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Family-run greenhouse expands

Bringing their family-run gardening business from one central Alberta city to another, the Sproule family hopes to bloom (again) where they're planted.

How important is the local garden centre to its community? For years, local gardeners have been spoiled with long-established, family-run greenhouses supplying zone-hardy vegetables and flowers in the region: Hole's in the St. Albert area, Kuhlmann's in north Edmonton and Salisbury Greenhouse in Sherwood Park. These two, three and even four-generation family businesses have offered suitable Zone 3 (now officially 3b) products and familiarity to gardeners throughout central Alberta for decades and now, one is set to expand its reach.

"We are excited to bring another local family-run gardening business with history and heart back to St. Albert," said Rob Sproule co-owner of Salisbury Greenhouse. "We know the Hole legacy is here--we can't fill Lois' shoes--but as growers, we understand that because we're 'plant people' too. In Sherwood Park, our philosophy is to be deeply integrated into the community--we go out of our way to host fundraisers and events; to be a gathering place and community hub. I think people will feel that with our new venture in St. Albert too."

Salisbury Greenhouse is the new co-owner of Salisbury at Enjoy, the former home base of the beloved Hole's Greenhouses and Gardens. When the Hole family sold the operation to TEC Investments a couple of years ago, it was a time of transition at the greenhouse. At the start of 2020, Salisbury stepped in to run the greenhouse portion of the multi-retail space, with patriarch Bob Sproule navigating pandemic shutdowns and an exploding public interest in gardening.

"It was a challenging year--people started making the yard and garden their sanctuary, gardening in record numbers. We couldn't get enough product," said Bob, who with sons Rob, Dave and Adam--even grandson Liam is working in the greenhouse this year--said four generations of experience will allow the business to hit the ground running in St. Albert, even as pandemic precautions remain.

"My mom Helen wouldn't have imagined this when she started growing hobby flowers and bedding plants in her Sherwood Park garage over 50 years ago. When the business flourished, my dad Fred, a butcher, joined mom, and then I bought the business in 1978. Back then we did a lot of wholesale and tropical plants, selling to big department stores.

But like Hole's, we became growers and then retailers. Now we're blessed to have the opportunity to run two greenhouses."

Rob said there are no plans to change what is grown and offered at Salisbury at Enjoy, not for the first year, at least. Eventually, some variation in product will be featured at each location--more tumbler tomatoes and different hanging basket options in St. Albert to meet buyer habits and preferences there, he said. It will also be an adjustment to run the larger, nearly 11,345 square-metre gardening operation at the Enjoy Centre--a north and south greenhouse plus garden centre retail floor.

"It'll be a time to navigate what works best where, to augment as needed between the greenhouses," said Rob. "But we'll still emphasize price, extended warranties and our popular workshops. And we hope to build community gardens and school growing programs, the same as we do in Sherwood Park."

"Salisbury knows how to run a garden centre and greenhouse--they've been in business a long time and I wish them all the best," said Jim Hole on the end of the Hole family era in St. Albert-area gardening. "I appreciate that they see what mom did for growing and gardening here, and the respect they have for my family."

As for the connection between St. Albert and those tumbler tomatoes? Hole said his mom loved them because they 'grow like crazy', offering a satisfying yield. "Gardeners want that same success in their own home plots," he said.

Sproule likes that analogy, quoting Audrey Hepburn who said 'to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow'. "I think last year was a turning point, especially with younger people, who see the benefit of edible gardening and who get a sense of empowerment from watching a flower bloom," Rob said. "No one could have been ready for what this roller coaster year brought about. But now we can't wait to start growing community here."