“I’ve never been in the nursery business,” said George Peterson, sporting a Peninsula Nursery hooded sweatshirt inside the cluttered office of the former Peninsula Nurseries at 1060 Sequim-Dungeness Way.
“I’ve been in real estate as an investor and I always loved this old farmhouse. One day I came here and bought 50-plus lavender plants for my vacation rentals … and pretty much walked out with the farmhouse and the business.”
Peterson, a 2000 Sequim High School graduate, had spent his post-grad years living in 30 different countries and crisscrossing the United States, returning to Sequim in 2005 after a busy career in sales, marketing, construction and real estate investment. He partnered with longtime friends Justin Forshaw and Jordan Rich to form PNW Developers, LLC.
“I didn’t know the business was something I was going to acquire — this was more of a real estate play for me — and I decided I needed to bring in somebody who knew what they were doing (horticulturally) so I can focus on the business and better business practices,” Peterson said.
Having a history of community service
There’s been a nursery at the intersection of Old Olympic Highway and Port Williams Road for nearly 30 years, moving through different hands. Roger Fell, a Sequim-area landscaper for decades, owned it twice, from the 1990s to 2004 and again from 2011 to March 1, 2017, as Peninsula Nurseries. Fell also worked on some of Sequim’s largest landscaping projects, including Sunland and Dominion Terrace. He also became involved in the community, too, serving on the City of Sequim parks board, Sequim Lavender Growers Association board from 2006-2015 and the SHS agriculture department advisory board.
In 2002, Fell was honored by his peers with the Pacific Nurseryman Outstanding Service Award “for significant contributions to the Washington state nursery/landscaping industry, having been the state association president in 1996. Fell also is a Bronze Star recipient who served in Vietnam and Thailand from 1966-1970. He and his wife, Thuy, who live in the farmhouse, are looking to rent in Sequim. The transfer of property should occur in about 45 days.
Onward with a vision
Peterson changed the name from Peninsula Nurseries to Peninsula Nursery and new signage went up last weekend with a new logo to make the distinction on the 2.28-acre property.
Over the decades Fell made a living but it became more difficult of late as he approaches his 70th birthday.
“The reality has been this nursery has been on life support for quite a while. Roger did his best with his failing health,” Peterson said, “but the nursery has been neglected … I love taking something neglected and put in energy and attention and seeing it come around. We’re going to have a sale into April to try to sell off quite a lot of inventory and focus on quality rather than quantity.”
In his business models, the 35-year-old Peterson will convert five greenhouses not being used, and a sixth new one, to ramp up plant propagation, including venturing into aquaponics by focusing heavily on micro-greens such as sprouts, arugula and baby spinach. The micro-greens will be for wholesale and retail sales. Peterson said he’s excited he can produce and harvest greens much faster with a “really low footprint.”
“We’ll offer full landscaping services — 75 percent of our customers are retail — so it makes sense to offer that service to help customers and help out our bottom line,” Peterson said.
As an astute businessman, Peterson has hired an experienced and professional staff including landscapers Paul West and Warren Ball; horticulturist Jason Lippert; and plans to hire a greenhouse manager/propagator.
“One thing I want to do as to making the nursery succeed is relying heavily on the team to make that happen,” Peterson said.
The nursery itself will be transformed in its ambience, Peterson promised.
“The whole thing has lots of potential. By July, this place will look more like Butchart Gardens by improving the aesthetic quality of the nursery with botanical gardens — it’s really going to be a beautiful place,” Peterson enthused.
“Within the next year, I’m going to build a microbrewery and take advantage of the mountain view — it will be a place for people to come out to relax with microbrews and food. I’m also opening a gift shop and an online store,” he said.
In tandem with the nursery’s transformation, Peterson, who feels that he and old homes are kindred spirits, will renovate the 1880 white-stuccoed farmhouse to its period style, but will add a modern kitchen and bathroom.
Once he’s restored the five-bedroom, two-bath home and the original 1940s milker’s house, now the office, he plans to rent them out as Air-bnb properties, but stressed, “I have every intention of making the farmhouse my forever home — its last renovation was in 1934. People seem pretty excited about the changes, including myself. I think this is right where I need to be.”
Author’s note: All though the Clallam County Assessor’s office has the farmhouse recorded as being built in 1880, it did not have the original builder’s name. In 1912, Jess Mantle moved to Sequim to be the school principal and later served as superintendent. He also was the city clerk for five years. He resigned from the school district in 1918 and purchased 60 acres surrounding the farmhouse to start a dairy farm, eventually owning 215 acres. At the junction of Sequim-Dungeness Way and Port Williams Road, the property became known as Mantle’s Corner and four generations of the Mantle family lived there.