Christmas color abounds at Coweta Greenhouses
by Clay Neely - firstname.lastname@example.org
“Take a look around and you’ll get the idea pretty quickly,” said Marshall Cawthon as he walked past the seemingly endless rows of poinsettias resting under the plastic roof of Coweta Greenhouses.
“We’re a seasonal business that stays busy year-round. That’s probably the best way to describe us,” said Cawthon.
Starting the week before Thanksgiving, Cawthon and Coweta Greenhouses will ship more than 120,000 poinsettias from the facility located off U.S. Hwy 29 near the Coweta County Fairgrounds.
“They stay within the state, but we go everywhere,” said Cawthon. “We’re a direct store delivery service — Macon, Savannah, all of metro-Atlanta. Aw, heck. Even Newnan is considered metro now.”
Coweta Greenhouses generally has eight to 10 trucks in use for deliveries daily during the holiday season.
“We follow the seasons and we never have one that’s slow,” said Cawthon. “One season after the other, something is always happening. We’re already getting the Valentine hydrangeas ready along with the fuchsias and geraniums for spring.”
Coweta Greenhouses started 41 years ago and is primarily a wholesale operation. “We started as a family-owned business. We grow and sell locally, but many people don’t know we’re here. I guess we’re kind of off the beaten path, so a lot of people don’t know about us,” said Cawthon.
Upon entering the greenhouse, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with the sheer volume and varieties of poinsettias grown by Cawthon.
From offices and restaurants, to the home and hearth, poinsettias are as synonymous with Christmas as mistletoe and holly.
A common type of poinsettia can be found growing only for a short period of time around Christmas in Mexico. It derives its common English name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico. He introduced the plant into the United States in 1825.
Thus, the Christmas poinsettia was born, and production and distribution has consistently grown since it was first discovered in the 1800s. There are now poinsettias in pink, white, yellow, purple, salmon, and multi-colors. They have names like “Premium Picasso,” “Monet Twilight,” “Shimmer” and “Surprise.”
Cawthon cites Paul Ecke Jr. as the godfather of the poinsettia industry due to his discovery of a technique that caused seedlings to branch. His technique allowed the poinsettia industry to flourish. The Paul Ecke Ranch in California grows more than 70 percent of all poinsettias purchased in the United States and about 50 percent of the world-wide sales of poinsettias.
With the copious amount of plants being grown, one might imagine there is some risk of overproduction. Not so, according to Cawthon.
“Oh, almost all of our products are pre-sold — I’d say around 95 percent. I remember when you could grow on speculation alone, but now the cost and risk is just too high,” said Cawthon. “I would probably be called a medium-sized grower, maybe on the smaller side.
“We pride ourselves on plant quality, customer service and timeliness. I’m not the cheapest guy on the block but I’ve had some customers for 40 years — so it seems to say something about us.”
Despite a downturn in the industry over the past decade, Georgia produces about half a million poinsettias annually, according to a 2012 Georgia Department of Agriculture report.
Poinsettias also contribute more than $250 million to the U.S. economy at the retail level.
When the “Great Recession” hit in 2008, many greenhouses began to disappear. However, Cawthon believes that the niche his company fills keeps the business safe from the slump and, in fact, is faring better than expected.
“When you have a downswing in the economy, people aren’t spending big money, said Cawthon. “They’re spending small money. They’re not going out to dinner and taking long vacations but they’re probably staying at home and entertaining more. So what makes a home look better than a fresh plant on the patio?”
“It’s been said in this industry for a long time that in an economic downturn that products like ours will hold their own, if not a little better. Our products are tied to people who are watching their money. They’re not spending money on a flatscreens or cars, but they’ll spend $10, $15 or $20 dollars on a potted plant,” said Cawthon.
It’s hard to believe that the entire greenhouse, filled with vibrant color, will soon be completely devoid of this Christmas staple in less than a week.
“It’s been a pretty good season,” said Cawthon. “A bit too rainy and damp at times, which isn’t great for a plant like the poinsettia. But there’s not much you can do about it. Just try to blow in some fresh air and hope for the best.”
Pausing momentarily to look around at the bustling activity of workers loading trucks and the endless rows of color, Cawthon just smiled.
“Plants just make people feel better, generally. That’s just the way it is.”