Clayton Garden Center Celebrates 60-Plus Years In Business
Photographer / Jubilee Edgell
When Ed Clayton was a young boy, he regularly told his folks, “Someone’s got to help Grandma in the store!” And off he’d go to watch his grandparents, Eldon and Louise, run Clayton Garden Center, which they opened in 1956.
“We lived in the back corner of the property and ever since I was big enough to walk up the road, I was in here,” recalls Ed, a young apprentice who began running the cash register at age nine. He officially was on the payroll when he turned 14.
“I was born into the business,” Ed says. “It’s all I’ve ever done. It’s all I’ve ever known.”
And he wouldn’t have it any other way. When his grandparents passed away, the business skipped a generation and went to Ed, who officially took the helm in 2007.
“A lot of people jump into running a small business and assume it’s easy street, but it’s a lot harder than you think,” he says. “For one thing, when you own a small business, it’s not a 40-hour-a-week job. You put in all the hours. And seasonally, you put in all the hours, plus a bunch of extra hours.”
Clayton Garden Center started out as a seed & produce shop, and like a hardy plant, it grew from there. The family built their first small greenhouse on the property in the early 1960s. Then in the 70s, as customers became more interested in sprucing up their yards, the family built additional greenhouses.
After a hard winter, Ed invites customers to visit their greenhouses to check out the baby plants and get an early shot of warmth.
“People come in all down and out and their attitude completely changes after they see all the green,” Ed says. “They come out with a smile on their face. I joke that I should charge $25 for mental health improvement.”
Currently, the business, whose tagline is “quality service with a hometown touch,” employs four full-time workers — Ed, his wife Judy, their son Brad, and Brad’s fiancé Jewel. Each person specializes in some aspect of the business. Brad, who has a plant soil science degree from Oklahoma State, knows all about pollinators and natives.
“He’s what we call the garden safe solutions expert,” Ed says. “He helps customers with insect & fungicide problems, fertilizers and that sort of thing.”
Judy is the greenhouse manager, and Jewel has a horticulture degree from Purdue University and is involved in the nursery side of things.
“She does a lot of our floral-related items like potted plants. I’m the accountant and maintenance man,” says Ed with a laugh. “If something’s broken, I fix it. That’s part of being an independent business person. You’ve got to be the jack of all trades — from sales rep to janitor.”
The whole team functions as a unit — with everyone playing their part and pitching in wherever needed.
“Between the four of us, we’ve got more than 100 years of experience in this field,” says Ed, whose favorite thing about his career is interacting with customers.
“I’ve built some great friendships through the years. I can predict when certain people will show up because I know when they come to the lake,” Ed says. “In fact, when they don’t come in, I worry!”
The crew at Clayton Garden Center takes special care of their customers, catering not only to their gardening needs but also providing expert advice.
“As the younger generation has gotten back into gardening, a lot of them say, ‘Man, I should have listened to Grandma more!’” Ed says. “We give them recommendations to ensure their success, whether it’s flowers, vegetables, landscaping, or whatever.”
Clayton Garden Center specializes in potted plants — especially big beautiful hanging baskets. They grow 2,500 each season, along with 6,000-8,000 perennials. Their bread-and-butter sales are the geraniums, petunias, marigolds and impatiens. Tomato plants and garden plants are also popular. Unlike many nurseries, Clayton Garden Center is open year-round.
“In the fall, we do the mums. Then we float into Christmas with poinsettias and Christmas trees. Then January comes and we start getting ready for spring again. By the first week of February, we’re planting and working in the greenhouse,” says Ed, who goes to trade shows and plant trials with Judy to see the new plant materials. This is also when they make guesses about what’s going to be popular in the upcoming season. This includes pieces from the handmade pottery by Michael Carr Designs.
“What we do here is no different than the stock market in that we hope we pick the right stock,” Ed says.
In their free time, Ed likes to go ice fishing and Judy enjoys quilting. Recently Ed has also gotten more involved as a township board member.
“I’ve put myself deep into learning about the local government,” Ed says. “That’s been interesting.”
The pair always break away in June for a vacation to a cabin where they unplug and recharge.
“I go fishing, and my wife takes her sewing machine,” says Ed, who delights in simply staring at the rippling water. “I could watch the waves for days.”
The couple is always happy to return home, however, and dive back into their plant business.
“It’s my natural high in the spring when we are going 90 mph, working like crazy,” says Ed. “It’s my passion.”