Holy Basil, American Maidenhair Fern, Coreopsis Sunshine Superman, Black Cohosh, native Passionflower vine and Jack in the Pulpit (see illustrations). They also began a recycling program which encourages Painters’ customers to return their plastic containers and trays to the recycling area next to the parking lot. The plastics are then either sterilized and reused at the Greenhouse or donated along with other unused containers to local nonprofits and greenhouse hobbyists.
Many festive weekend events are scheduled. Some of their big events include St. Paddy’s Day, an Open House weekend (late March), and an annual Herb Festival (famous for discounted herbs, live music and over 25 local artisans, April 12th and 13th). Many classes are offered, ranging from Herbal Soap-making (June 9th), a pollinator lecture (mid-June) to Fairy Garden creation (May 4th). Lectures range from vegetable gardening to landscaping with native plants. Information on this and other gardening information can all be found at: paintersgreenhouse.com.
Indeed the Owens and Stengers have accomplished a lot. A visit to Painters Greenhouse will certainly open your eyes to what they have achieved. Thoughts of retirement for the Owens seem to have floated away with the clouds. They are fully engulfed in a year round, labor intensive business with their daughter and son-in-law. Despite all of its long hours and numerous challenges, the Owens find this has been a very rewarding decision. The business allows them to exercise their creative sides; they enjoy researching new plant varieties and planning new events and classes. They all agree that the most pleasure is found in visiting with both new and old customers, and feel fortunate to be ‘going to work’ each day in such a beautiful environment. Western North Carolina is indeed lucky that they vacationed here a few years ago and decided to stay. If you haven’t been to Painters Greenhouse in Old Fort yet, get in your car and visit.
NEW ARRIVALS AT PAINTERS GREENHOUSE