In 1952 Earl and Mildred Swift purchased a small greenhouse from John and Audry Zesch, which included 15,000 square feet of glass greenhouses and a clientele of grocery stores and seed stores who purchased plants out of the back of John's pick-up. This was the beginning of Swift Greenhouses, Inc., in the rural setting, near Gilman, Iowa. Earl prepared all year long for the short sales period which consisted of the month of May. He primarily grew vegetables for gardens in Central and West Central Iowa. Over the years he added several basic varieties of bedding plants and even a few varieties of perennial crops. The plants were sown and grown in homemade wooden trays and were then uprooted and sold by the dozen. These open trays gave way to individual wooden boxes which, in turn, led to the plastic packs and pots of today.
In 1965, Earl Swift sold the business to his son and daughter-in-law, Larry and Carol Swift. Earl passed away in 1969. Carol and Larry kept the greenhouse operational at a steady pace with few changes until the 1970's when the "Houseplant" fad hit.
Larry added houseplants to the operation in 1972, a decision that allowed him to turn Swifts from a small, part-time, seasonal business into an expanded, full-time greenhouse operation. In 1973, a new head house was added which marked the first structural expansion in over 20 years! The new house made production and distribution more efficient, providing a more favorable environment for further expansion. Three of the next four years experienced the addition of new, double poly greenhouses as Swift's grew from 15,000 to 44,000 square feet (just over one acre) of greenhouse space. In the fall of 1979, disaster struck. A fire claimed the offices, planting area, and most of the original glass structure and Swift's was forced to close the doors in order to rebuild. When Swifts reopened the following spring, a new gutter connected greenhouse with a plastic roof had been built. Meanwhile, a new vision was developing in the horticulture industry - the houseplant market was fading and garden plants were making a comeback. With the increasing popularity of bedding plants and perennials, new production methods were being tested. The concept was to give each seedling starter plant its own root system (cell) so that each plant remained virtually undisturbed during transplanting. This marked the end of tearing roots apart when removing each plant from the tray which, in turn, produced healthier plants that finished more uniformly and faster in the pot. Thus the individual cell system, called a "Plug", was created.
Swifts had been experimenting with plugs before the fire and continued working on this new technology during their rebuilding. Over the next few years, Swifts concentrated on expanding their annual and perennial potted plant production while their seedling plug technology expanded and the plug market developed into a permanent product listing. In 1987, Larry and Carol's eldest son, Scott, joined the business, taking over much of production while continually fine-tuning Swifts plug processes. A 22,000 square foot plug range was added in 1989 as Swifts plunged full force into the plug production world. This new facility was equipped with grow lights, rolling benches with root zone heat, a shade/energy curtain, automatic watering, and computerized temperature controls.
Swifts produces over 20 million perennial, herb, and annual seedling plugs per year, which are sold through brokers and shipped to greenhouses in all 50 states and Canada. The Swifts have created a demand for these products by producing top quality plants. A prime example of this is the vernalized (cold-treated) large plugs which are sold as mature, dormant root systems that flower the first year when grown-on by the consumer. This is a unique concept as most perennials do not flower until their second summer in the garden. Swift Greenhouses, Inc. has 90 employees during peak season, and 60 full time employees, including all five members of the Swift family. The current greenhouse structures consist of nearly four acres of plastic and glass growing space. Swifts grow over 1,300 different varieties of perennials, herbs, and annuals, in both plugs and potted products. Potted (finished) plants and hanging baskets are still trucked to greenhouses and garden centers in the spring, just as Earl's plants once were, with delivery routes expanded to include: most of Iowa and parts of Minnesota, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. While the sale of these spring potted plants continues to grow, the perennial plug production is the primary focus for the remaining nine months of the year. The plants grown over the last 60+ years have awarded Swifts' the reputation for producing reliable, top quality plants; making Swift Greenhouses, Inc. one of the top perennial producers in the United States.
The Swift family and employees mourn the passing of Carol Ann Swift, the Matriarch of the Swift Family and the business, on January 26, 2017. Carol, aka "Grandma Carol", lived and breathed the Greenhouse business almost as much as she lived for her grandchildren, and was often in the office late at night doing her paperwork, so she could spend quality time with her grandchildren during the day. Everyone is pitching in to fill the void left by Carol's absence, but no one could ever fill her shoes. She was one of a kind and will always be missed.
Remember, Swifts' plants thrive, as our motto says…
"Our Plants are Thrivers"