By Brianna Gwirtz, OCJ field reporter
For plant lovers, a visit to the Groovy Plants Ranch feels like you’re a proverbial kid in the candy store. The whole property feels both whimsical and a bit weird, which is exactly the vibe that owners Jared and Liz Hughes were going for.
“We never want to be boring. It’s more fun to do weird stuff,” Liz said. “If we like it and it’s fun, anything can be groovy.”
She and her husband Jared welcome thousands of visitors from across the country to their Morrow County business every year. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced gardener.
The botanical selection at Groovy Plants Ranch is quite diverse, boasting over 1,500 varieties of plants, herbs and vegetables. Everything from house plants, air plants and cacti to begonias, peonies, petunias and more are for sale, in practically every color, too. There are the same varieties visitors would find at any typical garden center, but also an array of rare plants.
In fact, Groovy Plants Ranch has a plant so rare, it never existed until Jared and his team bred it. The Canary Wing begonia is Jared’s first national release. Introduced in 2018, the plant won the Retailer’s Choice Award at Cultivate 2018 trade show.
“In 2013, Jared found a begonia with a gold strip in it. With patient and careful selection, we were able to turn it into a fully gold plant over several months,” Liz said. “Jared was able to patent that plant and license the rights to grow to a wonderful national company. It’s grown in South America and its cuttings are shipped all over the U.S. to big and small growers now.”
Complementary to the unusual and unique plant types is the décor scattered about the property. An old Volkswagen beetle near the cash register is quite popular, as is the airplane that serves as a decoration and children’s play area. An old one-room schoolhouse on “The Ranch” holds a collection of gardening tools and homemade wares, such as stained glass, coffee mugs and paintings.
Like many family-owned businesses, Groovy Plants Ranch started from humble beginnings. Jared worked for Foertemeyer and Sons Greenhouse in Delaware while attending college. He developed a love for horticulture there, eventually looking for opportunities to start his own business. During his free time, Jared began propagating and selling succulents at farmers markets in a small greenhouse on his parents’ farm in Cardington. Succulents are fairly low maintenance and easy to propagate, making it a great starter business while he attended classes.
Succulents were once wildly popular during the ‘60s and ‘70s, which led Jared to name his new venture “Groovy Plants Ranch,” in homage to that time period.
“Basically Jared was able to take that money from the succulent business and turn it into a greenhouse, and then with the money we earned from the one greenhouse we were able to get up to three greenhouses,” Liz said.
As the business grew, 2015 was a pivotal year for the couple. They got married and were presented with an opportunity to buy property in Fargo, Ohio, just outside of the small town of Marengo. The two decided to go for it.
“We bought this property in 2015 and started doing retail then. In Ohio, horticulture falls under the agriculture umbrella. We’ve benefitted a lot from farm services, such as the USDA Young Farmer’s Loan,” Liz said.
At the time, Liz had a full time job off the farm while Jared managed the operations with a part-time employee. With a background in art education, Liz learned a lot from her husband.
“I was only familiar with vegetable gardening when I met Jared, so it was a huge learning curve. Right away in our relationship, I helped him with the business, doing succulents and perennials. It was on-the-job training,” Liz said. “As the business grew, our roles changed and I was able to join ‘The Ranch’ full-time.”
One of the attractions of Groovy Plants Ranch are the classes and opportunities to be hands-on. Visitors can transplant their new plants into decorative pots before they leave. The Armadilla Villa is a classroom where Liz teaches workshops and classes for adults and for kids.
“We offer adult classes once a week and kids’ classes once a month, until summer, then it’s once a week as well,” Liz said.
Besides workshops, the farm also features special events related to seasonal plants. The Hellebores Hullabaloo and the Clematis Kerfluffle are just a couple.
“We do a ton of those events because it’s our way to let our customers know that we have those plants in stock and that now is the time to come and get them if they want them. We try to have hundreds of those specific plants on hand for those events,” Liz said.
Most of the plants the Hughes sell are grown onsite. Any plants they can’t grow due to Ohio’s cold winter and spring are sourced from like-minded partners in warmer states.
“We have three hoop houses with house plants, one building with succulents and lots of perennials outside,” Liz said.
Like most outdoor centers, The Groovy Plants Ranch saw a huge increase in business due to COVID. When people were forced to stay home, they started to take up hobbies like gardening.
“We were already growing as a business, but when COVID hit our sales really grew. We are mostly outdoors so people felt safe to shop here and they wanted to beautify their yards,” Liz said.
During the winter months, Groovy Plants Ranch sees about 3,000 visitors. In the summer, they can expect about 7,000 people on a typical Saturday.
“We have to have the sheriff’s department come and help us with traffic on those days,” Liz said. On most weekends, there are also food and coffee vendors set up at the Groovy Plants Ranch.
“We are sort of in the middle of nowhere and there’s not a lot of food around here, so we have the trucks. It’s become part of the experience,” Liz said.
The experience of The Groovy Plants Ranch doesn’t just end after your initial visit either. Blog posts, YouTube videos and social media posts full of tips and tricks for gardening keep customers returning to learn and buy more. The education begins the minute a customer decides on a plant.
“What sets us apart is we try to have helpful and knowledgeable staff. Our big thing is education,” Liz said. “When you’re buying plants from us, you can feel confident you can keep them alive. We try to make sure to let our customers know where to place the plant for sun, the plant’s watering needs, etc. If you come with photos of your yard, we help you with some ideas of plants that work well in the area depending on how much sun or shade the area has. Education is what brings people back. We can give them tools to be successful.”
For more, visit groovyplantsranch.com.