WINSTON — Sixty years ago, a young Mike Winters planted a tree in a Campbell’s soup can.
His mother didn’t give him much hope that the little tree would survive. But the 6-year-old boy was up to the challenge. His tree grew up to be a couple of feet tall before it got lost in a family move.
That was the start of Winters playing in the dirt, and it wasn’t too long before he began to make a living out of the earth. He opened a landscaping business in the Roseburg/Winston area at age 25 and started developing a nursery at his home at the same time. Ten years later in 1983, he and his wife, Mary Ann, purchased property on the southern edge of Winston and soon after opened Wintergreen Nursery, Landscape & Florist at 8580 Old Highway 99 S.
On the back six acres of the property, a variety of healthy trees are growing at different heights. That area has been Winters’ soup can for many years.
“I love this business, it’s a great business,” Winters, now 66, said. “It’s a business that makes people happy.”
Over the years, especially since serving eight years as a Douglas County commissioner and then having a local radio show about gardening, Winters has earned the moniker of “commissioner of dirt.” He said he loves sharing his 40 years of experience with gardeners.
“Ninety-nine percent of customers who come in here are people of the earth or whatever you want to call them,” he said. “They’re gardeners, they like digging in the dirt, planting things. They’re dealing with living things. Their attitude overall is positive. They’re enthusiastic about what they’re doing. They like what they’re doing and I like helping them.”
Like her husband of 47 years, Mary Ann Winters also developed a green thumb at an early age. She said her father enjoyed gardening, particularly planting and growing flowers that her mother loved, and he always maintained a nice yard.
“I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love flowers,” Mary Ann Winters said. “Anytime you can enhance a yard with flowers or shrubs or trees, it makes it more enjoyable. We’re always encouraging people to start with a tree, to start with a flower bed along a walkway and gradually work into a nice yard.”
The Winterses had to do exactly that with their own commercial property. When they purchased it from Esther Gourley, blackberries had begun to spread their canes over the ground. Gourley’s husband, Levi, had died the year before and his widow couldn’t keep up with the maintenance of the property.
The Winterses quickly bulldozed the blackberries and gradually turned the property into a productive nursery. Steve Winters, Mike’s younger brother, was the business’ first employee and helped with the nursery development. Steve Winters soon established his own landscape business and has worked as a sub-contractor for Wintergreen through the years.
In 1996, they opened a new retail store, shop and plant pavilion on two acres at the front of the property. The business has grown to nine full-time employees in addition to Mike and Mary Ann Winters. Their five children also worked at the nursery through the years. One of them, daughter Jill, has been a full-time employee for the past 25 years and now manages the retail store.
A third generation, Bradley Heaton, Jill’s son, is a summertime part-time worker.
Mike Winters said that during the recent recession the business didn’t lay off any of its workers.
“We cinched it up, got as creative as we could, and never missed a payroll,” he said. “Our clientele of the past kept us going even though for two years we didn’t landscape a new home because no new homes were being built.
“Personal relationships are big with me,” he added. “I’d say 95 percent of our clients are our friends. We’re responsive to our clients, we take care of them and they appreciate that.”
The nursery has been doing lawn and yard maintenance at the Roseburg home of Jim Moriarty for the past couple of years.
“No. 1, they keep you informed of what they’re going to do,” Moriarty said. “They advise you on how much to water, they suggest things like fertilizer to keep your lawn green. They always clean up the trimmings and cuttings. They’ve been very reliable.”
Janet Young, the office manager for Wicks Emmett CPAs in Roseburg, said their firm has been doing business with Wintergreen for the past 12 years.
“Their service is fantastic,” Young said. “Anytime you need anything, they are right there to do it. They’ve always been responsible to anything we’ve asked.”
Mike Winters said it is important to him to explain each job to a client and he said clients in turn appreciate the communication. He added that every Wintergreen employee has several years of experience with the business so they can easily explain the process to clients as they do work.
“I have a fulfilling life, I have a great family, I have a great crew,” Winters said. “I really do enjoy this business, the creative part of it, creating things for people and having them say it’s more than I expected. It’s satisfying for both sides.”
• News-Review business reporter Craig Reed can be reached by calling 541-957-4210 or by email at email@example.com.
Ninety-nine percent of customers who come in here are people of the earth... They like what they’re doing and I like helping them.”