Concealed within the rugged hills of Athens County is a hidden mecca where plants grow in abundance, flowers bloom by the hundreds and artwork abounds.
Glasshouse Works, located off Route 329 in Stewart, Ohio, is a smorgasbord of artwork and green treasures. Visitors first see a white house with red shutters peeking out from under a curtain of green ivy. Standing on the front porch among the white wicker furniture, plants and pottery is Tom Winn, co-owner of Glasshouse Works.
Just off the porch, tall green foliage, bright red tulips and pink wildflowers expand across the front yard. For new plant enthusiasts, Tom’s guidance is essential. He walks visitors around the property, pointing out various plants along the way.
"That is a Staghorn fern, very unusual," Tom says as he walks toward a light green plant with thin, droopy leaves that fray at the end like deer antlers.
Tom walks around the maze of greenhouses and garden paths like a proud scientist giving a tour of his laboratory. The work of local artists peeks out from the foliage. Visitors will catch glimpses of squatting gargoyles and stone reproductions of Greek and Roman art. A life-sized stone statue of the Greek goddess Artemis stands in front of the old carriage house adjacent to the house.
The smell of open lily buds lingers in the warm air, and ivory morning glories stretch forth like the arms of a waking child. The morning glories purchased from Glasshouse Works grow in Ohio gardens as well as those in Oregon and New York, although Tom is careful to instruct buyers who live in chilly climates about the tender nature of such plants.
Tom quickly learned that people who are new to growing often find that caring for a plant is no easy task. “Sometimes they might not even know what they are buying,” Tom says. “They have a lot of questions.”
The thriving business and extensive property is a testament to the vigilant and patient long-term care that Tom and his partner, Ken Frieling, have dedicated to the establishment. Tom’s nurturing care for plants has facilitated his ability to help people who are new gardeners. He spends hours on the phone with customers and manages an educational website that provides instructions for fellow plant lovers.
The site offers detailed recommendations for each plant, including tips on how to use flowers and plants in landscaping, where and when to grow, and the history of rare plants like the Golden Summer Jasmine, a fragrant yellow flower famous for its supposed qualities as an aphrodisiac.
Ken, who is the hybridizer at Glasshouse Works, crossbreeds various coleus plants — brightly colored, tropical members of the mint family — that decorate the property. "One of Ken's favorite coleuses is Religious Radish," Tom says as he touches a plant with large red leaves, infused with black markings. "We are known for our coleus plants. They are offered and patented in Japan, and they are trying to introduce them on the Chinese mainland."
If visitors are fortunate enough to take a long walk around the property with Tom, they will see his passion for rare plants come to life. “I started growing gardens when I was 10,” Tom says. “You get an enthusiasm just from seeing something you plant grow and thrive." Tom points out various coleus plants like Purple Pumpernickle, which has brilliant plum leaves that are decorated with flecks of light green and scores of light pink lines.
The eclectic work of local potters and artists are intertwined with the lush foliage. Stone elephants grace the property. A large statue of an angel overlooks the pond while bullfrogs stir the still water under the white lilies and round lily pads. Gleaming copper artwork is tacked onto doors, and blue blown glass decorations hang off the eves, swinging in the wind.
The diverse business, which has grown into a website, several greenhouses and five employees, started with managing one catalog. “Country Hills wanted us to grow for their mail order catalog and we took the catalog over in 1985,” Tom says.
But Tom’s and Ken’s passion for plants caused the business to expand. “Eventually, this hobby took over and Ken and I decided to start this business and live here," Tom says.
Although the economy has taken its toll on small businesses in the area, Glasshouse Works has thrived due to its extensive collection of rare plants and distinctive artwork.
“Because we try to do unusual and different things we are going strong,” Tom says. “Business has been great this spring because people are getting back into plants.”
Tom and Ken, who have been in the rare plant business for 30 years, offer plant lovers a one-of-a-kind experience that brings them back year after year to this small southeastern Ohio village.