You might say that Jim and Linda Berger, owners of the Yellow River Garden in Spooner, came to the profession a bit sideways. Both are from Oconomowoc, where they met, and neither had a written-in-stone career path.
Jim found employment through the Brownberry Bread Company and Linda tried a buffet of various career paths, but nothing proved very interesting.
Linda's father owned a hardware store with a small lawn and garden shop across the parking lot. During high school, it was Linda's job to run the place, and it was her introduction to her future career, but she didn't know that then, even when she found employment at several other shops that dealt with plants.
A woman named Joan, who had eight large outlets in the Milwaukee area taught her how to plant. Plant from seed that is; thousands of flats throughout the season.
During that time there was an ad in the paper that mentioned a local greenhouse was for lease that was only fifteen miles away. It was called the Okauchee Greenhouse, and it needed a lot of work. They leased it for three years and then the original owner decided that he wanted it back.
Linda worked in the floral industry for several years, and they found a Victorian-style house in Oconomowoc that they fell in love with that too needed a great deal of work. They worked on the remodel while debating where to make a fresh start in the greenhouse business. By the time they sold the house they had completely changed it from old and decrepit to a show stopper.
Meanwhile, Linda's parents had moved to Hayward to join other family members there, and she and Jim decided it was a good time to follow.
They looked all around the area for another fixer-upper house that they could buy, but it had to come with enough property so they could create their own greenhouse on the same property.
In August 1995 they moved into the farmhouse on Highway 70, two miles east of Spooner, and between bringing the house up to date, they also hauled up three semi loads of materials to build the original greenhouses. It was August, and there was a lot to do right from the get-go.
It took they two years, but in 1997 the Yellow River Greenhouse opened with three greenhouses full of plants, and they've never looked back and have been adding updates every year for twenty-one years, tapping heavily into Linda's creative side.
“One of our goals,” said Linda, “was to grow different things for sale, not the standard plants that were for sale at the big box stores, and to have fun.” Their mission was to Grow, Learn and Share.
Originally they carried perennials, vegetables and annuals, the common plants and new varieties. Immediately their stock expanded to trees and shrubs, then pottery, yard art, and garden gifts.
Cute little buildings in happy colors were erected along with five more greenhouses, and demonstration ponds filled with the appropriate plants filled their share of the business's footprint.
Twenty-one years later, they've noticed some interesting trends. “We used to be open until eight in the evening because that's when the men used to come and pick out the vegetables that would fill the family's garden. We've seen a decline in vegetable plant purchases due to the popularity of the farmer's markets, and hybrid plants that can be grown in containers, and a general decline of the number of men who even come at all.”
In the springtime when they open around Mother's Day, weather depending, and it's the annuals that bring gardeners out to get that pop of color into their yards and containers. Annuals, herbs, forty different varieties of succulents, and all the homegrown varieties of plants they feature each year.
By mid-summer, perennials, trees, garden art, pond plants, and shrubs sell very well.
Fall brings out those who are ready to put in trees and shrubs and mums.
Throughout the entire growing season, Linda and one of her six full-time employees are available to assist with the long-range plans of their client's to help create a thumbnail sketch of what the client would like their place to look like when finished.
By taking a walk through the vast variety of plants, shrubs, and trees, appropriate plants for specific areas are suggested, keeping each year's budget in mind. Always mindful of the critical guide that, a plant thrives if planted where it wants to be.
By the time Yellow River opens in the spring, there are 13 thousand planted 41/2 pots, and 3000 planted 3 ½ inch pots. These common and unique plants have been planted in February and March, and there are somewhere around 1000 flats and 800 individual hand-created containers along with 800 or so hanging baskets that are also ready to market on opening day. Each greenhouse is fronted with colorful signage indicating which plants are inside.
When September comes, and business is dying down, that's when Jim and Linda visit the trade shows to see what's new for the following year. Linda said that at the last show everything was so compelling that she bought quite a bit for next year.
That's right, they have closed for the season, but you can be assured when the wind starts to blow and the heavy snow starts to fall, they'll be as anxious as you are for spring when everything is new and exciting again.
“Our goal is to have everyone that visits us to leave feeling uplifted and excited about gardening. We are too are looking to the future, hoping to find new options which could include new owners or partners interested in a greenhouse lifestyle.”
Drydenwire is excited too because, in the Spring, we will be hosting a garden show with Linda once or twice a month called "Let's Talk Outside." A show that answers your garden questions from the basics to advanced queries and everything in between.
For more information on Yellow River Gardens, they're on Facebook, so log in and take a look and dream of spring.
About the Author
Diane is a features writer for DrydenWire.com. She started her fifteen-year career as a features writer for the Washburn County Register and has written for assorted newspapers and national magazines. She has also just released the third novel in her Chicago series of books – Scott Free in Chinatown. You can visit Diane's website at www.dianedryden.com or her facebook page at facebook.com/authordianedryden.