What started out as a weekend operation in the Kennewick Tony Roma’s parking lot will soon become a full-fledged nursery and fruit stand business.
Brian and Cathy Keele are opening Queensgate Gardens in south Richland in the coming weeks. The store will feature a 1,700-square-foot greenhouse and a fruit stand that’s the same size, with plants for sale outside.
The greenhouse is up at the store at 1040 Queensgate Drive. It will sell more than 58,000 house plants and 17,000 vegetable starts, which allow people to grow their own cucumbers, eggplants and a variety of tomatoes, peppers and melons.
The couple grow all the plants in their three greenhouses at their home off Red Mountain Road between West Richland and Benton City. The greenhouses total 20,000 square feet, with the largest, at 17,000 square feet, purchased at a farm auction during the recession five years ago and moved from Boise in a moving truck.
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They started growing as a hobby when Brian worked as a chemist at Hanford and Cathy as a teacher. They initially sold the plants on weekends, but moved to selling all during the week in warm months once business picked up.
Brian, 51, retired last year after 25 years at Hanford and Cathy, 49, is now a substitute teacher, allowing them to focus their attention on the plant business.
“I didn’t really plan to go quite this big this quickly, but circumstances change and opportunities presented themselves,” Brian said. “So we’re doing it.”
Cathy spends much of the day filling mixed baskets with up to seven varieties of flowers, which are expected to overflow with growth in the spring. Brian moves plants from trays to larger pots.
They were inspired to build a greenhouse by a similar facility owned by Brian’s aunt and uncle in Wyoming.
“They helped us get going a bit,” Brian said. “Gave us some helpful pointers when we needed it.”
The family continues in the operation with their children Hannah, 11, and Steven, 8, helping around the greenhouses.
They have installed automatic sprinklers in their home greenhouse after having trouble watering it themselves.
“You would try to distribute it evenly like you were a machine,” Cathy said. “But, being human, some would get missed.”
The store also will feature produce grown in Eastern Washington, from Yakima to Spokane. But a third component to the business will be art that Cathy makes herself.
She paints large gourds to look like people. She also makes decorative pots, baked in her own kiln. They plan to sell the items in a gift shop, and eventually allow other artists to sell their art there.
The store might close for three months in the winter, because Brian likes to have a chance to do paperwork and clean up the greenhouse. But Cathy said she would like to open at Christmas to sell trees and decorative wreaths that she makes.
They feel fortunate to move into the busy and growing Queensgate corridor.
“It basically was the best property we could find in the vicinity,” Brian said. “And it was relatively close to here.”