Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
Dan - My dad started in business with his brother in the 1930s in Arlington. They were market farm gardeners. They specialized in celery, tomatoes, radishes, pumpkins, and greenhouses. So my family has been involved in farming all their lives. Consequently, I followed in their footsteps and have been involved in flower growing as a farmer all my life.
After World War II the innovation of what they called "reefers"(insulated conveyances to protect commodities from heat and cold) changed the way market farm gardeners operated. Then you could buy strawberries and asparagus year round. Birdseye came out with the quick frozen products in 1946 or '47, so it changed the marketplace in terms of profitability. Many truck farmers went into flowers and did not remain as vegetable farmers or 50-50, 50% vegetables/50% flowers. It was a big technical change for the industry.
In the 1950s, due to the transition from vegetables to all flowers, my father separated from his brother, and his brother went to Reading, MA. My father, James Giurleo, bought a piece of property with greenhouses in Lincoln in 1951. That was known as Lincoln Gardens from 1951 to 1962. We had a seasonal garden center. He was selling wholesale poinsettias. He retired in 1962. In that interim, he sold that property to the National Park Service. During that period of time, a piece of property in Concord, the Lufkin estate, went on the market in 1965. My dad had a two-year lease from 1963 to 1965 to keep the Lincoln greenhouse as an active business and I was actively involved at that time in business with my dad. I was in my mid- twenties. My wife saw this place for sale and we looked into it and we purchased it in 1965. Our first crop that we produced and sold was in 1966, and we've been here ever since.
Rosemary - Of our four children, three are in the business with us - Daniel James, who is not in the business, is an accountant; then we have Linda who is our head designer; David who is our manager and grower; and Gina who is responsible for the Littleton store and her husband Mike. We've had the Littleton store for 29 years. We ran it as the Village Green 15 years and then we leased it out for 13 years.
Dan - The reason we ran it as the Village Green is we didn't want to get into the cut flower aspect. We had this business in Concord since 1965 as Colonial Gardens, and we had the Village Green as a garden center and Christmas center. Now we have two flower shops. When her lease was up after 14 or 15 years, we renamed it Colonial Gardens in 2004.
We still sell to vendors here from Concord. Due to the fact that we have just under an acre of greenhouses, we have excess product that we actually raise on the property. We do a lot of growing and have excess. We do have some wholesale accounts but minimal. It's only about 20%.
Rosemary - When we moved in, there was a farmer on Sudbury Road called Eisenhower and he had three greenhouses. He was getting old and decided he didn't want to work any more so we ended up buying that too. So at one time we had eight greenhouses.
Dan - Across the street from Verrill's stand is a property owned by Diane Holt and next door is owned by Dan Schmidt. That property used to have greenhouses on it. In 1968 we added the Eisenhower property, the Littleton property, and the Concord property. We sold the Eisenhower property in 1981 or '82 and concentrated on retail rather than having all these greenhouses.
I don't sell to supermarkets any more. In the old days, I did. And to roadside stands. Concord is the only town that has a reasonable selection of farm stands and good ones. In all the other communities, they've all gone by the wayside. Acton only has two farm stands and Lincoln doesn't have any. Try to find a farm stand in Wayland. Concord is fortunate to have this selection of farm stands. It was one of the large frontiers of that type of agriculture.
In those days we sold to Triple A markets which is no longer in business, Stop& Shop, Star Markets which again is not in business as Star Markets, and many roadside stands. We used to sell to Russell's, Gerardi Brothers in Marlboro and Wayland, a lot of little stands. I was here for ten years before I rebuilt the front greenhouse for the retail market. I was wholesale for almost ten years before we decided to go retail, which was a byproduct of the first energy crisis. That's what motivated us to start thinking in terms of the future. That was around '73. Then we bought the Littleton property in 1976 with the same idea. Interestingly enough, we're back to that energy crunch again. Everything is cyclical.
Rosemary - We had Nellie Craig come to work for us when she retired. She was the florist in Concord center. She was the first female president of the FDT Association. She was in the Red Cross and at the Coconut Grove fire. She came to us, and we gladly accepted her and we learned a lot from Nellie. Great, great lady. They don't make them like her any more.
Consumer taste has changed all around. Years ago potted mums -- we just couldn't keep them in stock. Now we can't even sell one in the fall for decoration. Fall mums you can sell, but potted mums are out. There are so many things that have changed. You just have to keep reading the trade magazines to keep up with the trends and keep going at it.
People want different, different, different. At one time they want daisies. Now we're into vase arrangements versus baskets. They want more vibrant colors. Of course, we're so lucky today because all our flowers now are being imported from Holland, Israel, Italy, or South America. And you can get them any time you want. There is no such thing as no availability. There are probably 100 more varieties today than there were available 25-30 years ago.
I think as far as the gardening goes, more and more people nowadays want it done. They want the patio planted so when they come in it's a finished product. I think it's because so many women are working today and just don't have the time our mothers had to go work in the garden. So they can buy it done and they're happy.
Dan - Like herbs. They don't want to grow herbs in the garden. They want them containerized and eliminate the weeding.
On the growing side, we have products in the first week of January that will be sold in May. In order to get the quality that people expect from us, we start the plants early in January. Where a lot of the big box stores and the people that jump in late, they have the product but it is nowhere as good in size and quality. Then it just never stops. Your geraniums come in February. All are proven winners which are a whole bunch of different categories for decoration, for patios, and mixed gardens. Then there are Easter lilies. Then again, Easter lilies are started in December for April. So it never ends. We start planting poinsettias the first week in June in order to get the height. The tallest ones are planted early, the shorter ones are planted Labor Day weekend, and they all bloom at the same time in December. It's a short day plant so when it gets dark in October, the short plant will receive as much darkness as the tall plant. So the flower initiation occurs at that time, and they all turn red, pink, white and all the different colors available. Poinsettias are expensive.
Poinsettias are not poisonous. There were extensive studies done by Cornell University and Ohio State that indicated that it was erroneous to put that in the information. The worst it could do is give you an upset stomach assuming someone would eat 30 or 40 leaves.
Rosemary - Valentine's Day is a big time but only two days long. Roses come in one day and three days later they are all gone, so it's a very fast holiday. It was very good this year.
Dan - It's a very precarious holiday because if you have a snowstorm on the 11th or 12th, you don't get people to come out. Like the blizzard of '78, it lasted a week. We preorder all these items based on hopefully reasonable weather. So we have our fingers crossed on weather. Even this year, the Sunday before Valentine's Day, it snowed. Then Monday it warmed up, and Valentine's Day was a perfect day. We could even leave the flowers out on the deck because it was 40-42 degrees. But if we had Valentine's Day on a day like today, we've have to wrap everything. It's just a completely different labor intensity depending on weather. Valentine's Day is very, very risky.
Rosemary - We belong to two wire services, FTD and Teleflora.
Dan - So we can meet everybody's needs. During the blizzard of '78, the actual day was a wipeout. We didn't sell anything. Governor Dukakis declared it a Valentine week. So I don't know if we made any money, but it was that kind of deal. We couldn't go out for four days. I think the momentum was lost because people just couldn't get out so I think a lot of people didn't buy anything for Valentine's Day.
Rosemary - Mother's Day is also a big flower time.
Dan - As an individual holiday, Mother's Day is probably the biggest. Everyone has a mother one way or the other, living or putting flowers on the cemetery plot. It's really the biggest weekend in terms of focusing on plants for the mother. If it's a nice week that weekend in May, people want to buy tomato plants here in Concord. It may be 60-65 degrees that week and they want to buy everything. Then there could a frost on May 10 or 15. So we have it available. Everything is so weather dependent so it changes focus from year to year. But that's farming.
Rosemary - We're coming close to Easter weekend and years ago we used to sell corsages.
Dan - I graduated from high school in 1955 and went to Rittners School of Floral Design to pick up that side of the business. We must have done 2000 corsages a week. We worked two nights. We'd go home at 2:00 in the morning and come back at 7:00 in the morning and start again. Now we're lucky to sell ten corsages.
Rosemary - I'm lucky if I sell two.
Dan - Back then those were the days everyone dressed up for Easter, and now you might see a lot of people in Levis. Everybody's in casual dress. It's accepted.
Agriculture is so much of the part of this community and they need to support it and the demographics of the town does that. It is important for the local residents to consider us year around. We're not big box retailers and we need support. The community will end up losing a valuable asset if they really do not consider local business first. If we're not competitive and we don't have what you want, you can shop anywhere you want. But to maintain the agricultural asset we have, we need to be supported by the local residents and the surrounding towns as well. Our motto is "shop with the people that shop with you."
Again if you buy from the grower, you save. It goes back to cost and we can sell for less. And the quality is a real value. Again we have specials that we can offer that the normal garden centers aren't going to offer. It is price-sensitive shopping for people that consider buying from the grower. In our case, that's our business.
Initially, we advertised in newspapers, and then direct mail became more of a situation and we got involved with that, and marketing through the Internet now becomes a major consideration with a small business. Because the Internet is now about ten years old, the last four years have been picking up like a rocket. It's accepted and people go to the Internet to see what's going on.
Rosemary - It's like the MasterCard. When it first came out, I couldn't convince any of my charging customers to change over to credit card. They wanted to be billed. Now practically everyone comes with that credit card right out for you. I think the Internet is going down the same road.
Dan - Our website is mycolonialgardens.com and you have to upgrade to present to the consumer some real nice choices, and it worked terrific on Valentine's Day. We got a lot of stuff over the Internet, so it's the wave of the future. It's not inexpensive. You pay a fee every month so these people can maintain that site. But if you don't do it, you lose that marketing edge. That's the way people shop these days. All my kids shop that way at Christmas time.
People call in and you get their order and then you can later send out reminders like "you bought this for your husband, do you want to do that again?" You cater to the people that do business with you first. So that's technology we never had before. There are all these inroads. Again, it's expensive but it's the only way we can stay in business. How are you going to compete with the big guys like Home Depot that advertises the Olympics? So it's mindset. We as business people, not just Colonial Gardens, have to be aware of that. You have to be in the public conscience. We also do radio occasionally. Hopefully, all these investments will pay off. But like everything else, it takes time. Once you get the customer to come here, chances are they'll come every one in three trips. They may not come here every time, but once they know you're around, at least your name is on the scorecard.
We offer vegetable plants up until July 1. We have the different stages due to our area being not safe to plant until May 20 or Memorial Day, the standard planting time. It wouldn't be wise to do any planting before May 20. But if you wait too long, there won't be any selection. They buy them anyway. They put them in the house or in the garage.We offer all kinds of vegetable plants and planting products for flowers and vegetables.
Rosemary - We offer vegetable plants, all the planting products and grass seeds. We have basically everything you need for the garden for vegetables or flowers.
Dan - There's going to be an agriculture committee formed in town. I think it's an ideal medium for the farmers on that committee to focus on what the concerns are and what to be aware of. I'm quite sure it will help us make decisions in terms of their future use of land and to give support to Concord agriculture. I think it's a great idea. I put in an application and we'll see how it works out. However it works out, it's a plus.
We're part of the Mass Flower Growers Association, and I was part of the Farm Bureau until about two years ago. I was getting involved in too many things. I belong to the Mass Commodity Growers Association, the Society of American Florists, Concord Kiwanis. So I've got a lot of involvement in the industry. Rosemary does some charity work with different organizations in the town.
Rosemary - We do the Senior Citizens Christmas party with all the poinsettias. This year we sent flowers to Walden Nursing Home for the elderly who didn't have anybody.
Dan - You have to give something back and that's what we try to do. Other than the corner at Nine Acre Corner, there's nothing that's changed around here. We have the same neighbors - Steve Verrill and Stephen Jones. The only thing that changed is John and Rose Ruze's house. They sold to the Saunders family and they've been there 15 years.
Rosemary - I don't see a lot of change in Concord especially around here. We deal with all the churches and the same people are on the committees with all the churches I deal with. There's not a big turnover in Concord. You come in Concord, and I think 80% of the people stay.