Tim John said the time he spent time working on farms as he was growing up gave him a desire to become involved in agriculture. Photo courtesy of Canyon Creek Gardens

by Sally Colby

Tim John was born and raised in rural Idaho and said the time he spent time working on farms as he was growing up gave him a desire to become involved in agriculture.

“I’ve always wanted to be in the ag business,” said Tim. “Two years ago my wife AnnMarie and I opened a greenhouse business. It was partially due to my desire to be in the ag business, and also to provide our eight children a business they could work in and an opportunity to learn valuable skills.”

Despite being new to the industry, Tim and AnnMarie didn’t begin their venture blindly. “We started by partnering with my brother-in-law Max Clements, who has been in the greenhouse and nursery business in eastern Idaho for 20 years,” said Tim, who also has an accounting business. “Max is helping us build and get started during the first couple of years as we take more control over the day-to-day operations.”

The Johns didn’t have a property for their new venture but found a nursery in western Idaho that had been out of business for several years. They negotiated terms with the landlord to lease the Caldwell, Idaho, property and restart the greenhouse business as Canyon Creek Gardens.

“There was a lot of work to do to get started,” said Tim. “The property had been taken over by weeds, so we did a lot of cleaning up.” They also tore down what was left of the old greenhouse structures, and with help from Max built two new gutter connect greenhouses: one four-bay and one three-bay. The greenhouses are heated with natural gas, and for now, plants are hand-watered.

The Johns’ first growing year was 2020, and it came with a number of surprises. “We had ordered everything at the end of 2019,” said Tim. “We were so excited and started planting in January, and that’s when we first started hearing about COVID. By March of 2020, Idaho participated in the shutdown. Luckily, under Idaho regulations, we were exempt and could keep the greenhouse open. There were some sleepless nights in March, but it turned out to be a fantastic year to start a greenhouse because people had nothing else to do – they came and bought plants.”

Like other greenhouse operators dealing with COVID, the Johns tried to figure out a practical way to create a drive-by or delivery option for customers. Their solution was a kiosk in the center of the greenhouses that allowed people to choose their own plants with ample distance between customers.

The first year, the Johns quickly sold out, so they planned to increase production for 2021. When it was time to order supplies for 2021, the Johns almost doubled what they grew the first year. “The 2021 growing season was more challenging than 2020 because of supply chain issues,” said Tim. “We had problems getting plastics, and a large shipment of web flats we ordered for January came in June. We were left scrambling trying to find suppliers.”

The Johns’ best guess for 2021 inventory turned out to be a bit too much. “It was a good learning curve,” said Tim. “Now we know the balance and we’ll pull back a little for the upcoming season.” Rather than discarding unsold plants, they donated a trailer load of plants for the gardens at a women’s prison.

Because timing for hanging baskets is critical, those are the first to be planted at the end of January. “They need extra time to grow so they look the way customers like them to look when they buy them in May,” said Tim. “We initially used a ‘recipe’ recommended by Max. Once we got the hang of how to design baskets, including how many plants and what types of plants, we started taking a more active role in designing our own recipes.”

Tim said even though both his and Max’s businesses are in Idaho, people’s tastes differ from one side of the state to the other. Max’s customers are happy with healthy petunias, but Tim’s customers expect more foliage variety and diverse plant mixes. “There’s such a difference in climate between eastern and western Idaho,” said Tim. “We’re warmer here and can grow a lot more.”

The Johns recently placed their cutting order, and Tim said the waiting is a bit nerve-wracking because of new supply chain issues. Last year, he found it difficult to find quality workers, which impacted product quality. “The first year our product was incredible, and we were really proud of it,” he said. “The second year we just couldn’t find enough workers to get things done to make it work like the first year.”

What Tim loves about the business is the opportunity to be creative when designing potted combinations. Canyon Creek Gardens offers several pot sizes, from a large 21 inches to smaller color bowls, all with different flower assortments. “We’re trying to provide a large variety for people at different price points,” he said. “The color bowls are the smallest, and we’re seeding them instead of using cuttings. Patio pots incorporate more high-value plants such as dahlias and geraniums.”

In addition to flowers, the Johns start a selection of vegetables in March including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons and herbs. “Last year we tried hot peppers,” said Tim, noting increased customer interest in hot pepper options. “Carolina Reapers and Trinidad Scorpions were popular, and we’ll have more hot peppers in 2022.” He’ll be growing some specific pepper varieties requested by Basque and Hispanic customers.

As Tim and AnnMarie continue to experiment with color, textures and flowers, they’re tweaking combinations to determine what people like and don’t like. “We’re experimenting with moss hanging baskets for the upcoming year,” said Tim. “We’re interested in finding out if there’s a demand for those.” Although space is limited, the Johns offer a selection of ancillary items including tomato cages, fertilizer and garden décor.

“What customers are buying is us,” Tim stated, who said working at the greenhouse is a relaxing change of pace from his accounting business. “We’re planting and keeping pots for three months to give them a head start so people can buy them when they look amazing.”

Tim looks back at the time he decided to pursue his dream and recalls promising AnnMarie that she would never have to work a day in the business. “She was basically running it by year two,” he said, adding that AnnMarie is in charge of design. “She loves the business and loves working with the flowers.”

Visit Canyon Creek Gardens online at canyoncreekgardens.com.