Bell Nursery grows lavender, coleus, pansies, gerbera daisies, mums and other flowers, plus shrubs such as barberry, arborvitae and juniper. Growing eco-friendly plants sustainably is what they do, all the while delivering locally-grown plants to hundreds of The Home Depot stores.
Bell Nursery is among the more than 150 growers working closely with The Home Depot. The Home Depot is committed to partnering with environmentally-conscious nurseries such as Bell Nursery because hardy plants sourced locally means that the plants don’t need to travel far to reach your garden. This grower to garden philosophy and sustainable practice keeps plants fresh and thriving in your home garden.
“The Home Depot has always been encouraging of us to pursue sustainable initiatives,” says Brett Guthrie, chief operating officer of Bell Nursery, based in Elkridge, Md.
Bell Nursery produces and ships more than 100 million locally grown plants each year. Within just a few hours of leaving any Bell Nursery farm or greenhouse, the annuals, perennials, shrubs and – during the holidays – poinsettias, travel to stores in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia, as well as parts of North Carolina, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska
Bell Nursery grows plants on 350 acres and in 75 acres of company-owned greenhouses. Another 65 acres of greenhouses grow plants through various other local farms who work closely with Bell Nursery.
Bell Nursery uses cutting-edge growing practices in its plant production. Bell grows ‘Veriflora Sustainably Grown’ plants. This certification involves many audits of facilities and practices and is considered the gold standard in the industries of floriculture and horticulture.
For its part, Bell Nursery meets or exceeds benchmarks for sustainable crop production, product quality, employee health and safety, ecosystem protection and product purity. It’s an important milestone for the nursery.
Another important milestone came in 2014 when Bell Nursery began growing plants without neonicotinoids, known also as neonics, as it experimented with beneficial insects and other neonic-free methods to control pests. Bell earned a reputation as one of the first growers for The Home Depot to produce plants without neonics. Now just about all plants sold by The Home Depot get produced without neonics.
Bell Nursery began keeping bees at their Burtonsville, Md., location in 2015 to test if the bee population would grow as a result. Bell Nursery’s beekeepers quickly learned after losing some initial hives that the bees faced many other pressures from varroa mites, deformed wing virus, small hive beetles and other associated pests and diseases.
Last year, the nursery overcame these issues and had its most successful colony yet. All 19 bee hives thrived.
“We’re very excited and we may even get some honey,” says Cole Mangum, vice president of production at Bell.
Like other greenhouses and plant farms, Bell Nursery produces a lot of plastic and cardboard from its day-to-day business operations. Bell Nursery does its part by recycling everything from old nursery pots and plant tags to signage.
The nursery also sources sustainable wind energy to power some of its facilities.
“A number of our sites utilize wind power and we recycle more than a half-million pounds of plastic and cardboard each year,” Guthrie says. “We hope customers will understand that when they buy a Bell-grown plant, they are getting a product that was produced thoughtfully and with our communities in mind.”
Like a firmly rooted perennial putting out new shoots, Bell Nursery recently began a new chapter in its decades-old story. The grower began expanding into new markets such as Nebraska since being acquired by Central Garden & Pet last year.
“Being part of the Central family has really energized us,” Guthrie says. “Central Garden & Pet has been an amazing owner and partner in our business.”
Bell Nursery has come a long way since its founding by Rose and Grafton Mangum in the late 1920s. The Mangums built a greenhouse behind their home in Silver Spring, Md., to sell cut flowers and potted plants to businesses in and around the District of Columbia. They also opened Mangum Florist, a retail florist business which still exists today as Bell Flowers.
Their daughter Lola bought the business in 1947 and changed the name to Bell, her married name. Their son Robert Mangum, who is Cole Mangum’s grandfather, purchased the business in 1956 and went on to build greenhouses in Burtonsville, Md., in the late 70s.
Bell Nursery has grown alongside The Home Depot since 1995. Cole Mangum has been involved since he was around 11 years old, when he recalls helping build greenhouses. He also reflects on family memories of grandfather’s house, which sits near the entrance of the greenhouse property in Burtonsville, Md.
“We would often have Sunday dinners at my grandfather’s house with the extended family,” Cole Mangum says. “I learned to fish in the pond at the greenhouse at a young age with my father. I recently took my 3-year-old son fishing in the same pond for his first time.”
Today, his grandfather’s home features a vast trial garden (pictured above) used to put plants to the test.
Bell’s trial garden (pictured above) is one of a handful for The Home Depot nationwide. Trial gardens put new varieties of plants to the test so home gardeners can be assured that only the hardiest plants make it from Bell Nursery and other greenhouse growers to your garden.
Of the plant business today, Cole Mangum says, “I love the fact we are dealing with living, beautiful plants that are going to make someone else happy. To be able to get up from a desk and walk out to see acres of flowers in a greenhouse is a special part of this job. I also really enjoy the challenge of it. No two days are the same.”