As the summer-of-love sound of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” echoes through the shady grounds of Groovy Plants Ranch, shoppers give their toddlers and dogs a leisurely wagon ride, pulling them slowly along while oohing and aahing over hanging baskets brimming with lush begonias and showy pots of scarlet geraniums, paprika-colored coral bells, and jewel-toned dianthus. The garden center’s signage displays 1960s-inspired shades of orange and lime, and a turquoise VW hippie bus does double duty as an unconventional planter and popular photo-op spot for customers. Every spring, owner and Consolidated Cooperative member Jared Hughes plants the coleus, impatiens, and other plants sprouting from the vehicle’s roof.
“It’s a ceremonial planting to mark Ohio’s first frost-free date,” says Jared, “but I also do it because people love taking pictures beside the bus and posting them all
over the internet.”
Situated along a rural road about 30 miles north of Columbus, Groovy Plants Ranch is a 5-acre complex where Jared and his wife, Liz, grow and sell plants that they ship to customers around the world. It opened in 2016, but Jared began cultivating the business in his late teens while studying landscape design at Columbus State Community College and working at a Delaware County greenhouse. “I started growing succulents in my room because they’re easy to care for and propagate,” Jared says. “It was a side hustle to earn extra Smoney.”
Succulents such as agave, aloe vera, and cactus were the happening plants of the 1960s, and along with his green thumb, Jared acquired an ear for classic rock music. Selling his blast-from-the-past plants at farmers markets, he gave his budding business a groovy name that was a natural fit for succulents. By 2015, Jared and Liz were wholesaling succulents out of a greenhouse he constructed on his parents’ farm near Cardington.
“Liz and I are very complementary because she is great at design and adds artistic flair to whatever we do,” says Jared. A former teacher, Liz has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Kent State. She spearheaded Groovy Plants Ranch’s online store and conducts workshops on topics ranging from terrarium planters to gardening for pollinators. “My classes are a fun activity to do with friends or on a date,” she says. “I teach people how to care for the plants they take home.”
Besides its extraordinary array of succulents and cacti, Groovy Plants Ranch also carries annuals, herbs, vegetables, houseplants, and rare plants such as Monstera albo variegata (a philodendron relative with fenestrated green-and-white leaves) and Tillandsia tectorum (a silver-colored air plant from Ecuador). Calisia repens Bianca, a dainty houseplant with pink and green leaves, is a best-seller, but the coolest plant has to be the canary wings begonia that took Jared several years to develop.
“Canary wings were lightning in a bottle,” says Jared. “One day I noticed a gold fleck on the leaf of a dragon wing begonia, so I did clone after clone after clone until I got a stable, all-gold plant.” Shade-loving canary wings have bright red flowers that contrast beautifully with their unique yellowish leaves, and after patenting the plant, Jared partnered with a major seed company to bring it to market. Today, canary wings begonias are sold internationally, and at Groovy Plants Ranch, they practically fly off the shelves.
If its vast plant selection weren’t enough, Groovy Plants Ranch also offers a potpourri of far-out experiences. Customers get to shop for premium seeds and arty greeting cards in an 1869 schoolhouse or relish planting something green and gorgeous at the Potter’s Saloon. Featuring an open bar, the self-serve saloon has two kinds of soil on tap — Jungle Boogie for house plants and True Grit for succulents and cacti. A la Simon and Garfunkel, the Hugheses have created a groovy-feelin’ oasis where people come to slow down and watch the flowers growin’. “We are very intentionally taking a different approach to the typical garden center model,” says Jared, “and we always have unique and unusual plants to sell.”
Groovy Plants Ranch, 4140 County Road 15, Marengo, OH 43334. 740-675-2681; www.groovyplantsranch.com.