Flower Power
How a small family business grew into a horticultural success story

Also read:
Preparing for the Future
Blooming Wildcats
Bookmark and Share
Easy to print version
Make a comment

FAMILY TIES: Henry '80, far left, and Jeffrey Huntington '76, at right in the opposite photo, run the nursery enterprise started by their father, Jonathan '50, center.

The rain drums against the lofty glass roof and streams down the sides of the greenhouse. Jeffrey Huntington '76, vice president of Pleasant View Gardens, a family-owned wholesale nursery in Loudon, N.H., is walking down the main aisle of the immense building on this late July day, surveying thousands of baskets of blooming flowers suspended overhead. The plants aren't supposed to be here; ordinarily, they would have been shipped out to retail garden centers by now. But because of all the rain this year—almost 13 inches in June and July, without a single day between May 25 and July 5 officially recorded as sunny—garden centers are having a slow summer, orders are down and plants are piling up. It's ironic that a farmer who grows his crops under glass is still at the mercy of the weather.

Jeff takes it in stride, though. This is no big problem, he says. The greenhouse staff will pinch the plants back, let them grow out and bloom again, and in a few weeks they'll look even better than they do now. They will surely sell later in the summer.

Like most people who have worked in agriculture for any length of time, Jeff has learned to be philosophical about the weather. He can't change it, and he's seen worse. When? Well, there was the Blizzard of '78, for example. That was just about a year after his parents, Jon '50 and Eleanor, bought the nursery and moved their family up from Connecticut. Jeff was 22 at the time, a recent graduate of UNH's Thompson School of Applied Science. His brother, Henry '80, was just out of high school.

The blizzard was a classic Nor'easter, battering New England with hurricane-force winds and drifts of snow 10 feet high or more. It hit New Hampshire about midday on Feb. 6, and by evening the state was effectively shut down. At Pleasant View, the wind and snow were pummeling a 6,000-square-foot, plastic-covered greenhouse that sheltered thousands of cyclamen seedlings. Jon was concerned that the plastic would give way, so he decided to move the plants to a glass greenhouse.

Jonathan surveys hanging baskets in a Pleasant View Gardens greenhouse.

"With the help of a couple of our growers, Dad, Mom, Henry and I boxed up all the cyclamen," Jeff recalls. "It was dark, and the snow was blowing so hard you could hardly see outside. We were shoveling like mad to keep the driveway open between the two greenhouses. We'd back our truck up to the door, load it with plants, drive about 50 feet, back it into the other building, and unload it. On one trip, when we got to the second building, we realized Mom wasn't there. When we went to look for her, we found her lying in the middle of the driveway. The snow was so thick that no one had seen her fall. We were all shouting and scrambling through the snow to get to her. We got her up and she was OK, although she had been more or less knocked out by the fall. We worked through the night and into the early morning. We never lost the plastic, but that crop was too important to take a chance."

That's how the Huntingtons get things done: everybody pitches in, works hard and does whatever needs doing. That's how they built a small, two-greenhouse nursery into the largest wholesale nursery in New Hampshire and one of the largest in New England, with 13 acres of covered production area and 10 acres of outdoor gardens in two locations in Loudon and Pembroke. Pleasant View Gardens ships trays of young plants to wholesale growers in all 50 states, and it grows "finished" plants in pots for retail nurseries and garden centers throughout the Northeast, selling about 40 million plants a year altogether.

"In spite of the four-year difference in their ages, Jeff and Henry Huntington look so much alike that they could be twins. They are big men, built like football players—broad and square—with ready grins and contagious enthusiasm when they talk about the business they run together. Henry is president and chief executive officer of Pleasant View Gardens, overseeing marketing and administration. Jeff, as vice president and chief operating officer, focuses on production. Jon is still an active advisor. "I like to go to staff meetings. I just come down and criticize and go home," he says with a laugh.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 Next >

 Easy to print version

blog comments powered by Disqus