For a century and a half, a lush, green family-owned horticulture business has been discreetly tucked in the midst of an otherwise industrial and utilitarian corridor two miles north of the Distillery District. Known for many decades as W.P. Pemberton & Sons Greenhouses, the official company name became Pemberton’s Greenhouses in 2009, although it always has been commonly referred to as Pemberton’s. What began in 1871 as a family business with tobacco and vegetables continues as a thriving retail and wholesale garden center, still family-owned and operated.
Located on Keller Court, off Georgetown Street near New Circle Road, Pemberton’s occupies roughly three acres, with 22 greenhouses – one of which dates back to 1915.
“It’s a very old facility – the plants are in the exact spots where they were grown,” said co-owner Janna Pemberton Schmidt. The fact that the facility was “built for the plants, not for people to walk through” makes for some areas that some might consider somewhat difficult to browse, she added.
Both loyal longtime patrons and new customers alike, however, are likely to shrug off that assessment. Perusing the historic greenhouses’ narrow, rambling aisles lined with thousands of plants and flowers is akin to having stumbled upon a secret and wild labyrinthine world. Begonias, geraniums, impatiens, ferns, white velvet tradescantia, potted tulips, and succulent gardens mingle with garden supplies and sundries. From the greenhouse structures themselves to the charming, weathered shelving, the entire venue seems to be coated with a century-old patina you just don’t find in newer or big box garden centers.
Schmidt is a sixth-generation co-owner, sharing the business with her two siblings. “We’re all jack-of-all-trades,” she said of the three co-owners. They split responsibilities, with Schmidt, the middle child, serving as general manager; her older sister, Ashley Pemberton Herndon, acting as hard goods purchaser and container garden specialist; and her younger brother, Colin Pemberton, as the properties manager. Schmidt’s husband, Jeff Schmidt, is director of logistics and technology for the business, which increasingly utilizes social media as a marketing tool.
The family members and their staff of 11 full-time employees work closely together on a day-to-day basis, answering ringing phones, running the cash register, building terrariums and container gardens, managing deliveries and plant storage, and overseeing the growing operations. Herndon admitted that keeping such a long-running family business alive can be stressful due to the pressures of “worrying that we do the right things [and] make the right decisions, in order to persevere and succeed to see the seventh generation step in.” But, she says the rewards are incomparable.
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