MANCHESTER — When Scott Longfellow first helped his parents open a greenhouse business in 1977, he didn’t think he’d work there more than a couple years, and he also thought his father’s decision to start the business with 12 greenhouses was too ambitious.

“It seemed crazy,” he said of the largeness of the business plan hatched by his parents, Lawrence and Mavis Longfellow.

The severely cold winter of 1976-1977 made the odds of Longfellow’s Greenhouses succeeding seem even slimmer, but the business took off, proving Scott wrong on multiple counts. After working for his parents for a decade, he bought the operation and continues to run it with his wife and kids, and the number of greenhouses has more than doubled in that time. As Scott sees it, Lawrence and Mavis capitalized on a landscape gardening trend sweeping the nation in the 1970s.

“My parents had a big vision, a grand vision, and it worked,” Scott Longfellow said.

Nowadays, the business — which is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an open house this weekend — is growing tens of thousands of geraniums, mums, perennials, poinsettias and other flowers, as well as herbs, shrubs and other plants. It displays the plants in spacious greenhouses attached to a retail store and also stocks plants that are grown in other parts of the country, as well as seeds, soil, gardening tools and a host of other items.

At Longfellow’s Greenhouses, the surge of younger gardeners has led the staff to become more like growing coaches to their customers, advising them on how much light is needed, what types of fertilizer work best and how they should water their plants.

“The gardener of today knows less than our grandparents,” Longfellow said. “It’s been people who are less connected to agriculture, and have less of an understanding of the basics of gardening. Our goal is to help these people succeed.”

On a 14-acre property on Puddledock Road, the business includes about 90,000 square feet of growing space and employs about 90 people at the peak of gardening season.

Longfellow’s has made a name for itself over the years, growing despite the tough competition from big box stores and smaller operations, said Caragh Fitzgerald, an agricultural educator at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Kennebec County.

“That business is certainly one of the leaders in the industry,” Fitzgerald said. “They pay really close attention to the trends.”

Charles Eichacker can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: ceichacker

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