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Growing A Legacy

The Heitmann sisters possess a unique ability to make a person jealous. They accomplish the feat in many ways. Without a doubt, they aren’t trying to, but like all the rare people we meet that have found what they love and have learned to make a life at it, the Heitmann sisters just have a way of making what they do seem glorious. Despite their world travels or award-winning recognitions, it’s the explanation of their daily tasks that is most impressive about their ability to make people envious of what they do and the life they’ve built. Picking off bugs. Power washing dirty pots. Moving 80 flats of dirt, from inside to outside, before moving it all back later that night, just sounds like a dream scenario when you hear it from them.

Each of those tasks are common for the sisters, Jill and Jan. On most days, they join their team to do the work. By noon (most times earlier), their fingernails are caked in dirt. That’s how they prefer it anyways. It’s just what you do if you’ve grown up in the garden center, nursery and landscaping business.

After 40 years working at All Seasons Garden Center—the 14-acre site their parents, Georgia and Deiter, transformed from a vacant chunk of ground on the outskirts of Grand Forks into a community staple and regional garden center mecca—Jill and Jan are still certain that every day they wake up, and every day they head for home, time spent surrounded by plants and trees and people couldn’t have been spent any better.

When you ask them about how they spend their days or why they never chose to do anything else, it all just sounds inspiring. It’s not just about the act of potting annuals in the spring, placing Poinsettia cuttings or fussing over seedlings that makes it all sound so glamorous. Nobody finds watching plants grow that exciting or fast-paced (except for maybe, Jan). It’s everything else about their lives, their history of growing plants, growing families and growing their parents’ business together that makes you think hypothetically about starting a garden center, or actually joining their team or even just returning to All Seasons as soon as possible.

A Life Of Growing

The sisters started working for the family business as soon as they were old enough to pot plants. Dieter and Georgia opened a garden center in Langdon in 1970 before moving their operation to Grand Forks. In 1978, they dug a pond to get dirt to build up the current location. In 1979, the first greenhouse was completed. Dieter did the cement work—all of it. That is how most of their family story goes. They all pitched in, doing most things themselves. In 1980, the main showroom, garden store, gift shop, floral department, garage and work areas were completed. Over the years, Dieter became known as a tree expert. He started a massive nursery that is now highly respected. Jill remembers driving down backroads with her dad and him slamming on the brakes. There would be nothing to see—no deer, or moose or anything out of sorts. Her dad would stop though, she explains, when he saw a rare tree breed for the region, no matter if it was in a ditch or off on the horizon, hidden in a shelterbelt. He’d always see them, and he would always stop. Jill never minded.

Today, Georgia goes on the radio to talk plants. She’s become a regional gardening celebrity. The region extends farther than you might think. Both Jill and Jan think someone should write a book on their parents, no matter the angle. It be about business, gardening or how to live a dream.

As kids, the sisters remember running around the annual Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce dinners. They were the only youngsters involved with their family business present at the meetings. Their mom was one of only a handful of women running a business. Jill’s kids have all learned to drive tractors, dirt bikes or cars at the greenhouse sites. Starting this year, Jill and Jan also be learning more about running the business. The pair has officially taken it over from Georgia and Deiter. Both still work, but the sisters are bringing them all into the future with their own, new executive titles. The funny part is, trying to get the sisters to talk about themselves or their operation in the future always ends up in some kind of story about their parents and the past.

Outside the main shop, they’ve added greenhouses and growing space. Inside, they are constantly changing the look and offerings to match the trends of the times. Every family -member is trained that during rain storms, they need to rush back to the greenhouse to close up the vents. Jill says its become a fun game.

In 1997, they had a rough year because of the flood. Jill recounts a moment from ’97 that she says has always stuck with her and helps remind her why they run a business predicated on bringing in people.

“A man came in from out of town covered in muck water from the flood. He looked tired. He was stressed like all of us,” she explains. “I’ll never forget watching him walking over to the hanging baskets and grabbing two huge baskets. He paid, and then left to go back to where ever it is he was going. Probably some place that needed work. He was carrying those two big baskets with his arms stretched out trying not to bump them on anything. He was trying to make someone’s day better at a time that was tough on everyone.”

A Day Of Growing

Trying to get Jan to tell you her favorite plant is like trying to lift a spoon with just your mind, it’s basically impossible. She has traveled the world to plant shows, plant trials, plant sales and just about anywhere there are plants. According to her, she took her first vacation when she was already years, not months into her job. During the spring, most of them work 80 hours per week because they grow several hundred varieties of different types of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees. The plants are all attention-heavy. At least that is what Jan says.

Jill recalls the number “88”, the number of days she and her dad worked straight at one point. Each spring they have a step count competition. Most days they average 34,000 steps, moving back and forth from the main plant display areas to storage areas. For context, the average smart watch congratulates you at the end of a long day if you’ve managed to reach 10,000 steps. In the winter months, they try to remember the spring days when they are moving snow outside away from the greenhouses. Every four years the plastic on the greenhouses has to be replaced. They have always tried to recycle as many materials as possible, including dirt. Some of the benches in the front of the store are potting benches from an earlier time.

The list of employees that have left and come back is long. The list of employees that never left is always growing. Both recount employees that met and fell in love during their time potting annuals together. Some of them even got married at the actual greenhouse. Dieter and Georgia have been the best man and woman for at least one of the weddings.

Even though the signage has a vintage feel, Jill and Jan are on the cutting edge of plant, décor and landscaping trends along with business strategies. Jan considers the greenhouse an incredible creative outlet and spends countless hours coming up with new arrangement ideas, display items, or plants to bring in. Lately, succulents have been popular. The classes they put on to help people learn how to plant them or care for them, prove it.

Jill has proven she could run an operation of any size. She can expound on tax codes, building practices, business announcements and shopping trends like a Wall Street analyst. There’s a reason All Seasons will keep on growing.

“We are always looking for the next trends,” Jan says.

Jill agrees. They enjoy hearing comments about the quality of their plants almost more than anything. The only thing that tops that, Jan says, is when people tell them they come back every year because it is a family tradition.

They’ve found a way to capture the nostalgia of previous times with the modern buying desires of today. Just grab some coffee there. The single shot espresso maker from Keurig is placed on an old cast iron stove that has to be 80 years old.

It’s easy to see that the sisters will implement changes, and easier to see why they won’t. All Seasons has become a place in this community that people know about even if they’ve never been there. It’s got what every business, or family, or person wants. It makes you jealous, in a good way. It’s a place that makes you want to have been there for all those years with Georgia and Deiter as they grew their place in the region. Luckily, thanks to the sisters, we still have that chance. G

// To view the full story, check out the digital issue here


From Issue 2, 2019


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