A Deep-Rooted Family Tradition
With family history deep-rooted in horticulture, Pioneer member Mark Guenthner, owner of Blue Acre Gardens, has continued a 140-year family tradition of bringing plants to local customers.
Blue Acre Gardens, located on Bulle Road in Piqua, specializes in perennials, bedding plants, vegetables, and herbs, selling nearly 25,000 plants annually.
“I was born into it,” says Mark.
The Guenthner family tradition started in the 1880s, when Martin and Rosina Guenthner operated The Garden, where they grew vegetables and flowers in their first greenhouses. It was located next to the cemetery in Piqua, Ohio. Back then, greenhouses often were near cemeteries so they were easily accessible because iceboxes and the horse and buggy were the only means of transporting fresh flowers.
In the 1920s, Mark’s grandfather, Charles Guenthner, started his own business, Charles Guenthner Cut Flowers, and began shipping flowers by train to wholesale houses.
“My grandfather eventually went out on his own and the big thing then was to cut flowers,” Mark says. “They grew delphiniums and baby’s breath and shipped them by train to wholesale sellers in major cities.”
In 1948, Mark’s dad, David Guenthner, began Blue Acre Gardens on Loy Road in Piqua to continue the tradition.In 1959, David married the love of his life, Rosie, and bought the farm on Bulle Road in Piqua, where Blue Acre Gardens is located today. From the 1960s to the 1980s, the greenhouse specialized in the production of baby’s breath field liners for the cut flower industry.
“Back then, baby’s breath had to be grafted because they didn’t have rooting hormones or intermittent mist systems,” says Mark. “So my dad began doing that. They couldn’t propagate the baby’s breath in Florida because it was too hot.”
Businesses would buy and ship the plants from Ohio. That was done through the 1970s.
As that market slowly went overseas, Mark began expanding the production of wholesale perennials.
“I went to Ohio State and earned a Bachelor of Science in horticulture,” says Mark. “They had just formed something called the Perennial Plant Association and I had the professor, Dr. Steven Still, who started all of that, and I learned a lot from him.”
So, Blue Acre Gardens began switching from baby’s breath to perennials over time. After that, it was all about the perennials.
“That went great for 30-plus years, then the recession hit. Everyone was hurting, and at the same time the box stores were building these giant garden centers, with tons of plants and hundreds of employees,” says Mark. “You couldn’t get big enough and you couldn’t keep up
The Guenthners had one of the biggest greenhouses in Shelby County, but all at once they felt like they couldn’t sell anything.
According to Mark, that’s when things started to take a tumble.
“One of our biggest customers quit buying from us, and it was like, ‘What do we do?” says Mark. “A few months later, my dad broke his hip and I had to start rethinking things.”
After his father passed away, Mark took some time to focus on substitute teaching for the horticulture program at Upper Valley Career Center and determine what was next.
The time away provided just what he needed — time to reimagine what the business should look like and provide.
“Box stores were all but giving plants away to undercut the smaller greenhouses, but then they raised their prices,” says Mark. “So I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I do have a chance.’”
He grew a few tomato plants and contacted a grocery store that used to buy from his family. Instead of selling wholesale, he tried retail.
“I thought, I’m going to grow extra and see if I can sell them retail,” says Mark. I started out with a wagonload of tomato plants and a cardboard sign and they all sold!”
It didn’t take long for Mark to make his next move. Today, Mark runs his new version of Blue Acre Gardens, a one-man operation, which he calls a “pop” store, from his home on Bulle Road in Piqua.
Mark manages and cares for the plants on his own, but he couldn’t do it without the support and care of his wife, Patty.
“There’s no way I could do this without her love and support,” says Mark. “Although she works outside the home and doesn’t help care for the plants, she takes care of everything else around our home to allow me to do what I truly enjoy.”
At Blue Acre Gardens, customers find a large selection of high-quality, well-cared-for perennials, bedding plants, vegetables and herbs, and little else.
“I don’t sell pots or soil, shrubs or trees,” says Mark. “I’ll never be a one-stop shop, but I don’t want to be. I just want to offer good quality plants at an affordable price. And just enjoy it.”
Blue Acre Gardens opens on April 19 and stays open, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday to Saturday, each week until the plants run out. In 2022, that was a few days before Memorial Day.
Mark enjoys sharing his knowledge of plants, which enhances his customer service.
“When someone tells me they’ve never gardened before, I do my best to steer them toward easier plants and offer advice,” says Mark. “I want them to be successful and want them to come back.”
And, because Mark is both growing and selling his plants, he’s able to offer the highest quality plants at the lowest possible prices.
“I’m content and happy doing what I’m doing,” says Mark. “Every day is a surprise. I’m constantly learning and experimenting and I work like crazy, but I love doing it.”