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Features - Cover feature: The Top 50 Nurseries

Four generations have tended the fields and family business at Bigelow Nurseries.

October 12, 2015

Bigelow Nurseries, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, has embraced modern growing practices and equipment, but still embraces the ideals that were established a century ago.

Pat Bigelow and her brother Brad are the third-generation owners, with the fourth generation actively involved in the business.

“My oldest son is the assistant general manager, my younger son is in field production, and my niece also works in production,” she says. “And their vision matches that of my brother’s and my vision of the company.”

Two generations working together and successfully communicating how the business should grow is a lesson many nurseries could learn. It’s a constant stream of discussions between the generations, Pat says.

“We have daily conversations about production needs, but we also talk about goals and what we want and need to do to grow the business. It’s open communication. It’s not a board meeting once a month.”

The fourth generation is not afraid to make suggestions or throw ideas at Pat and Brad. One of the improvements the younger generation suggested was making changes to increase efficiencies with shipping.

“One of the pluses and minuses of old companies is they’ve had long time to do something the same way. So they may not necessarily find a new way to do it. But at our nursery, the fourth generation is not as tied to those processes, so they look at new ways to do things. They’re questioning things, which is good for business.”

Pat also enjoys the energy that the fourth generation brings to the workplace.

“The generation that clamors behind you provides a lot of energy, and it’s really important for maintaining and building a successful nursery,” she says. “This is your life’s work and your family’s life’s work.”

One of the lessons that Pat learned from her father and one she has passed to the fourth generation is the importance of relationships.

“Dad taught me that everything is based on relationships with people. Our industry has a real emphasis on that, from the precariousness of the general contractor and landscape contractor down to the grower. A solid relationship builds trust, and trust is critical. It’s still an industry of a handshake deal.”

Bigelow’s objective of building relationships is what makes her nursery “an approachable company.” And it’s a purpose she’s passing along to her kids and her entire staff.

Pat shared some of the history of the nursery, which was founded by her grandfather, Palmer W. Bigelow.

During the 1920s, Palmer developed display gardens on the grounds, planted out fields of evergreens, flowering shrubs, trees and perennials. Liners in huge wooden crates would arrive from other nurseries by rail cars. The nursery’s primary customers were wealthy people living in Worcester, Mass.

During the 1930s, the oldest son Bill began helping in the perennial beds and soon began travelling with his father to potential customer’s homes. The Depression had significantly decreased the demand for nursery plants. Bill and his Dad would regularly load up a truck with large B&B evergreens and shrubs and then go house to house in Worcester trying to sell the plants.

Through the ‘40s the nursery maintained its larger landscape customers in the city and grew more nursery crops and perennials. In 1950 the nursery was passed to Bill.

During the next 30 years, the nursery added acreage, an expanded garden center, and began growing plant material for landscape contractors, designers, municipalities, and smaller landscape companies.

In the ‘80s, the company eliminated the landscape division, concentrating on retail and wholesale sales, and created a large container area for shrubs and perennials. During the last 20 years, the nursery has expanded and evolved with the changing market, bringing in the fourth generation.

Pat calls it a privilege to be a multigenerational grower.