As Studley Flower Gardens celebrates 90 Years in business this year, Vice President and second generation owner of Studley Flower Gardens, David Meulenbroek takes a trip down memory lane and shares his story, reflecting on how ‘Growing Up Studley’ and life in the family business shaped and prepared him for his role in the business today.
This past week I watched old family movies that my Dad had taken with his Super 8 camera through the years, some dating back to the very early 70’s. As I stepped back in time through dadf’s lens, I was entertained by seeing myself as a young tyke growing up and I marveled at how good looking my parents were in their younger years. Though there were some family vacations and day trips captured in the archives, a lot of the movies focused on our everyday life around Studley’s.
Growing up Studley’s was home. We lived in the home in front of the business and the store and the surrounding property was my playground. I am not sure if it lended to a professional appearance for the business, but my parents were not going for a slick corporate look. We were as we are now, a family business – and as such, the family worked and played in it.
Some of my earliest memories are of exploring our greenhouses. I would climb under the benches and search for treasure among the rows of growing cut flowers and foliage plants. I would find fallen flowers and seed pods in my adventures and would dissect them to see what was contained inside. In the flower design room, I would emulate the designers and my father, cutting stems with his flair and placing them in different containers. Sometimes, I would even put my creations in the display cooler for sale!
These young and carefree days were followed by times with more responsibility I was put in charge of watering the perennials in the garden center and weeding the rows of our enormous vegetable garden – something that did not appeal to me at the time, but now is something I cannot resist from doing when I see a weedy bed! Although I did not realize it at the time, these years were formative in becoming the landscaper that I am today.
Growing up in the business did not only mean playing in the store and greenhouses on the property, but also meant going out into the community, where my parents for very active – the Rotary Club, Red Cross, Altrusa, and Frisbie Hospital Auxiliary were just a few of the organizations that my parents participated in. They had a strong sense of civic duty and extended their long days by going to meetings and giving back to the community.
We worked closely with the Chamber of Commerce to decorate their annual dinner with lavish displays of plants and flowers and even water features, depending on their theme. We set up memorable displays at the Rochester Fair in the agricultural building, installing lush displays of tropical foliage and flowering plants, even harvesting mosses from our greenhouses to make them look all the more natural. I would help to set up and take down these displays, as would my brothers. Everyone in the family pitched in! Everything that we did was punctuated with hard work and efficiency. We would always try to get things done as fast as possible. I remember running back and forth carrying items as fast as I could. These childhood experiences shaped my desire to always be efficient in everything that I do.
During high school, I would work summers landscaping and helping out in the garden center. In those days, we installed a lot of railroad tie retaining walls and planted lots of shrubs. I remember doing a lot of grunt work, but I enjoyed the challenge. Later, I would learn how to build landscapes and I would pay attention to what plants my father placed where, so I became familiar with how plants would grow in different locations I took note of the way that he would place annuals in patterns, as if with brush strokes, he would contrast the colors to make them pop out. Through osmosis, I collected this knowledge and when I began designing my own landscapes years later, the same skill just came naturally to me.
Leaving for college I was quite certain that I would not return to the family business and I had high hopes of conducting some sort of international business or trade, but summers I still returned to Studley’s and worked in people’s gardens to earn money for the following year, and it grew on me. Rather than return to school the second year of my master’s degree in International Relations, I opted to stay at Studley’s and continue landscaping. I got a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction out of creating things with my hands, that I did not receive in books and lectures. When I completed a landscape I witnessed something tangible, something enduring, and that meant a lot to me.
After a few years in the business, my brother Jeffrey followed a similar path back home to Studley’s, and in 2008 together we purchased the business from our parents. Building on the hard work and integrity of our parents’ business model, we have come to make Studley’s our own.
Now I continue to install and maintain landscapes and we work in many of the same gardens that I installed those summers as a high school and college student. I am always amazed at how the plants grow and develop, how the impressions that my Dad made on the landscape were still there for people to enjoy. I remark on the quality of our installations and how they have endured over time. I look back with wonder, and note that we have made a lot of people’s lives more enjoyable through our work. Whether it be enjoying the beauty of flowering annuals and perennials on a patio, or hearing the gurgle of a small waterfall as it cascades over finely placed rocks, or watching the birds and other wildlife lured in by nature’s bounty, the landscapes that we create endure and give back.
For more information on the history of Studley’s and our 90 Year Celebration, I invite you to visit out Facebook Page and read Our Story.