As a child, Marsha Smaaladen used to ask her mom to order her the penny seed packets from Gurney’s catalog. She grew the seeds — as well as her passion for plants and gardening.
Her grandpa and uncles were avid gardeners and she learned from them. She went on to work in flower shops in Jamestown and Northwood, N.D. In 1991, she married her husband Steve and moved to rural Aneta, N.D., where Steve, his brother and his dad ran a dairy farm. In 1993, Marsha opened Country Greenhouse on their farmstead.
2020 was the best year for her greenhouse business. “People were sick of being in the house and wanted to do something new,” Marsha says.
She saw more first-time gardeners in 2020 than ever before and more people who wanted to can and preserve their garden produce. Many now are returning customers in 2021. Seeing first-time gardeners, especially families bringing their kids, is exciting for Marsha to see a next generation become interested in plants and growing a garden. With a short season on the northern prairie, she enjoys the peacefulness while gardening and working in the greenhouses and loves hearing how different customers enjoy their yards, gardens and potted plants.
Marsha’s business philosophy: “Treat your customer right. They will drive. And they don’t care about the distance.” Her returning customers become “once-a-year family,” and she awaits their return each spring.
“I still miss farming. I still love farming,” Steve says. “But this business is (Marsha’s) passion. It’s her ministry. She prays for her customers and with her customers, sometimes right here in the greenhouses.”
There are similarities to running greenhouses and farming, Steve says. “We take risks each spring. We put out plants some years in snow and freezing temperatures,” he says. “The customers buying plants and flowers are optimistic just like the farmers.”
During her 28 years owning and operating a greenhouse business from her rural farmstead, Marsha says the most significant change has been the internet. “We hardly had cellphones when I started. The only advertising was word of mouth, which is the best deal because I was pretty broke, but now, we have more advertising and the internet,” she adds.
The ability to put customers first from a rural location while working together as a family to grow a small business is inspiring. Marsha is knowledgeable, she hustles and she cares for customers. You see it in her work alongside her husband and sons.
I’ve been a gardener and plant lover my entire life, following my grandma and mom’s examples. Last year, when we had been in the house for too long, I brought my girls to Country Greenhouse to create their own fairy gardens. They purchased figurines and small plants for containers. My daughters were motivated by the selection of vegetables and ended up planting their own vegetable garden on my parent’s farm. They’ve helped with pulling weeds in the past (and thoroughly enjoy sampling vegetables), but last year inspired them to grow plants on their own. We’ll be giving gardening a go as a family for many years to come and planting our favorite pots soon.
Make a visit to a local greenhouse yet this season. Plant a few containers to brighten your doorstep. Grow a garden. Expand a tree row. Create a perennial garden for returning seasons. Get your hands dirty — and soak in the peace that comes with the anticipation of the sweet aroma of flowers or eating and preserving fresh vegetables.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.