It isn’t uncommon for retirees to pick up a hobby or two to fill their newfound spare time. However, when Linda Cleland retired from nursing nearly 15 years ago, she embraced her love for gardening, but says she never anticipated either becoming a greenhouse keeper twice over or a business owner.

The 63-year-old grandmother says with the help of family and the company of her two llamas and cat, Charlie, the Greenhouse at Windy Hill, located at just five miles outside of Hope at 9011 N 325 E., has become a seasonal gathering place for all things flowers and fairies and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

With Windy Hill recently reopened, she took a few minutes to chat about the history of Windy Hill, what she loves about the town of Hope, what makes her nursery uniquely stand out against the big box stores and her hopes for the future of small business in Hope.

Q: Tell us how the Greenhouse at Windy Hill came to be.
A: Well, I’ve always loved plants. My dad was a huge gardener and flower person and I grew up doing all that. I am a LPN, so when I retired from nursing completely in 2008, my kids graduated from college, married and were on their own, my husband, Jeff, said, “You know, you’ve always wanted to do this.”
I had helped at a greenhouse seeding and just very part-time when they needed somebody. So 13 years ago this coming year we built our first greenhouse. I’ve just been doing it ever since. I took a master gardening course about 15 or 16 years ago and I am still learning stuff. I read a lot and I have friends who help me with different things if I need it. I love it.

Q: How big was the first greenhouse?
A: Well, this one is a 28 foot wide by 48 foot long greenhouse. I was actually going to put up a smaller one, but found the hoops to this one and thought it was going to be plenty big. But I outgrew it very quickly. My second one is 24 feet wide by 50 feet long.

Q: If you would, please give us a glimpse into what you grow and what that process is like.
A: I start at the end of February. I have grow lights and heat pads in my house because I don’t heat my greenhouse in the wintertime. I start seedlings in the house in February. Then, at the end of February/first of March, I get in what are called tiny plugs, or cuttings. And I start planting those around the very first of March. I plant annual bedding plants, like geraniums, impatiens, begonias. And then I grow hanging baskets, vegetable plants, and herbs. And this coming year I am planning to do a lot of perennials. They are something people are getting more interested in, since they come back every year.

Q: What else do you offer? And is there anything new this year?
A: Not everyone knows this, but during the very first week of December, I deliver poinsettias to churches, fundraisers and that sort of stuff. My greenhouse is completely full of poinsettias, but it is a pre-order thing. I grow them up and ship them out the first week of December and I’m done.
A new thing I started this year is I planted a cut flower garden. I have a rather large cut flower garden and I do Mason jar flowers that are real inexpensive. And along with that I’ve bigger bouquets for birthdays and I’ve done some funeral flowers. I also have a few offices who buy flowers from me every week.

Q: What would you say is the biggest challenge you’ve run into?
A: The weather. Namely, the wind. We live up on a little hill and we have cornfields around us. Of course, my greenhouse is Windy Hill and we have so much wind. In the springtime it just beats you down. Last year, with the pandemic, we pulled everything out into the yard every single day so people could shop. It was so difficult with the wind. I don’t have any help, which that is my choice. My younger brother helps me out part-time with physical stuff. Some days are very long with the watering; some days that is all you get done. But I kind of enjoy the quietness and having some time to myself.

Q: That is a lot of work. What kind of hours do you put into this on a daily/weekly basis would you say?
A: Right now is a slow time because I’m only a seasonal business. When I’m open I can easily spend 14 hours a day outside and often don’t take lunch. I usually get somewhere between 18,000 and 22,000 steps a day when I’m out there. It’s very time consuming. It isn’t a money-making thing.

Q: What are your business hours?
A: This year I am going to do it differently because I’m getting older and I’m wearing down. I am going to be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I open the last week of April and usually close the second week of June. And then I reopen at the end of August and I’m open until the end of September with mums, cabbage, kale and that sort of stuff.

Q: What do you enjoy most about what you’re doing now?
A: I’ve always been one to be around people. That was kind of a worry of mine staying at home. I enjoy the friendships I’ve made. That’s been the greatest thing. There’s been people come who I would have never met had I not done this. We are flower friends. Every now and again I will have luncheons out here and garden clubs come. I have big flower gardens out here where people can roam around.

Q: How large of an area is it people can tour?
A: The area is about two acres.

Q: What other treasures does Windy Hill offer?
A: One of the things my granddaughters love and kids who come out is the fairy garden. It’s an old beech tree that was hollow and it had to come down. I put a door in it and it is a big fairy garden and is a fun attraction when people come to visit.

Q: Tell us about your four-legged residents.
A: We have two llamas who roam around, they’re just big dogs. They’re pets. We have Baby Einstein. We called him Baby for the longest time and my husband said the name Baby just wouldn’t do for a male llama. I had an older llama that lived to be 28 years old and his name was Einstein. So, we named this one Baby Einstein, he’s five years old. And the other one is Rosie, she’s six years old. They are brother and sister. When they see people coming they are standing at the fence waiting. They like the interaction with people. They like to be petted and for people to give them grass. We have bicyclists who come by and they will have crackers or bread with them and they’ll stop and feed the llamas. And, of course, the llamas know what the people are going to do so they go running over.

Q: And your resident feline?
A: He’s named Charlie. He loves everybody. He‘s a greenhouse cat and lays up on the counter.

Q: Did you ever envision yourself as a business owner?
A: No. Never. I am not a business person. I don’t have a business mind. My husband does, he’s a business major. He was the business manager for 30-some years and he just retired. He helps me a lot because I just want to grow flowers and interact with people and enjoy this. I don’t want it to be a burden.

Q: What is it about Windy Hill that makes it stand out against big box stores?
A: We keep our plants watered and fertilized and we pay attention to our plants. It is also the personal attention you give to customers. They like for you to take the time to explain things sometimes. I can sit down with people and I think the personal part of it is what sets us little ones apart.

Q: What do you enjoy most about being in the Hope area?
A: My husband and I both graduated from Hauser. All our friends are in Hope. The owners of Duck Creek Gardens are good friends of ours and they graduated the year before we did. I don’t consider that I am fighting against them. If I don’t have something, I send people to her greenhouse and she does the same for me. I love the tight-knit community. We attend the Moravian Church and I’ve no intentions of moving anywhere else. I like the connection you have with the people here. And they’ve supported me. It’s been very nice.

Q: As Hope’s business district continues to thrive and more businesses open in Hope, what are your hopes for the future?
A: I want more businesses to come in and see what our little town is like. It is a beautiful little town and the people are so friendly. I’m hoping we get more businesses in and people support them.

For more information about the Greenhouse at Windy Hill, visit them on Facebook, email mailthegreenhouse@gmail.com or call 812-371-0163.