Wharton: Carrying on a growing family tradition at Joe’s Greenhouse
By Tom Wharton
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Apr 10 2013 11:31AM
Layton • Joe’s Greenhouse comes from humble roots.
The late Joe Thorson returned from World War II and began working at Hill Air Force Base. In 1950, he planted some small evergreen tree seeds. He soon added some pansies and a few other bedding plants, starting his own small business.
The greenhouse, helped along with labor from Joe and Mary’s 12 children, began to grow. Mary, who is 89, remains active at the greenhouse, often working six days a week. Daughter Delana and her husband Wayne along with their six kids have grown the two-acre business to include 17 greenhouses and 19 growing areas. Nearly all the plants and trees are grown on the property.
Anna McBride, one of Joe and Mary’s granddaughters, wrote this about the business in the recent March newsletter:
"For me, along with my family, Joe’s Greenhouse means learning to do the hard things: shoveling soil, lifting trees, pulling weeds. It means learning how to prune, how to water, how to recognize one plant from another … I realized this again a few days ago when I took my daughter with me to wander around Joe’s Greenhouse and admire the tell-tale signs of spring. The pansies and primroses in full bloom shout the arrival of warmer weather and new life, and my 10-month-old, who happens to be Joe and Mary Thorson’s 101st great-grandchild, had a hard time resisting the fragrant blossoms…
"We enjoyed the hustle of transplanting and moving flats of tiny seedlings to their temporary destinations. We welcomed the scent of clean soil and water. We missed grandpa."
The greenhouse near the family home at 779 S. Main is the kind of place where long-time customers come for advice on what and when to plant. The helpful staff is more than happy to oblige.
"They come and have questions that can’t be answered in other places," said Delana. "They know they can get an answer here."
On this beautiful early spring day, Wayne and his son Jabe took a small group of pre-school students on a tour of the facility. They showed them the machines that fill flats with soil, punch holes for seeds and then plant and water the seeds. One machine allows growing plants to be easily moved from their original container to a larger one. He puts that flat on a conveyor belt where the type of plant is identified with a tag, the plants are watered again and then moved to a place in one of the greenhouses.
This is a busy time as gardeners come looking for soil, bedding plants, vegetables and trees.
"We start seeding the second week of January, but we are planting stuff year-round," explained Wayne. "We actually planted perennials the summer before we sell them."
The family-owned business keeps looking for ways to be more efficient and to improve. Jabe has a degree in horticulture from Utah State University and is helping computerize much of the operation, something 89-year-old Mary is learning. The greenhouse has its own Facebook page and website.
"We’ve been here a long time and we hope we can continue to be here for a long time," said Wayne. "We have a good quality product, good service and enough knowledge … We are not going to sell people something that is going to die tomorrow."
Delana said the greenhouse has been her life. She loves her job.
"This is a good business to be in," she said. "It makes the world a better place and makes a lot of people happy."
McBride put it another way as she wrote about Joe in the newsletter:
"This spring you may come to Joe’s for many reasons. Perhaps you will browse through our beautiful array of annuals and perennials, check out our selection of vegetables or find the perfect product … Whatever your reason, maybe you will take a moment to think about, with gratitude, the meaning and miracle of beauty in our world. Grandpa was good at that."