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Gardening business not always pretty

BY TAMARA BELKOV Most people were shovelling snow two months ago when Glenna Treasure was in her greenhouse scooping soil into potting trays.
Glenna Treasure (with Harley) is featured in the current issue of Canadian Living in an article on successful businesswomen.


Most people were shovelling snow two months ago when Glenna Treasure was in her greenhouse scooping soil into potting trays. Trowel at hand, her big yellow dog Harley watched as she skilfully snipped cuttings for spring while winter had its way with Sudbury.

"There's still lot's to do," says Treasure, owner of Walden Growers with a smile. "The start of the planting season always depends on the weather, but we'll be ready," she adds.

Rain or snow, Walden Growers will open its doors to the public April 29 to sell annual and perennial bedding plants, just as it has for the past 16 years.

"This is Northern Ontario. One year, we had lots of snow and no customers," she remembers about one opening day.

With entrepreneurial spirit, Treasure has learned to take more than the weather in stride while growing her business. Still, she says she was surprised when Canadian Living magazine called her and asked for an interview. Treasure is featured in the April issue of the magazine in an article on about successful women in business.

Harley doesn't appear too interested with the news and flops down for a nap as Treasure muses over her new found status, "I've never even won a business award. I've been nominated."

Walden Growers didn't sprout up over night. Treasure built the greenhouse business from the ground up with the help of her supportive family. After being downsized from a job with the provincial government in 1989, she decided to re-invest in a new career-one that she created for herself out of something she loved to do-gardening.

She went back to school and two years later, with her diploma in horticulture framed on the wall, she transformed her way of life and that of her family's. The path from hobby gardener to horticultural grower had its ups and downs, but there's no other path she would have chosen.

"It becomes your life. You certainly don't do it to get rich. The long hours and hard labour really make it so you have to love it."

Fortunately, her husband, Ken, likes a little hard work. He took early retirement from his job, when the Town of Walden was incorporated into the City of Greater Sudbury. Downsized himself, he spends his days on the end of a shovel.

"Glenna always had the green thumb and we have a good division of labour. I don't know flowers, and she does."

In the early days, everyone pitched in to convert an old dairy farm into a gardener's dream. From children to grandparents, everyone caught Treasure's flower fever. Although her in-laws are no longer able to help out as much, Treasure's parents still lend a hand to the delicate task of transplanting the spring seedlings.

"The market has changed so much since we started. We never had to compete with big box stores selling flowers and shrubs."

Treasure says the flood of inexpensive plants coming up from southern Ontario forced her to re-examine her business plan.

She decided the operation had to be pruned back: Walden Growers would have to downsize.

Her first decision was to grow only varieties she personally selected.

In order to make it into a pot of soil, the plants also had to thrive in hanging baskets or patio planters. Second, she trimmed the trees and shrubs from the sales list.

According to Treasure, the final cut was the hardest to make even though it made the best business sense. She had to tell the family that Walden Growers would be sitting out the retail Christmas season.

"Christmas used to be a real event out here. We loved it. We had music, Christmas trees, and apple cider. The clients really loved it. We had cars line up to get in. Now you can get poinsettias at any hardware or grocery store. We can't afford to grow the quality plants we are known for and compete with stores that truck them in. The margin is just too low."

Walden Growers is firmly rooted now in the region. This year, with the help of her five employees, Treasure looks forward to serving another 4,000 customers between April and July. There are five greenhouses now. Ken can be found knocking up some boards on an outbuilding while employee Nancy Lawlor works among the blooms, and Harley takes another rest.

With an artist's skill, Treasure designs her hanging baskets and patio planters to be bursting with colourful foliage and contrasting blooms that last all summer long.

"I go to garden shows. I'm always looking for something different like this iron window box, see how I mixed in the climbing plants? And these new beehive-hanging baskets, they are so versatile."

A new service that has taken root at Walden Gardens is landscape consulting for outdoor events. Treasure says she enjoys advising clients on decorating a rented tent with flowering plants or on how to soften the look of a patio for a summer wedding.