This Soil-Based Family Business Is A Plant Lover’s Heaven
The weather in central Maine is not for the faint of heart. In the winter of 1977, the average temperature in the town of Manchester was a balmy 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a particularly unearthly few months. Amid brisk winds and ice-caps on the local lake, formulating a plan to launch a business of greenhouses and foliage was the last item on almost everyone’s to-do list, besides Lawrence and Mavis Longfellow.
The couple had a vision of a sprawling, lush property with an abundance of both indoor and outdoor gardening options. From perennials to roses to houseplants, the “small” business of Longfellow’s Greenhouses was ahead of its time when it came to the foliage frenzy.
Despite the harsh winter, the couple withstood the sub-freezing conditions and fostered the small business they had been hoping for: a sprawling garden center in the heart of Manchester, Maine. Enlisting the services of their son, Scott, Lawrence and Mavis successfully constructed 12 greenhouses on a green-filled plot of land, allowing them to cut the ribbon for the newly-blossomed Longfellow’s Greenhouses business in the spring of 1977.
Gradually, the family-owned business acquired labor-saving equipment, a far-off luxury during the days of the company’s genesis. The new tools allowed them to construct additional greenhouses, an employee lounge, and even a conference room with increased ease — the business was gaining steam, fast.
As the space became increasingly popular with the local community and surrounding towns’ residents alike, Lawrence and Mavis saw an opportunity to improve the customer experience at Longfellow’s. What was originally a row of greenhouses with minimal landscaping was transformed into a full plant utopia. New greenhouses lined the property and the slim spaces between them were covered by canopies, “creating a ‘mall’ for more enjoyable shopping,” writes Mavis Longfellow. Patrons could now wander in and out of the greenhouses freely, exploring the tropicals and native greenery all while being protected from the harsh elements Lawrence and Mavis overcame that winter in 1977.
After ten successful years of leadership, the reigning king and queen of the greenhouses stepped aside, and their son Scott, now married but still local, took command of the family business.
“It was never expected that I would take over the family business,” Scott Longfellow explained in 2019, “I was just drawn to what interested me.” Scott had serendipitously just earned his degree in plant sciences from the University of Maine in Orono.
Scott and his wife Sandy represented a new wave of houseplant lovers who had their ears to the ground on a budding generation. The two decided to lean into a more design-oriented presentation of their merchandise, embracing the natural and health-promoting beauty that plants have to offer. By 1995, Scott and Sandy had spent nearly a decade evolving the once bareboned structures into a compound of foliage unparalleled for hundreds of miles. They added a new saleroom, display area, and office space, repurposing the old spaces for community service projects and ad hoc work areas. In these new spaces, Longfellow’s now holds classes where patrons can better improvise their home gardening techniques. “They are usually themed to coincide with what’s going on during a specific time of year,” Scott says, “[Longfellow’s has] had courses on succulent gardens, seed starting, terrariums, fairy gardens, Thanksgiving table arrangements” and more.
Today, the multi-generational Longfellow’s Greenhouses is the largest greenhouse-based store in the state of Maine and boasts 25 greenhouses — more than double what it so proudly offered in 1977. It sits in the same spot it was erected over forty years ago.
“We’ve come a long way,” Scott longingly reflected upon to press, “and we’re always looking to do more.”