Member Monday: Painter's Greenhouse
By Tina M. Wolfe
To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow—Audrey Hepburn
Growth requires patience and great intention; just ask Dana Owen, the owner, along with her parents Deenie and Brad Owen, of Painter’s Greenhouse in Old Fort.
The size alone is enough to get any greenie excited. When I learned that the Owens work year round to start, sow, and grow more than 1,000 species and varieties of plants covering more than 100K square feet of space, my respect for their knowledge, perseverance, and determination grew.
Painters has been a family-owned and operated business for 48 years. This amazing jungle of greenery is open from March 1 to July 1 and supplies Western North Carolina with homegrown, high-quality plants at very competitive prices. Not just for master gardeners, beginning gardeners will find so many varieties including veggies, herbs, fruits, bedding plants, natives, aquatics, succulents, shrubs, trees, houseplants, hanging baskets and ferns - plus pottery, garden art & more!
The Best-Laid Plans
Aiming for a quiet retirement life in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina, Deenie and Brad Owen left their 320-acre farm in Pennsylvania to settle in Old Fort in 2009. It was while working part-time at Painter’s when Deenie learned that the original owners, Suzie and Stephen Painter, were looking to close down and retire after running the greenhouse for 37 years.
“My parents did not want to see this community greenhouse that has been such a great part of the community disappear or become a development,” Dana said.
Both she and her parents have science educations, she in raptor biology (the study of bird of prey), her father is a wetlands ecologist and her mother’s study focus was medical science. Surely, they could apply their combined education to keep Painter’s going strong. In 2010, Brad and Deenie purchased the business and Dana soon followed.
Although they had acreage and even a small greenhouse in Pennsylvania, they learned quickly that mass growing is a lot like spinning plates. Each species requires specific food, water, light, or humidity and most of that is learned through on-the-job training. “You don’t need to be a botanist to be able to grow in mass like we do,” she said. Much of what they already knew applied but much of it (as any avid gardener can tell you) was about experimenting. “This is not something you learn from a book (mass production),” she said. “So much of it is experimental and learning what works as you try different things.”
The Owens arranged for Stephen to stay on for a year to consult and get them acclimated to the business. Dana also relies on long-time staffers including horticulturist Jessy Piercy. “Jessy is a wealth of knowledge and the Painters were very helpful,” she added. “It was so good to have that [resource]”
Because every plant they sell is either started from carefully selected seed, propagated or grafted from their own plants or from a purchased plug or bulb, they control every aspect of growth to ensure healthy, happy plants. They don’t use harsh pesticides or GMO seeds here, these are homegrown beauties that are pampered and loved. Something their customers have come to expect and certainly appreciate. “The plants become our babies,” she says with a laugh. “We are literally checking on each plant through its growth process.”
Even when problems occur, such as bugs on a plant (we are talking about nature after all), the team is eager to help customers either over the phone or on site. “We want them to call us. When they can tell us when they bought the plant, it helps us go back to that growing season and better diagnose the problem,” she said. “We want to help people enjoy the plants as much as we do. Even if they bought it somewhere else, we are going to help them.”
A Change of Seasons
In their season of ownership, the Owens have made changes, all to better serve their customers and their community. Although not officially a B-Corp business, Painter’s Greenhouse operates much like those community-minded, conscientious companies that invest in their staff and the town of Old Fort to be a good commercial neighbor and employer of choice.
To aid in irrigation and water conservation, they utilized the existing water system but discovered a natural artisan spring on the property that bumped up their holding capacity. Brad monitors the water quality and ensures their system is environmentally sound. “We want to be good neighbors and be a business that makes life better for our staff and our customers,” Dana said.
Deenie loves to work with customers and can often be found smiling in jovial conversation with shoppers at check out. Her convivial personality draws plant-lovers from across the region and keeps them coming back.
“Mom is outgoing and knows so many of the life stories of our customers, she makes an effort to ask about their family or an event,” Dana said. “Our staff is our second family, they bring so much to the place.” While dad enjoys “semi-retirement”, she added, he is a renaissance man and, “can fix anything around here.”
Their annual events and sales rival the popularity of big regional festivals drawing thousands. Their business model is simple: grow the best possible plants, in the best possible way, to help people love and enjoy the beauty of nature and all of its benefits. In early March they hold their Open House with special deals, live music, snacks, and door prizes. Then in April, they host the tasty Herb Festival with 20 local artisans featuring jewelry to furniture, food tastings with fresh herbs, wine and of course live music.
The sale season starts on Mother’s Day and runs monthly with different plants featured and promos. June features Customer Appreciation Night with early access to closeout sale plants in a festive atmosphere. April through June they offer seminars and classes that cover things such as building a pollinator garden, grafting, or making bee houses. A complete schedule is available on their paintersgreenhouse.com.
When the season comes to a close, there are inevitably plants remaining. As a thank you for a successful season to neighbors, they open up and give away plants to area nonprofits as a way to contribute in a meaningful way.
“I love what we do and making an impact in the community makes this all the more meaningful,” she said. “We try very, very hard to grow the largest selection of plants and each one is individually loved by a human being.”
Sharing the love of plants and nature is more than a business for the Owen family, it’s about building a better community lovingly, one plant at a time. I’ll leave you with a old Greek proverb;
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.
Painters Greenhouse is located at 734 Roy Moore Road in Old Fort, North Carolina. You can reach them at 828.668.7225, firstname.lastname@example.org, and online at paintersgreenhouse.com