GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Their passion for plants is obvious as John and Tillie Ingham show off their offerings at the Open Arms Garden in the Germania section of the township.
The Inghams lovingly describe the unusual flowers and grasses they planted in greenhouses on their property, which serves as a garden and nursery. There are the blue-purple Rozanne geraniums that bloom in mid-spring with flowers that remain until the first frost, native reed grass from the Mississippi Delta, and Willow Leaf Blue Stars that turn yellow in the fall.
“This is a labor of love,” John Ingham said of the family business. “We just love gardening.”
John Ingham, 52, has an agriculture degree from Cook College at Rutgers University. He works as a union roofer to pay the bills while the gardening business grows. But his education still comes in handy, as he sometimes lectures to area flower and garden clubs.
Tillie Ingham, 49, said she also loves to work the soil of the 5-acre property that serves as both their home and business. Even before the illness that caused her to need a wheelchair, they had a dream of creating a garden for people with disabilities.
Although the area to accommodate those with handicaps probably won’t open for several years, the design is complete, John Ingham said. It will be surrounded by bamboo, and have eight or nine separate areas. For visitors with visual impairments, scents will also play a role in the experience.
But those plans are on hold for now, as Open Arms Garden builds greenhouses and its customer base, the Inghams said.
Open Arms Garden created a niche by specializing in plants that cannot be found at area garden centers, John Ingham said. They might be harder to grow and not suitable for mass production, new varieties just introduced to the market or rare plants.
They mostly sell perennials, which can be planted once and then bloom year after year, Tillie Ingham said.
“The lower maintenance the better,” Tillie Ingham said. “Give it a little water and let it grow.”
Most of the plants are native to the East Coast, and before offering them for sale, the couple conducts research to make sure they can survive New Jersey winters, the Inghams said.
One of their more unusual offerings is a Blue Velvet Honeysuckle. Open Arms is the only place in this part of the country that carries it, John Ingham said. He uses cuttings from the plant to start new ones.
“I ordered it once from an obscure nursery in the Midwest, and the next year, they stopped selling it,” he said.
Open Arms Garden started about five years ago, and makes most of its money by selling plants at local shows such as Smithville’s Mayfest and the Ocean City Flower Show, the Inghams said.
Tillie Ingham said she and her husband built the greenhouses with the help of a friend. Their daughters Savanna Rose, 19, Alexis, 16, and Tara, 7, help out, as do other relatives.
They decide which plants to cultivate through research and customer requests, John Ingham said.
“Lots of times, we’ll start growing something because someone asked if we have it,” he said. “If it’s nice and not at the garden centers, we try to have it.”
They started selling on the Internet in February 2010 to make more money after John Ingham got laid off from construction jobs. They made about a dozen sales last year, each from a different state, and several so far this year. They offer free delivery anywhere in Atlantic County.
As they traveled the southern New Jersey craft-fair and flower-show circuit, they learned that many area residents share their deep passion for gardening, Tillie Ingham said.
“You plant something in the yard, and go out there at the end of the day, or even years from now, and enjoy it,” she said.
Contact Elaine Rose:
Open Arms Garden
Owners: John and Tillie Ingham
Address: 140 North Leipzig Avenue, Galloway Township
Started: About five years ago
Hours: Varies, call for appointment, 609-965-0067