Like every other day in business, the thousands of plants needed watering during the 4th of July weekend at Spangler’s Landscape and Garden Center in Morrison. Though a social gathering would’ve been fun, there was a business to tend to, so the Spanglers did just that.
From annuals and perennials, fruit trees and vegetables, shrubs, vines, mulch, rock, and garden décor, the five acres of land on the outskirts of Morrison’s city limits has evolved through 50 years of business, all while bringing beauty to untold yards and homes.
Lanny and Linda Spangler first opened the business in April 1971. He was working at National Tea grocery store, now Sullivan’s, and asked his boss if he’d mind him working part-time on a garden business. The Morrison couple soon found and eventually purchased the property at 12540 Lincoln Highway.
Back then there was a circle driveway, a bantam hen, and an inventory of evergreens - no rock, mulch, or other gardening staples, with perennials being unheard of at that time. It was the “school of hard knocks,” they said of getting the business off the ground.
As time went on, they incorporated the latest trends in landscape and built out the garden center next to their home. Linda, now 73, provided the primary care for the couple’s three children, plus the housework and managing the business.
Lanny, now 78, had the garden duties, with upkeep of the plants and landscape design and installation. Social time was spent at the kids’ ball games and going to Wiebenga’s drive-in for hamburgers.
Now with 50 years gone by, times have changed but memories remain. In the first decade, before the advent of cell phones, Lanny found himself helping many travelers who ran out of gas while on U.S. Route 30. Many big city folks would stop by the business, intrigued by the 100+ year old barn. A phone box was installed in the middle of the garden center to field the ever-increasing calls.
Early on, the Spanglers converted the bottom floor of the old farmer’s barn into a garden store, after extensive clean-up from the former calf occupants. It’s stocked with garden supplies, seeds, gnomes, terrariums, gazing balls, Isabel Blooms, bird baths, and the register. Displays of vibrantly colored blooms and healthy trees fill the grounds, while sprinklers nourish, and butterflies and bees pollinate.
The Spanglers source most of their inventory from nurseries in Oregon, Washington, Michigan, and Minnesota. All are winter hardy plants, and all come with a one-year guarantee under certain conditions.
“Despite being designated Zone 5, we’re really a Zone 4,” said Linda of their selection. Freight has gone up considerably this past year, they noted, but 2021 has been one of their best years yet.
The business has been an “all-consuming” venture for five decades, with landscape design, hardscape installation, retail sales, and ensuring the plants stay alive and healthy in all Midwestern weather conditions.
Nowadays, both are feeling the effects of age, with sore backs and a slower pace. She’s still a night owl, often working until midnight, and he’s in bed early so he can be up and at it by 4 a.m. He often takes a small nap after lunch to power him through the afternoon.
With a dedicated crew of employees, the labor is shared and the fruits are many. Kendra Kirk of Morrison, an employee for the past nine years, said the best part of the job is “being around all the plants,” where it’s hard to be in a bad mood. She helps with plant care and says the business brings in familiar faces each day.
Linda and Lanny have three children - Jim, the youngest, works on the Spangler’s landscape crew and has his own lawn care business, David lives in Sterling and works for Agri-King, and Lauri lives in Long Grove.
There are seven grandchildren between the ages of 6-34, and one great-granddaughter. Two friendly cats – Howard and Fern – wander around the garden center, and another cat and dog reside in the house.
At the end of the growing season, the remaining plants are moved to a greenhouse in the winter, bringing more days of hard work. But the secret to success has been a sense of humor and love and devotion to their chosen profession.
Hours are 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Sundays. Call 815-772-4318 for inquiries or visit their Facebook page for more information.