Brookfield greenhouse a large supplier of poinsettias

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 [Brookfield, NS] - It's a sea of bright red as you walk through the doors at Forest Glen Greenhouse Ltd. and step into the land of poinsettias.

Judy Thompson, left, and her daughter, Megan Thompson Whidden, stand among thousands of poinsettias at Forest Glen Greenhouse Ltd. in Brookfield, Nova Scotia. The family-run company provides the Christmas flower to the Atlantic Superstore stores in the Maritimes. 

From late July to Christmastime, 50 per cent of the (Brookfield, Nova Scotia) company's space is home to the plant, which has become known as the Christmas flower.

"We started with 60,000 poinsettias, but we've been shipping them for a couple of weeks now," said Judy Thompson, (Nov. 30) who operates the business with her husband.

In 1985, the family started the business and its first major company was Snooks SaveEasy out of Truro, which was a division of Loblaws. Fifteen years ago, Forest Glen became the exclusive supplier for the Atlantic Superstore in the Maritime provinces.

"As their business has grown, ours has as well," said Thompson. "We started with one greenhouse with maybe 3,000 square feet and we've replaced the cold frame structure with gutter-connected greenhouses. We have about six acres of growing space."

Originating in Mexico, the poinsettia became a tradition with the holiday season through a young brother and sister.

It's said the two didn't have any money to take gifts or flowers to a nativity scene, which was tradition at the time, so they picked weeds along the way.

"It turned out, the weeds grew into poinsettias and they became associated with Christmas. The leaves are also star-shaped," said Thompson.

Beginning in late July, the staff of about 40 get to work on growing the plants, which arrive as rooted cuttings.

"Poinsettias are the longest crop that we grow," Thompson said, adding the greenhouse also supplies Superstore with a number of other spring plants, such as hanging and perennials.

"We also do fall mums," added Megan Thompson Whidden, the couple's eldest daughter at the age of 27.

Thompson Whidden has been working fulltime with her parents and even her husband for the past five years.

"I grew up in the business," she said. "I just find that we care so much about it."

Thompson said the business throughout the years has been a whole family affair, with the couple's other daughter, 23-year-old Chelsea, also helping out while growing up.

"When we were building, the kids were always with us. They played in the greenhouse with us," she said.

"Megan came to enjoy the business, and studied business in school. She's basically running the show around here. We've been fortunate in that we've been able to keep it in the family."

Thompson Whidden said the poinsettias begin shipping to stores shortly after Remembrance Day, and will mostly be gone by the day before Christmas.

"We ship about 15,000 a week," she said.

With red being most popular, poinsettias come in a variety of other colours at the greenhouse, including burgundy, pink and white, as well as ice punch (red leaves with white on them).

"There are hundreds of varieties and we looked at colours we thought the consumers would appreciate here in the Maritimes," said Thompson. "And we also needed colours that would grow well together and even in combinations together."

One of the biggest myths surrounding poinsettias is that the plant is poisonous.

"A 50-pound child would have to eat about 500 bracts (leaves) to have any sort of toxicity," said Thompson. "They have a very bitter taste, so they may take a bite out of a leaf once, but they probably wouldn't again."

Tips for caring for a poinsettia:

- When transporting it from store to your home, make sure the poinsettia is in a plastic sleeve and remove it immediately upon arriving at your destination.

- Don't put the poinsettia in front of a heater or next to a lit fireplace.

- If the soil is dry, water it thoroughly. If it's in a decorative pot that doesn't allow water to escape, check for water accumulating in the pot and dump it out - poinsettias don't like to sit in water for periods of time.

- Poinsettias like lots of light, but don't place them near drafty areas, such as doors that are constantly opening and closing.

- Make sure the leaves aren't touching a cold window, as the leaves could turn black.

Truro Daily News

Organizations: Division of Loblaws, Daily News

Geographic location: Maritime, Nova Scotia, Forest Glen Mexico

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