Things are a bit frenzied at Cherry Greenhouse right now — and that’s minus any customers.
It’s peak of planting season.
Inside their five sun lit, climate-controlled greenhouses, seeds are being planted, roots are starting to set and plants are beginning to grow. There is even a bit of color from a few more mature flowers here and there.
Staff and longtime owners Ron and Dianne Sikkila are all smiles as they toil in the soil.
“Gardening involves plants — nature’s best example of ‘keeping it green,” said Dianne. “Be it in the ground, in pots or in hanging containers, plants bring the satisfaction of creating your own ‘green space’ — large or small, edible or decorative — and the well-being and happiness of working with Mother Earth.”
Today’s work ensures they will be ready when the doors open to the public, both here at their headquarters off Townline Road and at their second shop in Chisholm. They typically open around May 1 or so, said Dianne.
Cherry Greenhouse is a local family-owned, two-generation business. The Sikkilas strive to be the “go to” source for bedding and vegetable plants, trees, shrubs, supplies and seeds.
“More importantly, we are a source that understands and provides for the needs and special growing conditions of our area,” said Dianne.
This summer will mark the Sikkila’s 44th season. And selling plants isn’t their only business.
“We offer advice — and hopefully satisfaction and happiness — to our customers,” said Dianne.
The business has grown over its 40-plus decades. The Sikkilas “inherited” a very small greenhouse operation when they purchased the property in 1974.
“We needed a place to live after Ron was transferred here for his government job,” recalled Dianne. “It was boom time on the Range, and rural home offerings were very limited. We bought this property, which had a greenhouse on it.”
At that time, they had no clue how dramatically all would change.
“Little did we know that this small greenhouse operation — starting with 1,200 square feet of growing area — would lead now to two locations,” said Dianne. “… We began with one employee in 1975, and in 2017, we had 34 seasonal, very capable employees.”
The family opened the Chisholm location in 2008, increasing them to nearly 30,000 square feet of growing area.
Another big change: their son, Jon, and his family joined the business in 2005.
While greenhouses are seasonal to the public, those running them don’t get too much time off.
“We begin seeding in January and receiving cuttings in February,” said Ron. “The staff increases as we approach May for the spring and summer sales season. As we live in Cherry, we are available year round to answer questions and provide more limited products all year by appointment.”
During the off season, gift certificates for special occasions make up the greater share of customer requests in addition to summer and fall tree, shrub and perennial plantings.
“The Chisholm location generally opens with preliminary readiness activities about mid-April, with that location helping customers generally later in the summer,” said Dianne.
They are pursuing ways to keep that location open more year round, she added.
The greenery currently atop the popularity scale are specialty plants.
“Presently the specialty plants, such as million bells and spreading petunias, be it in ready-made containers or plants for the gardener to plant, have been some of our best sellers,” said Dianne. “Perennials are making a resurgence as well as a new generation of gardeners wanting to grow and nurture their own home-grown tasty edibles.”
And while most plant flowers and vegetables, it’s a fruit-bearing plant they predict will be this year’s most popular product.
“Most telling is one of the most in-demand items so far this year, apple trees, judging by the number of calls we have been receiving,” said Dianne.
Looking forward to another year of success, the Sikkilas said they can’t do what they do without dedicated employees and customers.
“We attribute much of our success to a staff that helps us get everything ready for the new spring season — caring for the plants as if they were their own,” said Dianne. “We also feel we have an advantage of living where our customers do, enduring the shortcomings and oftentimes the unrealized benefits of the shorter but more temperate weather of the northern Minnesota growing season.”
She noted that they generally trial any vegetable they sell in the greenhouse in their own gardens to evaluate its performance.
The Sikkilas also give “crop props” to their customers, many of whom have been very loyal over the decades.
“The customers help us evaluate the plants we sell and often make suggestions for new varieties to try for the upcoming season,” said Ron. “When they relate their experiences, it broadens our understanding of how our plants performed for them in this area.”
The couple noted they still remember — 44 years later — their very first customer and what he purchased.
Today, Cherry Greenhouse customers range from the young to the very old, experienced to beginner gardeners and come from far and wide.
“Fortunately we see customers as far as the Twin Cities to International Falls and throughout the Iron Range,” said Dianne. “It is like a family reunion to see our customers return each season. We too receive the happiness from others ‘keeping it green.’”
Just like they dug into the greenhouse business, they encourage all to pick up a shovel and get gardening.
“The new trend is the expanding younger customer base,” said Dianne. “It is rewarding to see them excited about this new adventure in growing.”
In addition to providing product, the Sikkilas offer the following advice.
“For our newer gardeners, we recommend they start small,” said Ron. “For both the newer gardeners and our more veteran gardeners, we want them to remember that no two growing seasons are alike. What may not work as well one year thrives the next, dependent so much on the weather from season to season.”
It’s unclear just how long Ron and Dianne will run the greenhouses. Jon has been at their sides, and will eventually take over the operation.
But no doubt, Cherry Greenhouse has been well cultivated, its owners know how to provide the right amount of TLC and it will thrive into the future with the next generation of Sikkilas.
“Even though it is a rather hectic business during the peak of planting season, it is so rewarding to sell ‘happiness and hope’ and play a part in keeping our environment green and growing,” said Dianne.