Now celebrating its 10th year of inspired farming, Ashland Greenhouses plays an important role in keeping Ashland beautiful. With over 31 greenhouses growing more than a million annuals and vegetables, 70,000 perennials, 7,000 hanging baskets and 10,000 poinsettias, local owners Kelly & Ben Brainard make sure to meet all the needs of Ashland’s green thumbs and landscaping community. Ashland Greenhouses is located at 650 East Ashland Lane, directly across the freeway off of Butler Creek Road. We recently spoke with Ashland Greenhouse owner Kelly Brainard and business manager Sarah Valdivia about the operation and all that they have to offer to the community.
Thank you, I can’t believe how fast the time has gone. It’s been an incredible transition from buying a business, moving it to a new location, making changes and improvements, and all the learning that has gone along with it. We are very appreciative of the community and customers for their support. Whether they’ve been in the area for years, have recently moved here, or are just new to gardening, they all bring knowledge and new questions about how we can help create a successful gardening experience. Gardeners are a pretty die-hard group that love getting outside and aren’t afraid of the challenges that come with the hobby. The payoff in the end of beautiful flowerbeds and abundant gardens makes it all worth it. After more than 10 years of working with our customers and community it’s amazing to me how much we all continue to learn from each other and continuously change and adapt to new demands.
It sounds like you all have been working hard getting ready for this upcoming season. How is it all coming along?
Yes, it’s been coming along great. In January we hit the ground running getting ready for the new season. We’re constantly trying new varieties of plants that do well in our climate or offering something fresh and new for our customers. We are excited to be planting the new varieties we did trial runs of last year. We are so happy to provide customers with 3 more perennial verbenas in the ‘Endurascape’ series. They are drought- and deer-resistant and we know people are going to love them. We’ve also added many new osteospermum and begonia colors to our lineup that are really really vibrant and amazing. Last year there was more interest from people growing home-cut flowers, so we also are planting some fun craspedia and fragrant eucalyptus. This year alone we have over 50 new varieties of plants.
We are also continuously changing or fine-tuning the way we plant and how we schedule our planting to better suit our customers’ needs. For example, we meticulously plan out and modify when we’ll be planting every single crop variety. By strategically staggering every crop our customers have confidence knowing that they’re not only buying something that’s suitable for our area, but is also the best quality due to continuous, fresh availability.
We grow an unbelievable amount of plant varieties due to the fact that we’re both wholesale and retail. Because we are a wholesale grower it’s important for us to grow a huge selection to accommodate our wholesale customer needs. As a result, our retail customers have an overwhelming selection to choose from. The good news is that we’ve done all the dirty work for them. We’ve selected what does well for our area and grown it under strict conditions to provide a quality plant. We first start out the hunt for the best-quality plants for our customers by listening to their feedback. Just because the description of a plant in a catalog makes it sound perfect doesn’t mean it’s actually going to work for everyone. We do a lot of research and questioning just to find out how great that plant may or may not be. When we bring in something new, we often start with a small batch of it the first year to see how it really performs. We’re not always right, but that’s what makes it work, because we’re in constant communication with our customers, both wholesale and retail, listening to what they say. We’re also trying things out in our own yards or carefully watching what others are doing to help figure out what works and what doesn’t. We have been able to come across some amazing varieties through this method. Since we are able to constantly keep our inventory fresh through our unique and artisan small-batch process, we can offer the best, fastest growing, and most impressive varieties. Other growers are overwhelmed by these because they can easily outgrow a pot pretty quickly.
You’ve done all the hard work for us already!
One of our goals is to make it easy for everyone. We get a lot of new customers who’ve moved to the area from completely different growing regions. They’re often anxious to start gardening, but unsure of what to plant. Changing climate regions or “zones” is a huge challenge for newcomers to our area. What our customers appreciate is the fact that we’ve preselected what plants work and succeed. It takes a big chunk of the guesswork and fear of gardening away. For example, we get a lot of customers coming into Ashland Greenhouses asking, “What can I plant right now that’s safe to be outside?” We help make that very clear for the customers and show them that everything we have in the outdoor shopping area stays outside and is well hardened off, while everything inside the greenhouses may still be a bit tender. Our customers appreciate how simple and clear that makes their buying decisions. We also separate items by light requirements, growth habits, annuals (one year) vs. perennials (many years), and for anyone looking to learn more we offer classes throughout the year.
Our production grounds are one of my favorite things to show people who go on a tour and see the growing houses not typically open to the general public. They’re first amazed at the quantity of plant material we have, often saying, “I had no idea you had this much in stock,” then they’re secondly amazed at the selection of plant material we have within varieties. Petunias and a few other varieties are a great example. We grow over 70 varieties of petunias alone. Geraniums are another great example, growing over 90 different varieties. Again, it’s the wholesale portion of our business that allows us to grow so many and therefore to the retail customer’s advantage by giving an amazing assortment to choose from.
Kelly, tell us more about all the special relationships you have been able to form with your customers over the past ten years.
There’s a definite bond we have with our customers that’s pretty unique. As they steadily return throughout the seasons we get to know each other very well. There’s always plenty to talk about, from last summer’s vegetable garden, to the crazy weather, or even so far as event planning and figuring out how to make the yard look perfect. The best conversations usually revolve around what worked and what didn’t. We are constantly learning from each other and the unique challenges we face with gardening, including deer, water, disease, soil, sun exposure, you name it. I love hearing about and working together with our customers on how to overcome these obstacles. Our customers have a strong desire to understand how to improve upon what they’re already doing. It’s so great to hear a customer come in saying “I did what we talked about and you wouldn’t believe the difference it made!”
Yes, we’re always trying to look at it through the customer’s eyes. We all love that peaceful feeling when you first step into the greenhouse, breathe in deep, and take in all the sights and smells. Our goal is to continue that feeling throughout the customer’s time spent here. This winter we actually cut away walls and benches to accommodate better foot traffic and shopping comfort. We do our best to always keep the greenhouses easily shoppable for everyone. We always make sure the outside area has fresh weed-free gravel, hoses are always kept out of the way, and there’s no clutter to take away from the plants. Keeping the greenhouses meticulous also really helps the plants stand out and not be muddled by any distraction. We’re constantly striving to maintain organization of plant material that makes sense for customers and helps them find what they’re looking for. And of course we’re always searching for and growing the best variety of plants that truly do well for our customers, not something that only works for us from a grower’s perspective.
Kelly, what do you love most about what you get to do.
All of it. I love being in the greenhouses. I love seeing the changes each season. I love working with the staff and talking to the customers. Every season and every year brings something new. It’s never the same and it’s constantly evolving. There has always been something special and peaceful about walking into a greenhouse. I’ll never get tired of the smell of the soil or newly-planted marigolds and tomatoes. Every month is special, but I have to say that April is tops. The greenhouses are at max capacity and everything is in bloom. It’s really an amazing time to see. How could you not love it?
I wish every customer could see a glimpse behind the scenes of the employees who make everything possible. From the transplanters working non-stop, using different planting techniques for differing plants, to the people hauling the hundreds of flats of plants each day into and out of the greenhouses, to the pullers who meticulously select plant material from over 30 coldframes and greenhouses to fulfill retail and wholesale orders, to the delivery drivers and number crunchers, it’s pretty unbelievable.
The growing houses below retail are a completely different vibe than what you see up front in the store. We’ve got various kinds of music playing from any one greenhouse, along with all kinds of different activity. People are hustling in and out of greenhouses, driving around on golf carts full of plants, moving plant material and working together to make it all happen. It’s all part of the fun.
Some people don’t have room for planting their own garden but often just love to come out and walk through the space.
Absolutely, I want to invite everyone to come to the greenhouses just to see what’s new and happening. The changes happen so fast and before you know it we’ve moved on to the summer and fall crops. We get a lot of people who frequent the greenhouses, not to shop, but to just enjoy the space and walk amongst the plants. So many times we have people who ride bikes out and say, “I’m not here to buy today, I just want to see what you’ve got going on and get some ideas.” You could experience something similar by opening up a gardening catalog or walking through the park, but it’s pretty stunning to come peruse the greenhouses and just take it all in.
Over the years as the retail space has evolved we’ve focused on creating a space that is comfortable for customers. We want them to walk in and feel inspired by what they see, not overwhelmed. A large part of that is keeping things organized and clean. Customers want to easily find what they’re looking for and not feel intimidated by the large assortment to choose from. Gardening on any scale is a very rewarding hobby and there have been many studies done recognizing the health benefits of gardening, not just in exercise, but in relaxation too. I personally love walking through my yard or vegetable garden and just enjoying the space. I feel the same way when I walk through the greenhouses and that’s what we hope the customers feel as well. Inside the greenhouse is an amazing place that nobody wants to leave. It feels safe because technically you’re INSIDE but with all the elements of the outdoors… the smell of soil and plants, the sounds of the birds, all the butterflies, fresh air circulating through, water, it’s all there. As a gardener, it’s an area we all want at home too. I think the greenhouses even help motivate people to re-create an oasis of their own. Whether it’s a plant-filled balcony or back patio or even a completely-landscaped outdoor space, we love to be surrounded by the beauty and outdoor elements.
Ashland Greenhouses also plays host to several annual events and gatherings. Please say more.
The events at Ashland Greenhouses continue to grow each year. We offer classes throughout the year and also mix in some fun events like our Spring Showcase and Open House, Ladies Night, and the Poinsettia Festival. The events in particular are a great way to say thank you to our customers and community by inviting them out for a free event that usually includes, snacks, beverages, bargains, music, raffle drawings, and of course plants.
All of our events and classes are listed on our website under the “Events” tab. Ladies Night is the next big event. We’ll have snacks, wine, and bargain pricing on some great items.
You also offer behind-the-scenes tours.
Yes, we have quite a few groups come through in the early spring and later during the poinsettia season. The spring tours in April really give people an up-close look at how the business operates. Customers can appreciate where the plants come from and what it takes to get them to saleable size. Customers are often just as interested in the process involved with the growing of the plant as they are with the plant itself. What’s even better is that we’re doing it all right here on-site.
You receive so much positive feedback and appreciation. Can you share some of your favorite comments that you have received from your customers?
We get a lot of people who come in during certain times of year as a family tradition. It’s very special to see grandparents with their children and grandchildren picking up their annual hanging basket or plants. We hear a lot of “We come here every year for our Mother’s Day baskets and have been doing it since I was a little kid.”
Do you have any last comments or thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
A big thank you to all our customers and community for supporting our local business and we’re really excited to see everyone this spring season! Happy Planting!
650 E Ashland Ln