by Sally Colby
Visitors to Pinter’s Gardens and Pumpkins may not realize that the business is quite different from how it started in 1998. That’s the year Shane and Elisa Pinter started their full-service design and landscape installation company in Decorah, IA.
The business was thriving, but Elisa wanted to do more. Five years ago, the couple made some major changes that expanded the landscaping and snow removal business to include a retail store and popular fall activities.
“It was a corn field,” said Elisa as she described the property they moved their business to in 2011. “We had been growing all of our own perennials at home – we brought in bareroot trees and potted them. When we came over here, we decided to build a garden center and a retail store. There’s a bakery and restaurant, and we also have a fall pumpkin patch and a corn maze.”
Today, Pinter’s Gardens and Pumpkins is still expanding and adding attractions for guests. The farm includes six acres of pumpkins and gourds, sweet corn and aronia berries; which are becoming more popular for inclusion in a variety of health-oriented products.
Another section of the farm is devoted to a new apple orchard. “We put in 700 high-density apple trees last spring,” said Elisa. “We’ll be planting more over the next three years. It will be a five-acre pick your own orchard.” The Pinter’s crew recently grafted 2,000 apple trees that will be planted this spring.
The farm includes three greenhouses, one of which is used for starting pumpkins, which are planted as plugs in early June. The pumpkins are part of a three-year crop rotation that helps manage disease and insects. Rye is used as a cover crop the year before pumpkins go into a field and rolled down before pumpkins are planted.
The Pinters participate in agritourism and corn maze conferences and tours, and find that such events are a great source of new ideas. “We get to see other farms and their ideas,” said Elisa. “Then we can come home and use them on our farm.” Elisa says that a visit to a children’s museum in New York helped them come up with more ideas for children’s activities that are both attractive and educational.
Other fall activities on the farm include a six-acre corn maze, which draws a lot of customers in fall. Elisa works with a corn maze company to design the maze, then, after the design is finalized, paths for the maze are created. Each year features a different theme. “One year I did the state of Iowa,” said Elisa, “and another year was the city of Decorah. We also had one with a soldier theme, and another dedicated to the American farmer.”
One of the greenhouses is open to the public and includes a retail store that offers a variety of items. Hanging baskets, sourced from a local grower, as well as perennials entice customers who visit in spring. Pinter’s has offered gardening classes for customers in the past, and Elisa would like to expand and offer more.
As a full-service landscape company, Pinter’s participates in several government programs including CRP (Conservation Reserve Program). Through CRP, woody plants species are established in agricultural and riparian areas. Pinter’s works directly with NRCS and provides the appropriate species according to the project plan and design. Some of the species used for riparian plantings include red oaks, white oaks, burr oak, walnut and silver maples. Elisa says that species for riparian buffers are those that can withstand water such as chokecherry and wild plum.”
Although the NRCS selects the species for CRP and riparian buffer projects, landowners also have some input. “We can change the plan a little bit if the farmer or home owner wants a different tree,” said Elisa, adding that trees are purchased from Midwest nurseries to ensure species that will thrive in the area.
The virtual landscape on the premises includes patios, benches, a water garden and fireplaces; all of which help customers envision how they can use such elements in their own space. “It’s laid out so that people can see what it looks like,” said Elisa.
The retail store includes a selection of indoor and outdoor garden décor, with both practical and gift items to suit all tastes. The full-service bakery offers customer favorites including scones, cookies, cupcakes and pies. Guests are welcome to stay for lunch, which is served daily.
Pinter’s Gardens and Pumpkins is a member of the Eastern Iowa Tourism Association, and invites tour groups to stop and spend time in the pleasant rural setting. A presence on social media, including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube as well as their own website helps spread the word about what’s happening from season to season at Pinter’s.
Expanding family business for the future
by Sally Colby