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Business is blooming at Mountainside Gardens

June 05, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

BOONSBORO - Chris Doyle's business is booming, but he still takes time to water the flowers.

Mountainside Gardens at 311 S. Main St. in Boonsboro has greatly expanded since Doyle and his wife, Beth, bought the nursery business in 1997, he said.

Yet the business' rapid growth hasn't changed Doyle's hands-on approach to his work.

The Doyles' retail customer base has grown to include plant lovers from throughout the Tri-State area. The nursery's wholesale business now includes accounts from Wilmington, Del., to Vienna, Va., with weekly deliveries to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Doyle said.

He sold about 500 hanging baskets, 400 six-packs of annuals and 600 fall mums during his first year in business, Doyle said.

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This year he will sell about 6,400 baskets, 3,000 annual packs and 10,000 mums, he said.

On a recent Tuesday morning, in the midst of the busy spring planting season, Doyle carefully hand-watered geraniums that he and his employees had grown from tiny plugs and cuttings in a greenhouse behind his family's Boonsboro-area home.

Although it is labor-intensive, Doyle prefers to propagate as many plants as he can because growing new plants from established ones gives him more control over the growing plants' care and ultimately keeps costs low for customers, he said.

Shipping his plants to retailers in other states might be easier, but Doyle insists on loading and delivering all his green products himself to ensure that they arrive in the best possible condition. "We strive for quality," said Doyle, 40.

He could save time and money by spraying his growing number of herbs, perennials and annuals with strong chemical insecticides, Doyle said, but he will only use organic sprays - which cost about six times as much - because he worries about the health of his customers, employees and family.

"I can feel confident when my kids come in the greenhouse and touch the plants then put their fingers in their mouths that they're not ingesting a bunch of poisons," Doyle said.

He grows most of his products on a strict schedule so the plants will not bloom too early or too late, Doyle said.

"It's been a big learning experience for me," he said.

Doyle was a deputy for the Washington County Sheriff's Department five years ago when he and his wife - who works for the federal government - decided to buy Mountainside Gardens following the death of nursery owner Larry Crane.

"We were looking for some kind of business to get into," Doyle said. "It was time for a change."

The Doyles spent the first few years in the nursery business learning and improving their equipment, Chris Doyle said. He said he hired a consultant for advice on growing techniques. He expanded the nursery's selection of popular spring bedding plants to appeal to local customers while experimenting with more unusual plants in the new greenhouse behind his home.

His parents pitched in to help plant because the younger Doyles found working two jobs and running a nursery to be "kind of scary," Doyle said.

He left his job with the Sheriff's Department in 1998 to devote his time to his blooming business.

Eventually, the quality of Mountainside Gardens' plants attracted the attention of larger retailers and the Doyles' wholesale and topiary business began to expand. A National Cathedral florist has asked the Doyles this year to grow specific plants for the cathedral's retail shop, Doyle said.

With the help of his father, Floyd Doyle, he recently purchased about five acres adjacent to his home on which to build more greenhouses.

Doyle attributes the success of his business to such family support, commitment to quality and willingness to invest the time and money it takes to constantly improve and grow.

"I don't want to get too big," Doyle said. "I don't want to get to the point where we lose the focus on a good quality plant."

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