Jerry’s Flowers: 50 Years…and Growing
There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling. —Mirabel Osler, British writer
Jerry’s Flowers is a familiar sight for Northern Door travelers. Located at the south end of Sister Bay on Highway 42, colorful flower trays and baskets immediately draw the eye. Then the visitor notices the highway-facing sign, featuring the newest “Jerry Sez” greeting. The frequently changing message might herald the arrival of new plants or a friend’s new baby, observe a holiday, make a political statement, or sometimes just bring a grin.
No matter what the message, Jerry’s Flowers’ sign is personable and welcoming, just like a garden itself. Gardening is a sociable pastime: It’s hard to be grumpy when spreading the roots of a new plant in the warm soil or coaxing a helpful worm back to its underground duties. Gardening sparks conversations between neighbors and brings families together to harvest part of the evening supper or brighten the table with a bouquet.
Jerry’s Flowers has always been about family…for over 50 years. Established in 1960 by Jerry and Darlene Reinhard, now retired and living in nearby Fish Creek, the full-service florist, greenhouse and gift shop have been family-owned since the doors first opened. The nursery covers two acres and encompasses not only the shop, but also several greenhouses and storage sheds. Joy Lang grew up around flowers and greenhouses, and began work at Jerry’s in 1977, as an employee. She watched the shop expand over the years, which didn’t always happen by choice. Joy recalls the Great Greenhouse Collapse of March 1978: “The greenhouses used to be taller and constructed of fiberglass, the general style of the day. The county had bad storms that March, and a strong northeast wind just destroyed the main greenhouse.” An empty semi truck was brought in to help with storage as new framing was put into place along with a modern, plant-friendly atmosphere. The ceilings were lowered and the fiberglass was replaced with a fabric that helped retain humidity and allowed more sunshine to enter (“Heaters are no substitute for sunshine’s vitamin D,” Joy avers). Even now, the outbuildings continue to expand, making new room for storage and incoming plants.
After Joy began working at the business, husband Fred caught her enthusiasm and joined the team as a grower in 1982. Six years later, the Reinhards decided to retire, and the Langs bought the business. Joy and Fred trained to become Master Gardeners and now teach others how to plan and tend their gardens. Sons Nate and Josh were just 7 and 5 when the Langs bought the business, but they had their own chores to do. Nate smiles as he remembers, “Our first job at the store was stapling the cardboard boxes to hold customers’ plants.” Nate recently graduated from University of Wisconsin/River Falls with a horticulture degree. Josh received a business degree from Dayton Beach Community College, and is also responsible for Jerry’s seasonal cost calculations, determining wholesale and retail costs and the number of plants required. Currently, there are six employees; for the busy summer seasons, interns are brought in from River Falls and Stevens Point, some of whom have returned to become permanent staffers.
The store officially opens each May, but the action starts well before that. Nate says, “We start heating the greenhouse around the end of February.” Joy adds, “We have a propane tank, but because of higher prices, we have to use it sensibly.” There’s a wood stove in one part of the greenhouse that helps heat young plants. The Langs start some varieties from seed, while other plants are trucked in from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota as opening day comes closer. The Langs are big believers in “Grown in Wisconsin” and try to use as many local suppliers as possible. Plants start arriving in Styrofoam cartons to keep in the heat or tucked into flats that hold as many as 425 plants.
Everyone shifts into high gear, moving the tiny plugs into roomier containers to continue growing under controlled conditions. Once that growth begins, you’ll find Joy moving through the greenhouse with her camera, documenting their progress. She has taken photos for all 21 years of their ownership, amassing thousands of pictures, just like any proud parent!
The goal of Jerry’s Flowers and the Lang family is to continue the tradition of the Reinhards — promoting the beauty of Door County through the highest quality plants available. They strive to be a business that can answer not only “how much?” but especially “which ones?,” “where?” and “how?” Offering fresh-cut flowers, custom-arranged bouquets, and special bridal and memorial arrangements is a big part of the business, and customers are sure to find everything they need, from fertilizers and mulch to gift cards and the fanciest of pots, baskets, garden stakes and much more.
Joy and Fred love their work and the people they meet every day, and Nate and Josh are well on their way to carrying on the tradition of this 50-year-old — and growing — family business.