Original Greenhouses on Piney Branch Rd (circa 1940).
Original Greenhouses on Piney Branch Rd (circa 1940).
Bell Nursery is an innovative company focused on growing great quality flowers and seeing their care through retail. Two industry-leading programs – the Growers Network and dedicated in-store merchandising team have set the standard for greenhouse expansion and retail partnership.
Bell’s Growers Network is made up of 35 family farms who invested in greenhouses and began growing flowers for Bell Nursery as our company expanded and required additional growing space. These independent owner-operators have diversified their income, reduced risk, and added substantial annual income, while growing fewer than 6 months a year. Their hands-on approach to growing has led to even better quality flowers that are locally grown and reach retail within just a few hours of leaving the greenhouse.
Once the plants reach The Home Depot, Bell’s merchandising team is on-site to take, set and sign the deliveries, and care for the plants until they are put into customer shopping carts. These purple shirts are also available to answer customer questions and provide plant selection and care assistance.
The two programs, combined with owner focus and leadership have led to Bell success in the industry and marketplace. The company continues to grow at a rate of more than 10% a year, and offers more than 900 seasonal garden center positions each spring.
Bell Nursery rooted almost a century ago when Rose and Grafton Mangum built a greenhouse behind their home in Langley Park, Md. They initially sold Greenhouse grown flowers at the Woman’s Farm Market in Silver Spring, Md., and eventually to wholesale florists in Washington D.C. In the 1930s, the Mangums opened Mangum Florist in Silver Spring, and later sold it to their daughter, Lola Mangum Bell, in 1947. Lola renamed the florist Bell Flowers and moved to the Georgia Avenue location it holds today. Bell Flowers sold again in 1956 to Lola’s brother, Bob, who’d recently returned from service in the Marines. Bob, along with his wife, Shirley continued to operate and grow Bell Flowers as they raised their family and expanded its footprint.
Bell Flowers operated successfully for many years and, in the late 1960s, Bob and Shirley sensed a coming tropical plant boom. They founded Creative Plantings, one of the nation’s first, and eventually largest interiorscape companies providing interior plants and care in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metro areas. Then, in order to increase buying power and increase retail plants sales, they also opened Interior Plant Distributors (IPD), a first of its kind 35,000-square-foot tropical plant mega center in Rockville, Md. A front-page article in The Washington Post set off a tropical plant buying frenzy in the 1970’s, and business boomed. Gary began his career in the family business while working at IPD.
Bob and Shirley’s son, Gary Mangum, was embedded in the family trades early on. In high school, he grew spider plants in the school greenhouse, and sold them for $5 to teachers and family friends. When he graduated in 1974 he went to work for Creative Plantings to help pay for college while attending the University of Maryland and Towson.
Meanwhile, family friend, Mike McCarthy also began working with Creative Plantings in high school, and eventually married Gary’s sister, Lisa.
In 1978, the Mangums purchased a 55-acre property on Bell Road in Burtonsville, Md. In order to help meet the potted plant and floral needs for the family’s various businesses, they began construction of what would become Bell Nursery – when interest rates were at 19%.
The Mangums sold Creative Plantings in 1992 and when Bob and Shirley retired in 1994 Gary and Mike purchased Bell Nursery as partners. Gary focused on the sales and merchandising side of the business, while Mike concentrated on operations and finance. Later in the decade the two also started Premier Plantscapes, a leading interior and specialty exterior landscape provider in the Washington D.C. and Baltimore metro areas.
Without the guaranteed sales to Creative Plantings, the duo needed to find new customers. Gary began visiting independent garden centers and larger retailers to gauge opportunities. He saw an opening in the areas of quality and service. In 1995, Vinnie Naab, a respected merchant for The Home Depot recognized Bell’s quality difference – big, colorful flowers. He gave Bell Nursery an opportunity to stock 100 New Guinea impatiens hanging baskets – they sold out in one day. That first summer, Bell had the opportunity to stock a small percentage of the annual bedding plants at one Home Depot location in Catonsville, Md.
This photo (right), taken in the 1990s shows a cart of Bell-grown flowers (right) compared to a cart from another grower (left). This picture played a pivotal role in Bell’s expanding business with The Home Depot.
Over the next few years, Bell earned additional shelf space at an increasing number of The Home Depot garden centers and saw the business grow as The Home Depot was aggressively expanding. Today Bell provides the colorful annuals, and all live goods – including trees, shrubs, perennials, tropicals and specialty items, and has expanded to serve nearly two hundred locations from Raleigh to Philadelphia, and west to the Ohio Valley.
Bell Nursery established an industry-leading merchandising team to care for the plants and provide customer service in the store. They opted to invest in on-site teams to take deliveries, set and sign plant displays and care for and maintain inventory. In addition, Bell merchandisers work with Home Depot associates to provide outstanding customer service by answering customer questions, offering plant suggestions and care information. Today, Bell’s merchandising team consists of approximately 1,100 full-time, part-time, and seasonal individuals during peak season.
As Bell grew with The Home Depot, so did demands for additional plant material and growing space. Over the years, several greenhouses and ranges have been added to the company’s operations. In addition, Gary and Mike conceived and established Bell’s Grower’s Network – made up of 40 family farmers, primarily in Maryland, who grow plants for Bell Nursery. It’s a successful, win-win where farmers are able to diversify their risk while adding to their income. And, with limited capital investment, Bell gets increased production from a hands-on grower vested in growing great product. This type of network could benefit family farms nationwide.
In 2007 Bryan Ulery, and Ulery Greenhouses of Springfield Ohio, joined the Bell family. Shortly after that acquisition, Brett Guthrie helped facilitate the sale of Virginia Growers to Bell. In each case these owner operators had outstanding teams that became part of the Bell family and the original owners still run their respective operations.
Bell utilizes production and greenhouse technology, but relies on great people to grow the best plants and practice discipline at harvest. Bell seeks to ensure finished plant material is shipped at near-perfect stage, and not before. For the customer, this means deliveries of consistent, quality plant material.
The $2000 Mangum Memorial Scholarship is administered by the Montgomery County Farm Bureau and awarded annually to a County resident who has demonstrated character, scholarship and talent, and who is interested in pursuing an education and eventual career in Maryland horticultural. Previous coursework and experience should demonstrate an interest in the horticulture industry as a whole. Applicants must have excellent references from employers, instructors, and/or industry contacts. Other requirements include an overall grade point average of 3.0 or greater in their current studies. The Scholarship can be used to attend any accredited two-year or four-year educational institution located within the United States.
For more information, deadlines and the application, visit