By Caitlin Brown
While most garden enthusiasts are familiar with Sam Bridge, the business, few know about the family that grew this business.
Sam Bridge was a born gardener. By 1930, he was planting geranium cuttings in his father’s cow pasture for his mother and her friends. After earning certificates in horticulture at Cornell and The New York Botanical Gardens, he won a scholarship to study at Kew Gardens in London. His time there was cut short, however, because of the looming war. He returned home to enlist and was sent to the Pacific.
Sam Bridge’s daughter, Mary Joe
After returning from military service, he went back to his passion and his family’s home on Doubling Road in Greenwich (a stone’s throw away from Sam Bridge Nursery). According to Sam’s daughter, Mary Jo, the eldest of three and part owner of the nursery today, her father “felt it was time to take a bride,” so he began a relationship with Mary Reynolds, whom he had known since childhood when they students at a one-room schoolhouse on North Street. He proposed soon after.
“When she said yes, she came with 45 acres,” Mary Jo said with a smile. This is the same 45-acre farm that had been in the Reynolds family since 1686, a gift from King James II. The 20 acres where the nursery stands have been in use solely for agricultural purposes since the original colonial land grant was given.
When Bridge married into the Reynolds family, he moved his greenhouses from his family’s home to the Reynolds farm. Doing so required selling half of the farm’s property to build what would be his first Lord & Byrn greenhouse in 1950.
Potted plants and shrubs aplenty
Before the greenhouse, Sam sold mainly perennials, grown in the ground, in beds. Soon after, he would sell them in pots. The perennials could only sell in the fall, so, in the spring, he sold rock garden plants. The greenhouse changed things in that it allowed him to sell annuals. For many years, Sam Bridge nursery was more a mom-and-pop business. “He did everything himself,” said Mary Jo.
It’s not like that anymore.
Starting in 2014, Sam Bridge Nursery went through a massive renovation, building a 26,000-square foot greenhouse structure to house all their plants — they grow over 500,000 annuals, perennials, and seasonal crops. But it wasn’t an easy decision. The Bridge children — Mary Jo, Sam, and Ron — were in their 60s, wondering what to do going forward.
“We were conflicted and thought, ‘do we sell or will our kids take it on and keep it going?’ We sat them all down and asked if they would commit to growing the business,” recalled Mary Jo. “They unanimously agreed.”
When the nursery had a number of greenhouses, salespeople would have to go through many to find what they were looking for. Having a single large one makes things much easier.
“One of the good things about the new structure is that it’s more energy-efficient,” said Mary Jo. “All the water is recycled from the roof, the floors are heated, and curtains contain the heat at night. Also, the greenhouse is dividable, so we can have three different temperatures at once.”
All the Bridge kids have a specific role in the business, just as their parents did. “Family businesses are a challenge,” acknowledged Mary Jo, “but we’ve transitioned into a cohesive team and we love what we do. We grew up doing this and we’ve grown up with our customers. I think Dad would be proud.”
Inside the 26,000-sqaure-foot greenhouse