Florists branch out with greenhouse, garden center


(June 2014) Two florists who have run a successful flower shop in Radford, Va., are testing the response to a new horticulture business just beyond the corporate limits of another southwest Virginia town, Pulaski.
Jeff Corbin and Curtis Graham own the Radford City Florists in a university city where they will be celebrating 25 years of operation in August and are busy starting a new and different business here.
Pulaski Gardens and Greenhouse is in its infancy, having opened May 1 in a field close to town. Despite its proximity, the hollow there offers the atmosphere of tranquility that usually comes farther into the rural regions.
Corbin talked about the new venture on a sunny, windy afternoon as a cool breeze battled with the spring sunshine to soothe visitors to the greenhouse. The construction started back in March but weather delays pushed the opening up to May 1.  Getting a deer fence built around the facility was another priority, he said, because of the abundance of deer in the area.
Corbin observed that the late start may have actually worked to their advantage because of the cool spring that has delayed many gardeners’ planting schedule.  The soil is just warming up enough here for plants to begin to grow.
He noted that this will be the only greenhouse business near Pulaski, but said he has had customers from other communities further away.  He and Graham want to see if they have the customer base to expand the facility farther. 
Right now they are selling mainly decorative annuals, perennials and shrubs, but they have also had a demand for vegetable plants.  Corbin said he wished he had obtained some onion sets and seed potatoes, as he is getting calls for these crops people usually put out much earlier.
“We are trying to find more unique annuals, perennials and shrubs — things people cannot get at the big box stores,” he said.
Their offerings include aquatic plants displayed in two metal livestock watering troughs as well as a wide variety of hanging baskets, bedding plants and shrubs. Most of these are displayed in a 3,000-square-foot hoop house covered with industrial plastic.
So far, they are buying their plants from suppliers but have another hoop house near their home where they may start plants of their own in the future.
If the business shows there is a demand, Corbin said they have a plan that includes a florist business, the greenhouse and a bakery.  They are looking to expand their efforts to become a “destination” with a stage for events such as weddings.  They want to build a gazebo for receptions and are considering a corn maze on the hill above the greenhouse complex.
The men have made a commitment to agri-tourism and want their business to be part of it.  They are considering using solar panels and wind turbines in an effort to make people more aware of renewable energy sources.
Pulaski Gardens and Greenhouses is attracting new customers every day, Corbin reported.  He said the news is getting out by word of mouth and the billboard they have erected as well as directional signs.  The big marketing tool for the facility, however, is Facebook. 
Word about the business first appeared the Facebook page of the parent company, Radford City Florist, which has 3,000 members.  The greenhouse now has its own Facebook site with 600 members and growing, Corbin said. 
The business is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  It closes an hour later than many businesses in the area.  This gives time for people getting off from work to stop on the way home.
A neighbor will be setting up beehives at the facility soon.  Corbin sees the hives as a way to teach people about the importance of bees to the environment and that using fewer pesticides can help keep the bees doing their work of pollinating plants.
He said he had started working in a greenhouse in high school to pay his way through college and has been doing it ever since.