George (standing)

George (standing)

Georama: Still growing after all these years

Case, Imelda, and George Grypma carry on a flowery family tradition at their nursery and greenhouses located five minutes west of Nelson.

All photos by Tamara Hynd

From humble beginnings as a small flower stand in 1970 to commercial supplier, the Grypma family has turned their business into a bustling nursery, greenhouse and landscaping business.

Georama Growers is celebrating their 45th year, all under the helm of the same family. Located in Blewett, husband and wife Case and Imelda Grypma and Case’s brother George Jr. co-own the business started by their parents Anna and George Sr.

Pictured: George (standing), Imelda, and Case Grypma co-own Georama Growers.

The business began part-time in 1970 from a greenhouse while George Sr. worked elsewhere to support the family.

“They were a typical immigrant family,” said Case, describing his father as a man who would give someone the shirt off his back. At customers’ requests his dad started growing vegetables such as peppers and tomatoes. According to Case, his dad was a good landscaper, and when he was hired for a few large landscaping projects his mom was left to fend for herself. She couldn’t drive a car, but was “phenomenal,” said Case.

With six kids and no money she ensured the business grew. The Blewett location was a long drive for customers in those days so Anna set up a kiosk in front of Super-Valu (where the Nelson Commons project is currently under construction at Baker and Vernon streets.)

She got the family to build her a flower stand complete with a wishing well.

“She would get Uncle Joe to drive bedding plants into town to restock the stand,” said Case. This morphed into a flower shop on Baker St. so her husband started growing cut flowers and the shop became a full service FTD.

“Everyone will remember Anna,” said Case, who reminisced about his mom delivering flowers and the good connections she had with people and compassion she had when it came to funeral deliveries.

Case said this spearheaded their business, which is built on customer relationships. As a teenager Case delivered flowers and continued to do so once he became part-owner.

As Case, George Jr. and Imelda took over the business, Imelda loved doing wedding flowers and Case loved delivering them. “The expressions on peoples’ faces when they see the flowers … the biggest smiles … it’s the best.”

Spring the busiest season

The flower shop moved to its current location in the 1980s which now encompasses the nursery, garden centre and greenhouses as they are also a wholesaler for garden centres and flower shops in the Okanagan, Nelson, Rossland and Revelstoke.

Being a commercial supplier is a huge driver of their business today. But Case is quick to point out that it’s the hard work of the 12 full-time staff, which doubles in the spring rush, that makes the business thrive. Over the years Case has seen many employees earn professional horticulture certification, elevating the business as a whole.

Case estimates they seed and propagate 350,000 to 500,000 plants from seeds and cuttings, working 12-hour days, seven days a week from March to mid-June.

“It’s a huge commitment by everyone who works here,” said Case. He said the moment they sell the bulk of their bedding plants in June, they start asking “What did we miss?” and make adjustments.

They get a lot of feedback from customers, whose unique requests and tastes reveal new trends. For example, an order for strictly green and white plants potted in large containers for a Revelstoke wedding caught the eyes of customers on Mother’s Day as they tried to cart them to the checkout counter.

Georama is open year-round though it’s all geared toward spring. In the summer, folks are working on pond projects and people with vacation properties are planting trees and shrubs. They hold their annual sale in the fall.

While there is less of a selection, Case said fall is just as good a time as spring to plant trees and shrubs. Fall moves into winter when they convert the garden centre into all things Christmas.

During their December open house, Case said people are “absolutely gobsmacked” by the sea of red, candy cane and orange poinsettias. (They are currently pinching poinsettia tops to encourage plant density in their enormous crops which they supply to wholesale and retail customers throughout BC.)

Even if you haven’t been to Georama, you’ve likely seen their blooming handywork. Georama creates the massive over-flowing flowering baskets which adorn the charming light posts on downtown streets and at dozens of Nelson businesses.

Quality control

A quality product has always been a important to the business.

“We grow our own products and for other businesses which is really technical but it allows absolute quality control and product mix and we grow in our own climate,” said Case.

“[It’s] too small a town to sell a poor product,” he says, adding many businesses understand the value of curb appeal.

“If they are going to charge upscale prices, people realize the value of plants — that it’s behind people’s choices of where to go.”

Case said often customer requests and demands get them on the path to new trends and striking new finds like the planters at Ainsworth Hot Springs this year, which boast true orange petunias — something you wouldn’t find a few years ago. His description of the punchy orange flower mixed with petunias with a brilliant red outside and cherry red throat is striking.

“Because we are right here, we are able to advise people what to plant locally,” he said. “Elevation is critical.”

Nelson’s climate is good for growing dwarf conifers which are popular in Asian gardens and can make for peaceful retreats. Fairy gardens are a more recent trend. The miniature gardens can be whimsically-themed. Grasses are exploding too, he said.

In this era of water conservation xeriscaping, low maintenance plants and gardening techniques such as square foot gardens, raised beds, and drip irrigation are more popular every year.

Many people downsizing into condos are loading their balconies with container gardens.

“They still have this huge connection with the earth,” said Case, who raves about brazzle berries — dwarf raspberry and blueberry plants loaded with berries all summer.

Garden Cafe and playground

Georama has made a few changes in recent years.

Usha Peterson at the Garden Cafe.

This is the second year for their garden cafe that used to be the Case family home. They added a playground for children and now it’s more of a destination, as Case says young families are coming back to nurseries. People would ask if they could have something cold to drink after being in the warm greenhouses.

“The funny thing is often when people get a chance to rest and think about it, they decide to get the tree they were mulling over earlier.”

And after realizing they were getting the same questions from several customers, they began offering workshops from March to May.

They have also started hosting weddings, which began with the persistent request of Case’s daughter who was wed on the grounds two summers ago. Other special guests include school groups. Staff tour kids around the facility, teaching them about planting and what they do in the greenhouse. But the most popular part is the tractor rides. Instead of hay bales, they use stacks of bagged peat moss and children receive a small plant like a marigold to take home.

Grypma says after all this time, he still loves his career.

“I love the people and no two days are the same; one day I’m a small business man, carpenter, payroll clerk and another day a salesman.”

He and Imelda have been married for 38 years. “We work every single day together and I think we’re pretty lucky to be able to do this.”