When Maureen Murphy installed her first two small greenhouses in the Bayview area of South Whidbey, they were sited on what was no more than an empty field, near the decrepit old building now known as the Bayview Cash Store.
Today, 25 years later, the renovated Cash Store is a classic South Whidbey enterprise, while Bayview Farm and Garden is a preeminent nursery and garden center that has won acclaim in both the professional and amateur gardening spheres. It marked its anniversary with a party recently that drew hundreds of well wishers.
Neither a “native” nor a “newcomer,” Murphy has lived on Whidbey since 1982. A horticulturist by training, she began as a wholesale grower for nurseries, but in 1993 wanted to move into retail.
“Bill Lanning operated a feed store in the old Cash Store, and when I was looking for a place to build a retail business, he said, ‘Why don’t you build it right there?’” Murphy recalled. “He was pointing to a hay field.”
So Murphy rented the hay field for her two greenhouses, one a space for annuals and veggie starts and the other for the retail end.
“It had five parking spaces and our first employee, Cathy O’Nan,” Murphy said.
She eventually took over Lanning’s feed business when he retired, selling horse feed, pet food, chickens, hay — the “farm” part of the business name.
“Everybody then had horses or sheep or pigs,” she said.
After the serendipitous connection with Bill Lanning, Bayview Farm and Garden’s growth was helped along with more island links. In 1999, the Goosefoot Fund facilitated a loan that allowed another expansion.
“It’s an iconic Whidbey Island story,” Murphy said.
Now at two-and-a-half acres and with 53 employees, Bayview Farm and Garden has grown into an island destination. A sleek new greenhouse is filled with the vivid colors and lush greens of annuals and perennials, leafy alcoves with small waterfalls, plants tall and tiny. A garden shop has a collection of items for the home, house plants, pet foods and a seed wall.
Outside, a landscape reminiscent of an estate garden offers brick paths through areas designed for walking and browsing, or resting on a nearby bench.
Bayview’s 40-foot Laburnum Arbor, planted 18 years ago, draws legions of visitors and photographers during the dazzling “golden chain” bloom period each spring.
“We brought 24 trees from Wales,” Murphy said. “And we prune and reweave the plants every winter. But the plants do the work. We listen to them and take care of them so they can interact with people.”
Bayview also added the Flower House Cafe — recently remodeled — and a retail space for garden items and decor. The two original greenhouses were replaced in 2008.
“I didn’t think it would take so long,” Murphy said.
Her family is an integral part of the operation. Her son Sam Rowley is the retail buyer, and her daughter Nekoda and husband Manuel Acosta are the chefs in the cafe kitchen, with Nekoda an experienced pastry cook.
Murphy’s garden expertise comes not only from her education, but from familial connections as well. Her father’s patented “pop-up seasonal greenhouses” have been used by Walmart, Home Depot and other big box stores.
She also learned about the garden center industry from Egon Molbak, whose Molbak’s Garden Center in Woodinville has had star power for more than 50 years.
Bayview has won awards from prestigious publications like Garden Center magazine, which named it one of the 100 top independent garden centers of 2014.
It was also honored in 2001 with the magazine’s “Innovator of the Year” award for taking a nontoxic approach to gardening.
Bayview has never sold toxic chemicals.
It has a core of loyal employees, Murphy noted, who have sometimes taken pay cuts and worked longer hours to see how it would work out and encourage her to make the “next right step,” she said.
Murphy also spends her own time in the gardens.
“I weed, water, prune, down on my knees,” she said.
Murphy has discontinued most of the feed business, but she still offers pet and poultry products, and she plans to make the barn that housed it into a multi-use space for events and classes.
“We’ll teach about things like soils, how to garden on a pile of rocks,” she said. “I want to educate people about the treasure that is Whidbey Island.”