Everyone who works at The Greenery is a part-owner of the company. PHOTOS COURTESY THE GREENERY

When the shingle was first hung at 960 William Hilton Parkway in 1973, The Greenery might have appeared like every other dime-a-dozen landscaper. Ruthie and Berry Edwards were determined that their company would be anything but typical. 

Their vision began with a couple of pickup trucks and a six-pack of employees that bought into their goal to do something different than just cutting the grass that never stops growing. The Edwardses wanted to hire the most knowledgeable and experienced landscaping and gardening staff in the area and motivate them to think bigger for their customers.

The economy goes up and down, and Mother Nature cooperates with the vision more some years than others, but that mission has stayed consistent, making The Greenery a foundational force in the growth of the Lowcountry service economy. 

The company is celebrating two epic achievements this year: the 50th anniversary of the company and the 20th birthday of its employee stock ownership plan. Before his retirement, Berry set up the plan to give his loyal crew true financial skin in the business they had helped develop and grow. By 2007, The Greenery became a 100% employee-owned company. 

“Above all else, we value the people that make up The Greenery,” said their son Lee Edwards, the company’s CEO. Lee grew up in the business, but more than that, he saw his parents’ passion for people and the rewards that can be achieved in fostering a collaborative culture. 

“From the commercial and residential sites to those in the offices, garden center and gift shop, The Greenery is composed of more than 800 dedicated individuals that have led to our success day in and day out.” 

Edwards was begrudgingly quoted here. 

As proud as he is of his family and the milestone, he wanted the spotlight to shine on the people who have driven the decades of success.

“That’s what drew me to The Greenery. It’s not just words. They set out every day to show their gratitude to their people,” said chief technology officer Janet DeNicola. “I worked for another landscape company that was more of the ‘mow, blow and go’ operation. I’ve been here 15 years and every step of the way, I’ve seen there are no ceilings for me here.”

DeNicola began in branch operations, then was promoted to director of business development before heading up the company’s tech backbone. 

“You see a hybrid culture here that is very difficult to create, let alone maintain. This is a mom-and-pop, family-owned business, but we’ve stretched to become a major corporate player in the industry,” she said. 

The Greenery is ranked No. 30 in the U.S. landscape industry, a stratosphere normally reserved for conglomerates backed by private equity groups.

“There is this thirst to innovate here. This is a male-driven industry, not many women at the corporate level, but there have never been limits for me here,” DeNicola said. “We’re proud of the diverse makeup of our team, but for me, it’s because you are only defined by your passion and your follow-through here. It was once unheard of for women to be operating zero-turn mowers, but here, if that’s your goal, there is a path to achieve any next level.”

A buy-in to a focus on safety, quality and to going above and beyond for the client are the base of every Greenery team member. Director of Workforce Development and Safety Jerry Ashmore came to the company 22 years ago, drawn by the almost cult status the company had achieved. He began with The Greenery just as the Edwardses were finalizing their ESOP rollout.

“When you have skin in the game, you care more, period. You attract good people and you keep them. We’re working for each other here, from top to bottom, because we know as the company grows and expands, the opportunities just keep coming,” Ashmore said. “We have people driven to evolve how we serve our clients. It’s exciting to work on some of the country’s most beautiful properties and to rise to the challenge of making them even prettier.”

Regional manager Miles Graves has helped lead the charge into new markets like Jacksonville, Amelia Island and Daytona in Florida and Greenville and Spartanburg in South Carolina. While every city has its unique makeup and landscape challenges, the drive to thrive born on Hilton Head is the blueprint.

“What’s driven my passion is the pursuit of greatness. I’ve had a competitive spirit and love nothing more than creating the most gorgeous striped lawn or a jaw-dropping floral display,” Graves said. “We create a vast amount of beauty for the community, but it will never be perfect. That’s the nature of nature, but it doesn’t mean we don’t try for that perfection and we love giving it a go.”

The keys to achieving those stunning landscapes year after year are similar to how the company continues its upward trajectory. The companies that get stagnant forget to water the garden. As hard as we tried to avoid nursery cliches, DeNicola was willing to indulge my analogy.

“There is a 401k with matching from the company. It doesn’t sound sexy, but there are not many companies with retirement funds or pensions in today’s corporate world,” DeNicola said. “It sounds cheesy, but those are the nutrients to growing and maintaining a vibrant team.”

The Greenery works with its partners to test and improve the newest innovations in both in-the-field technology and clean energy and backbone software that can improve efficiencies in managing the business. 

“Things like robotic mowers and battery-operated equipment, they aren’t taking jobs, they’re allowing us to concentrate our attention on other needs,” DeNicola said. “There is a low barrier to entry in this business, you buy some equipment and sure, anyone can ‘mow, blow and go.’ Planned health care, spraying, irrigation, a five-year plan to develop and maintain the plants as they grow more mature. The more efficient we can become, the more we can focus on the complexities that make us stand out.”

Nature is never the same. Ashmore said that is why the attention to the Edwards’ original vision persists and drives every decision in the company. It’s at the core of The Greenery becoming one of the largest and most respected landscaping companies in the Southeast.

“People are our greatest asset. The workforce challenges may change, the business climate may change, but we are consistent on attracting and keeping innovators on our team,” Ashmore said. “We’re always ready for the next curveball Mother Nature throws at us because we have the team with the knowledge and experience to adapt to any challenge.”

It’s what has folks like DeNicola, Graves and Ashmore excited for the next 50 years ahead.

“It’s fun. I enjoy working with our team and our clients,” Ashmore said. “When you know you’re part of a winning formula from the first-day employee to the CEO, it frees us all up to just dream up the next great plan, to create world-class beauty with every landscape.”

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. timwood@blufftonsun.com.