TORRINGTON – For over 40 years, Great Gardens has provided people with a wide assortment of annuals, perennials, vegetables and houseplants. As a grower and retailer, preparation for spring starts early.
Jeff Jones, who has owned Great Gardens for 13 years, said February 1 is when they start planting. All the vegetables offered are started at the greenhouse as seeds.
According to Jones, every year they grow around 20,000 pepper and 20,000 tomato plants.
“In this area, a lot of people have been farmers sometime in their life, so they’re used to planting things,” Jones said. “The percentage of people that have vegetable gardens here is higher than nationwide to start with.”
Jones said they get a lot of plants in around February 15, and by the end of February, his crew is really busy.
Currently, he said, the eight greenhouses on the property are almost full. Jones expects they will be by the end of this week.
A big portion of Great Gardens’ sales comes from annuals. Jones said a lot of their annuals come from Tagawa Gardens, just north of Denver.
“It’s handy for us to just go down there and pick things up,” he said.
They have recently gotten 30,000 plants in one trip.
“When they come in, they’re very tiny, like half an inch or an inch tall,” Jones explained.
Once getting them to the greenhouses, Jones said it takes a few days to a week to get all of them transplanted.
This year, Great Gardens’ big event is on April 30. Having been cancelled last year, Jones said “Business After Hours” is a chance for the community to browse their inventory, with specials, drawings and prizes.
The year 2020 brought some changes for Great Gardens, some of which have carried into this year.
Jones said last year it became apparent to him that certain customers were going to be cautious about leaving their homes. Wanting to make accommodations for people affected by or worried about the COVID-19 virus, Jones put Great Gardens’ entire inventory online.
“If they didn’t want to come in, they could at least know what all we have,” he said.
Last year Jones and his staff gave customers a pre-order and pickup option so they wouldn’t need to leave their cars, though most decided to come in and look around too.
Jones said he also has made a few deliveries for people who needed it.
One of the most drastic changes because of the pandemic might be surprising to some.
“Houseplant sales nationwide have gone way up,” said Jones.
In the past year, Great Gardens’ houseplant sales were up nearly three and a half times from previous years. Having gotten new houseplants in a few times per year, new arrivals come every two weeks, according to Jones.
Houseplants are also one of the greenhouse’s popular year-round items.
The greenhouse’s previous owners had never been open year-round. About eight years ago, Jones recalled Great Gardens closed around the fourth of July. Up to that point, he said people had been streaming in every day, so he decided to try staying open all year.
With inventory changing in each season, the selection of houseplants and hard goods also expanded.
Right now, Jones said he has a ten-person team, with that number varying throughout the year.
“Five or six of them have been here ten years or more,” he said.
Jones said he appreciates having an experienced staff.
“The difference between this place and a ‘big bucks’ store is that you can come in and ask a million questions and we’re here and happy to help you,” he said.
Since temperature and soil type varies in different areas, Jones said his team asks customers exactly what area they live in.
These areas can differ quite a bit according to Jones.
“Every now and then I go out into the parking lot and look where all the cars are from and it’s shocking, even to me, where all these vehicles are from,” he said.
Some of Jones’ previous mailing lists have had up to 58 different zip codes.
Employee Haley Carter sees Great Gardens as a “hidden gem,” drawing in people from all over.
Great Gardens will continue to prepare for their busiest season in the weeks to come.