by Kelly Gates
Throughout the country, growers and garden centers have peak seasons when their facilities are filled to the brim with plants, plant products and most importantly, people intending to peruse and then purchase. But even when sales slow and foot traffic decreases, there are still ample opportunities to make use of greenhouses, gardens and other on-site structures.
Freund’s Farm Market has been hosting weddings, dinners and even religious celebrations at its property in Canaan, CT for over a decade.
“I did my first greenhouse wedding a little more than 10 years ago and it was just breathtaking,” said Theresa Freund. “It was just after Thanksgiving, so we wrapped the greenhouse posts with cornstalks and brought in linens and tables, wrapped twinkle lights above where our hanging baskets were earlier in the year and hired a DJ to play at the reception.”
According to Freund, greenhouses are perfectly suited for hosting such affairs. The structures lend themselves well to hanging decorations and finding complementary plants and flowers is quick and easy-and free-since they are already on site.
Her staff preps for parties by clearing the company’s newest greenhouse, starting with the display benches first.
“We don’t have permanent benches. Instead, we use concrete blocks topped with pallets and wooden 2X4s that are each numbered so we can put them back into place when we are done,” she explained. “We stacks the blocks and wood on pallets and move everything out using a pallet jack.”
The new greenhouse was outfitted with concrete floors and a radiant floor heating system. Both work well for plant production and storage. The concrete is also ideal for warming the space for events, providing an even surface for tables and chairs and because it is polished concrete, it can double as a dance floor.
The support posts can be decorated with everything from corn stalks and flowers-like vertical hanging bags filled with geraniums-to colorful tulle and ribbon or Christmas garland, lights and bows.
“We had aluminum shade cloth installed, which helps us regulate the heat for plants, but when closed at night, is reflective, causing the twinkle lights, candles and other lighting to bounce all around the room,” said Freund. “I have one of our employees go through and loosely loop all of the hanging basket drip irrigation lines so they are up and out of the way. Then, we string the lights all along the railings overhead on the hanging basket hooks.”
Potted plants and flowers are then tucked in here and there to add even more ambiance. Often, they are used to line aisles for weddings or pathways leading into the greenhouse or outside to a tented garden area if the main greenhouses are being used for retail sales in late April, May and June.
Freund discovered that purchasing table linens is no more expensive than renting them. It took some searching online, but she found several industrial linens suppliers that offered just the right price.
Other event essentials can be bought as well, but she recommends starting out slowly and gradually acquiring items whenever possible.
“We rented a lot of our supplies at first and I would suggest that others do the same,” she said. “But keep in mind that not everything you buy has to be luxurious, high end stuff. The mix of simple, rustic materials you already have with rented white linens, fine china and crystal goblets can create a very aesthetically pleasing ambiance.”
With this creative concept in mind, Freund’s Farm Market has been able to host evening weddings, country-themed barbeques, daytime baby christening receptions, Future Farmer’s of America luncheons and even a legislative dinner for the Connecticut Farm Bureau that was attended by members of the group and then-Congresswoman, Nancy Johnson.
Business owners with existing facilities should take the time to consider what they already have, asking whether space could be carved out for special events. Those planning on expanding with new greenhouses or other buildings should also think about the potential for events before settling on a specific design, noted Freund.
She listed her top must-haves.
“Having polished floors makes it really easy to clean up in preparation for a party. You just have to wash with water and squeegee it dry,” she said. “Shade cloth is another item that is incredibly efficient and useful. You can close it to keep the sun off people during luncheons and in the cooler months, it keeps the heat down closer to ground level, down out of the eaves.”
Shade cloth coupled with radiant floor heating creates a pocket of warm air that is very comfortable. In comparison, forced air heaters are very loud and heat inconsistently-overheating the people sitting nearby and causing those further away to remain chilly.
When the weather is warm enough, setting up outdoors is another viable option.
“There are a lot of produce growers who have dinners outdoors. Setting up tables in a flower garden, in a patch of raspberries or between rows of apple trees would work well,” said Freund. “And, if the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can move everything indoors, into a greenhouse, a barn and even packing shed. Regardless of the time of year or occasion, don’t overlook the obvious spaces right in front of you. They could be the money-makers you have been searching for.”