Generational change for local nursery

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  • Sandy Himsl moves some hanging baskets she will trim and clean at Wild Geese Gardens on Tuesday, April 2, in Kalispell. Wild Geese Gardens is unexpectedly expansive in part because of the way they have made use of their vertical space as well as the floor space of the 12 greenhouses.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Randi Miller, left, and Lena Holmquist transplant impatiens at Wild Geese Gardens in Kalispell on Tuesday, April 2. (Brenda Ahearn photos/Daily Inter Lake)

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    One of the things Wild Geese Gardens is famous for is their tomato plants. They used to sell the plants 50 cents. Kevin remembers discussions with his father, Mick Morin, urging him to raise the price. The plants are still a big draw to the Gardens, so much so that the walkway leading to them is marked with bright red tomatoes stenciled on the concrete. The current price for tomato plants is $1.50 dollars.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Kevin Morin of Wild Geese Gardens refers to his shop as “one of the last secrets” of Kalispell. The 12 greenhouses, located at the west end of 4th Street off of Meridian, are off the beaten track. Morin said that regular customers tend of think of Wild Geese as their private garden center.

  • Sandy Himsl moves some hanging baskets she will trim and clean at Wild Geese Gardens on Tuesday, April 2, in Kalispell. Wild Geese Gardens is unexpectedly expansive in part because of the way they have made use of their vertical space as well as the floor space of the 12 greenhouses.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Randi Miller, left, and Lena Holmquist transplant impatiens at Wild Geese Gardens in Kalispell on Tuesday, April 2. (Brenda Ahearn photos/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 2

    One of the things Wild Geese Gardens is famous for is their tomato plants. They used to sell the plants 50 cents. Kevin remembers discussions with his father, Mick Morin, urging him to raise the price. The plants are still a big draw to the Gardens, so much so that the walkway leading to them is marked with bright red tomatoes stenciled on the concrete. The current price for tomato plants is $1.50 dollars.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 3

    Kevin Morin of Wild Geese Gardens refers to his shop as “one of the last secrets” of Kalispell. The 12 greenhouses, located at the west end of 4th Street off of Meridian, are off the beaten track. Morin said that regular customers tend of think of Wild Geese as their private garden center.

After an absence of many years, Wild Geese Gardens is rejoining the vendors at the Kalispell Farmers Market.

The market holds fond memories for Kevin Morin, who took over Wild Geese after his father, Mick Morin, died last summer at age 66. He and his father always made a game of their market days.

“We’d have a contest over who could sell more,” Kevin said. “Later he thought we were too big to go to the market, but I always enjoyed it. I’m going back to the basics, to what made us.”

He said the market offers great exposure and he enjoys the rare time away from the greenhouses and the chance to talk with customers in the relaxed atmosphere.

Kevin helped his father start Wild Geese Gardens 24 years ago, after they purchased a home and property on the west side of Kalispell that included a greenhouse. The business now has a dozen greenhouses growing flowers, herbs, trees, shrubs, succulents and vegetable starters.

Wild Geese has long held two major commercial accounts, providing flowers in baskets and pots and bedding plants for properties in Glacier Park managed by Glacier Park Inc. and Xanterra.

Morin said Wild Geese made its name with hanging baskets and one of its most popular services is planting flowers in customer-owned containers. After the fall freeze, Wild Geese will dump, disinfect and store baskets brought in for early-winter planting. Morin estimated that Wild Geese fills more than 450 customer baskets each year.

For 14 years Tiffany Frey has been the lead basket designer for Wild Geese, starting them in February to make sure each customer receives a showpiece overflowing with mature blooms by May.

“She has a really good eye for putting together colors and other things,” Morin said.

The business also specializes in moss baskets and sells between three and four hundred hanging plastic containers each spring.

Inexpensive tomato plants have always been a part of the Wild Geese brand. Morin said he had finally convinced his father to raise their usual price of 50 cents per plant to $1.50 last summer, after realizing how many people were just reselling them.

“For 23 years, we had 50-cent tomatoes. We just did it to get people in the door; we can’t grow them for 50 cents,” he said.

Luring customers through the doors is crucial for a smaller operation like Wild Geese, Morin said. The plant and flower business becomes more competitive all the time, with box stores, grocery stores and other retail establishments bringing in cheap merchandise from outside sources.

And the window for making a profit in the plant business is narrow. While work goes on in the greenhouses almost year-round, with a short break in the fall, May and June are the only months for meaningful income, Morin said.

“We grow most of our own stuff, so we go all winter,” Morin said. “I’m always here, seven days a week. You have a short time to make your money in this valley.”

Wild Geese also lacks the benefit of drive-by customers. The greenhouses can be seen from the recently constructed bypass to the west, but there is no well-traveled route that takes drivers past the doors. Customers reach Wild Geese Gardens at Fourth Street West off Meridian Road, with signs pointing the way over a dirt road.

Morin always aims to make the short detour worth it. Customer service is a mainstay of the business, and he said customers might be offered help half a dozen times per visit. He relies on his staff of eight — which includes an uncle, two of his uncle’s grandsons and one of Morin’s nephews — to keep up Wild Geese’s reputation for service and to do the hard labor of maintaining healthy stock.

“People will come in here and say ‘I’ve always wanted to work in a greenhouse and work with flowers,’ but after they find out how fast-paced it is … ”

Landscape consulting is a newly added service of Wild Geese Gardens.

“I love helping people design their landscapes,” Morin said. “I want to always be doing something different, and not get stuck in a rut.”

Morin, 42, wasn’t always planning to spend his life in greenhouses, though he started working with his father right out of high school.

“When I started, I didn’t want to do this, but Dad needed the help,” he said. “I didn’t plan on doing it forever, but the more I did, the more I liked it.”

For years Morin ran the day-to-day operations of Wild Geese while his father took care of the accounting and other administrative matters. Now Kevin manages all aspects of the gardens.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking the first year,” he said. “Before, my dad had all the financial burdens, and now I’ve got both. It’s a little more stressful.”

He has mixed feelings about the challenge.

“He had some things he wanted to do, I had some things I wanted to do, but he always had the final say,” Morin said of his father. “I get to do what I want to do now. It’s exciting and sad at the same time.”

Business reporter Heidi Gaiser may be reached at 758-4438 or hgaiser@dailyinterlake.com.

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