When the economy changes, the texture of the surrounding community changes as well. That’s what happened at The Brothers Greenhouses in Port Orchard, WA.
Sam Maupin, who serves as operations manager and grower for the business, says that Lou and Sam Darmiento established the greenhouse in 1969 as a wholesale business. The original Brothers Greenhouses focused on bedding packs, poinsettias and Easter lilies for grocery stores and other retail outlets in the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas.
In 1996, Sam’s mother Marilyn Davis and her business partner Cheryl Pelkey, both long-time employees of The Brothers Greenhouses, purchased the business and began its transformation. Marilyn and Cheryl wanted to make a change in the business to avoid the negatives that come with operating a wholesale nursery, and to focus on their strengths while serving the local community.
“The economy of our region changed significantly in the early 1990s with the decline of the timber industry,” said Sam, who grew up in the business. “A lot of the communities we were serving were hit economically. Our competitors kept growing larger and larger, and big box stores had a bigger claim on the market. We’ve moved away from being a wholesale facility to a retail facility. We’re still growing all of our product and have wholesale production, but instead of shipping it around the region, we’ve opened our doors to the public and people can shop out of our production area.”
The 10 greenhouses include a total of 30,000 square feet of growing space. A propagation house located within the facility is used to start cuttings and seedlings. “We grow a lot of vegetables,” said Sam. “We have a good selection of house plants, bedding packs, and we also supply a lot of local growers with unique vegetable varieties.”
Some of the greenhouses are heated, mostly for the poinsettias and Easter lilies that The Brothers Greenhouses grows for fundraisers and churches. The greenhouses are heated with natural gas, and Sam is continually working toward improving efficiency with measures such as double poly on heated greenhouses and reducing the number of plants that require warmth during cold months.
As is the case for other greenhouses, winter is spent preparing for spring. Sam says the region provides excellent opportunities for gardening, but noted that there are many microclimates. “We have waterfront and we have mountains,” he said. “Everyone has a little bit different type of growing space at their home, and there’s a large range in what they can grow.”
Sam says the main IPM challenges come from growing so many different crops, and the fact that everything is susceptible to something. “We’re open to the public every day, so we can’t close down the facility to spray a pesticide that has a 24-hour REI,” he said. “We’re limited to soaps and oils, and I’m proud that we don’t have to do anything for herbs and vegetables. We try to grow plants naturally resistant to insect and disease pressure in the right environment, at the right time of year.”
In addition to greenhouse crops, The Brothers Greenhouses is growing more nursery stock to provide additional selections for customers.
Sam believes it’s important that the grounds are attractive and inviting, and he puts a lot of time into improving the landscape each year. The plants used in the outdoor landscape showcase ways in which those plants might be used in a home garden.
One of the most popular features at Brothers is the hobbit house. “Cheryl is our resident master artist,” said Sam. “She created the design, and she and Marilyn built it.” Sam says the hobbit house draws people to different areas of the nursery and gives them a reason to take their time, browse and see what else is available.
Customers benefit from staff members’ wealth of experience. “We know the plants well since we’re the growers, and we pass that along to customers,” said Sam. “We try to catch mistakes before they go out the door. If we see someone who’s trying to put a begonia out at the wrong time of year, we’ll let him or her know that it’s too cold. We have to do that or they won’t come back.”
The Brothers Greenhouses has seen a steady increase in new customers who enjoy the unique aspects of the business. One popular feature is workshops, which attract loyal customers who often bring new customers. Sam says Cheryl is an accomplished artist and creates workshops that inspire the creativity of those who attend.
Sam feels the array of greenhouses still retains a bit of an industrial look, so not everyone who drives by is aware that the business is now open to the public.
“But every year it gets better, and we are getting more attention and communication through word of mouth,” he said. “We’re continuing to grow a loyal customer base, but it’s still a challenge because we don’t sell milk and meat and other things that a grocery store can. It isn’t quite as convenient for customers who can just go to the grocery store to buy plants.”
Sam’s personal goal for the business is to advocate and inform the public they can reduce their carbon footprint through gardening and supporting sustainable farms.
“Even though we’ve transitioned from wholesale to retail, we’ve retained our commitment to growing quality plants for our local community. Our business model is simple: grow quality plants and sell them.”