Ashland Greenhouses owner Kelly Brainard used to teach horticulture at Eagle Point High School.

Greenhouses go green

Ashland Greenhouses may have relocated to make way for an eco-conscious community. But that doesn't mean new owners of the 103-year-old business didn't have "green" plans of their own.

"We knew we wanted to make sure we were planning ahead," says co-owner Kelly Brainard. "We've got to make the investment now because of the savings later."

Brainard, 33, and her 35-year-old husband, Ben Brainard, purchased Ashland Greenhouses in 2007 and unveiled a new, energy-saving facility in November. Many long-time customers are seeing the improved digs for the first time this spring.

"They grow their own plants, their own seeds and so forth," says 66-year-old Judy Hoikka, an Ashland resident who has purchased Ashland Greenhouses' geraniums and other ornamentals for 12 years.

"Plants that are "¦ grown locally kind of adapt better."

Growing their own plants distinguishes Ashland Greenhouses from other garden centers that purchase soil-ready specimens, often shipping them over long distances. Greenhouse plants hailing from the Willamette Valley or Central California don't thrive in the Rogue Valley like their home-grown counterparts, Brainard says.

"It's specific to this kind of climate," Brainard says. "We have control over what we bring in."

Among their 2 million annuals and 70,000 perennials, Ashland Greenhouses specializes in numerous varieties that are resistant to drought and deer, two common Southern Oregon concerns. Each of the greenhouse's 11 types of lavender require little water and don't tempt deer, while attracting desirable bees, says retail manager Travis Slagle.

"Lavender is a great sustainable plant in this area," he says.

Sustainability is a focus of the business on several fronts. The Brainards reused greenhouse support structures from the former site on Ashland's West Nevada Street, the future home of Verde Village, a regional model for environmentally friendly home design. But the greenhouses' new roll-up walls dramatically improved cooling capabilities and negated the need for energy-sucking swamp coolers. Linked to a thermostat, the side walls recoil automatically to moderate temperature.

"It's a self-regulating facility," Slagle says.

Heat-retention curtains also automatically enclose or expose the greenhouses' ceilings depending on the time of day. Although the metallic drapes cut the greenhouses' heat usage in half, the Brainards installed an energy-efficient, natural-gas boiler, partially funded with a grant from Avista Utilities.

Realizing energy savings immediately, Kelly Brainard has longer-range plans for conserving water. The greenhouses' concrete floors gradually slope, draining water to one area of the property. In the next few years, a bona fide collection system will funnel water into a pond from which greenhouse employees can draw to tend the plants, Brainard says.

Concrete flooring also is a boon for customers, who traversed dirt floors at the old location. A sturdy surface underfoot and wider aisles better accommodates seniors and anyone with reduced mobility, says Valri Williams, former co-owner of Ashland Greenhouses. Buildings also are bunched together, rather than straggling across 10 acres as before.

"From the retail customer's perspective, I think Kelly hit the nail on the head," Williams says. "It's just a much more efficient environment."

To Ashland Greenhouses' credit, however, not every aspect of business is geared toward peak efficiency. It costs the enterprise more to reuse 3- and 4-inch plastic pots that must be sterilized after customers return them, Williams says. But the added step of sterilization keeps the containers — difficult to recycle locally — out of landfills. Ashland Greenhouses also is moving away from cardboard flats to sturdy, plastic ones that can be reused almost indefinitely at the greenhouses or in customers' gardening endeavors.

"We really encourage people to bring those back," Williams says. "We're a green industry; we want to do what we can to keep our planet healthy."

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