Peter and Claudia Risbara, who have owned and operated their nursery business in Portland for three decades, have decided to retire. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Unlike most retirees who look forward to puttering around a garden in their golden years, Peter and Claudia Risbara are hoping to take an extended break from flowers and soil.

After three decades of running Risbara’s Greenhouse, the couple will be closing their door next Saturday for the final time. A staple in the Portland community, the Risbaras have been serving local gardeners season after season, providing seedlings, flowers, and their wealth of knowledge on all things green.

“I grew up around plants,” said Peter Risbara, 70. “My father had a huge vegetable garden for as long as I can remember and I was always drawn to my grandfather’s greenhouse.”

Peter Risbara waters plants in one of the greenhouses on Wednesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Risbara’s interest turned into a career, when, after working for two decades as a plumber and a carpenter, his wife encouraged him to open a nursery.

“I was very naïve,” said Claudia Risbara, 69. “I had no idea how much work it takes to run a greenhouse.”

David Pike Jr., a longtime customer, has known the Risbaras his whole life. “I think it’s amazing they are finally getting recognized for all they’ve done for the community,” said Pike. “I love being over there. … It’s always good for me, being around all of those flowers blooming.”

Inside one of the Risbaras’ beloved greenhouses last week, butterflies lazily flew overhead. Along one wall sat 30 different types of petunias, all different sizes and colors. A seed germination chamber that Peter Risbara built himself hummed along in the background.

After starting with just a single greenhouse in 1991, the Risbaras now oversee five greenhouses and raise roughly 30,000 plants to be sold in the spring and summer. The greenhouses line a dirt road that peels off the end of Randolph street, and every building on the property was built by Peter himself.

Peter and Claudia Risbara, who have owned and operated a greenhouse in Portland for 31 years, have decided to retire. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Theirs is the only local plant nursery that raises plants straight from the seed. The familiarity the Risbaras have with the plants they grow and the environment around them has long separated their business from other garden centers in Maine, both big and small.

“We like to say, ‘We grow them so we know them,'” said Claudia Risbara. “We can give advice on anything (the customers) need because we’ve grown these plant babies from the seed and we know them intimately.”

Ray King, a hobby gardener from Saco, has visited the greenhouses three times this season. This time, he was there to pick up some tomato plants for his neighbor.

Peter Risbara waters plants in one of his greenhouses on Wednesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“I heard they were closing so I knew I had to get over here one last time,” said King. “And I’m glad I did come; the knowledge and variety you get here is so impressive. … I always have something to bring back to my friends and family.”

For Peter Risbara, a fourth-generation gardener, that knowledge runs in the family. The men in his family have had green thumbs for as long as Risbara can remember. And, according to his wife, the tradition carries on.

“He can walk past a plant, 20 feet away, and immediately know if it needs fertilizer or water or anything like that,” said Claudia Risbara.

Clemente Risbara, Peter’s great-grandfather, started the family tradition in Maine after immigrating from Italy and founding a greenhouse of his own in Portland called the Brentwood Greenhouse. While that has long since closed, his legacy lives on as the land is now owned by the city and cultivated as a community garden.

It appears that the Risbaras’ business has attracted more than just customers over the years. After noticing more and more hummingbirds stopping by their greenhouses in the late spring, the couple consulted a friend who works with birds.

Marigolds at Risbara’s Greenhouse on Wednesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“They told us that, after all these years, we had essentially become a permanent stopover on the birds’ migration,” said Peter Risbara. His wife chimed in: “Uh oh! Where will they go next year?”

While they would love to lease their greenhouses to another nursery with similar values, the Risbaras are unsure what they will end up doing next. However they decide to spend their retirement, they can rest easy knowing their impact on the Portland community will be remembered.

Last week, Mayor Kate Snyder declared June 21 a local holiday: Risbara’s Greenhouse Day.

This story has been edited on June 28 at 8:25 a.m. to correct Mayor Snyder’s first name.


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