Louis Schlegel started Schlegel Greenhouse in 1972, having relocated from the Cleveland area where his family had been involved in the greenhouse business for many years. Louis and his wife had eight children, all of whom helped out around the property.
“If you didn’t have a job, you had a job,” says Louis’s son Paul, who was 14 when his dad launched the greenhouse.
Paul always appreciated the transformative nature of the greenhouse business.
“Taking a little seed and turning it into something desirable is an amazing miracle,” Paul says.
In 1979 he joined his father in running the greenhouse, and in 1995 he purchased his dad’s interest in the business. He now runs the greenhouse, and his sons Caleb and Zach are heavily involved (Caleb on the business side and Zach as a grower). They, too, began helping out at an early age.
“Back in the day we had cardboard boxes we had to build like little flats,” Paul says. “I’d pay the kids a penny a flat to make them.”
Schlegel Greenhouse is a wholesale nursery. Paul jokes that his dad chose to sell wholesale instead of retail because he was an old German guy who didn’t like people all that well.
“He didn’t want to have to explain to people why they wanted a geranium,” Paul says with a chuckle.
The company’s customers include nonprofit organizations, landscapers, independent local garden centers, home improvement stores, and flower and plant shops. While the north side of Indianapolis has a number of garden centers, there are customers living on the south side who want to purchase fresh plants and growing materials without having to drive far.
“These are locally grown, locally sourced plants that garden centers have the opportunity to buy,” says Marissa Anderson, houseplant sales manager. “We want to provide these independents with healthy, vibrant plant material. These plants aren’t being shipped. They’re not being handled or going on a truck for 12 to 24 hours from Florida or California. They come from 30 minutes down the road. As a result, they survive better, are way healthier and will last in a home or yard much longer.”
That’s often not the kind of care one gets from a big-box store.
“The garden centers we work with are committed to selling high-quality products,” Caleb says. “Gardeners can go there, purchase a plant and be confident that it will be a productive plant for them.”
Though the Schlegel Greenhouse staff doesn’t do retail, they do supply plants and flowers for fundraising efforts for local sports teams, scout troops, schools, sororities, churches and show choirs.
“Money is tight with a lot of these organizations so we’re happy to help give people an opportunity to raise money,” Paul says.
For instance, Center Grove Youth Baseball participants sold nearly 4,000 mums, which equates to an incredible profit for the school.
“If you compare this to candy bars or car washes, these students are making twice what they are paying,” Caleb says.
In 2010 Schlegel Greenhouse grew between 5,000 and 10,000 mums. This past year, they grew 80,000 mums and had to bring in 20,000 more to cover all the orders.
“We like forming relationships with local organizations that are trying to benefit people in one way or other,” Caleb says.
Just a few years ago, Anderson was one of the Center Grove students selling Schlegel’s plants for her show choir fundraiser. Now she owns 40 houseplants of her own and is the houseplant sales manager at Schlegel’s Greenhouse.
“That’s an awesome cycle,” Paul says.
Anderson maintains that it feels good to nurture something every day. She’s not the only one who feels that way. The Schlegels have noticed a renewed interest in plant material and gardening since the start of the pandemic, particularly by millennials. Paul says prior to the spring of 2020, many members of the 30-and-under generation had little interest in plants.
“They simply weren’t purchasing plants or engaging in the outdoors, but the pandemic opened their eyes,” Paul says. “Now they’ve seen where plants enhance their life.”
Fifty years ago, the greenhouse started out with 12,000 square feet and has grown to 150,000 square feet, and that doesn’t count the 10 acres of growing area. Paul is pleased with how the business has evolved, and he recognizes that none of it would be possible without his team, which includes his Burmese employees who are loyal, talented and kind.
“They are the sweetest bunch of people I have ever come across,” Paul says.
He mentions one woman who came to the United States in 2008 with her newborn and three other children after having just lost her husband. She didn’t speak English and had never gone to school. Life was hard, but she was eager to get to work.
“She comes in here every day with the biggest smile on her face,” says Paul, who is touched by the tremendous impact his Burmese employees have had on his life. “Honestly, that’s the most significant part of my story.”
Each holiday season Schlegel Greenhouse sells approximately 20,000 poinsettias. Because they are photo sensitive, they must have short days in order to bloom. They won’t bloom in houses with artificial light.
The main factor to keep in mind when caring for poinsettias is to not overwater them. If it comes in a basket or pot cover, take it out, water it, leave it in the sink, let it drain, then put the pot cover back on.
“If you do that, it will last and last,” Paul says. “Overwatering a plant will kill it in two days.”
Many of the poinsettias you see in downtown buildings, including the Indiana Convention Center, the NCAA facility, churches and banks, came from Schlegel Greenhouse.
“Some of them have blooms as big as dinner plates,” Paul says. “They’re pretty impressive.”
Schlegel Greenhouse is located at 705 Sprague Road in Indianapolis. For more information, call 317-784-6038 or visit schlegelgreenhouse.com.