The Hillview Greenhouse:
A Way of Life for the Jones Family
By Autumn Grooms
In 1926, David C. and Lillie J. Jones took ownership of the Hillview Greenhouse property and operated it for 36 years, ending in 1963, when their son, David “Harold” and his wife, Lois, purchased the property.
The greenhouse was a way of life for the Joneses, whose days were spent tending to the flowers, produce and customers—arriving early, staying for lunch and working past dinner.
It was common for visitors who walked through the doors at 737 North 24th St. to find Harold Jones at his rolltop desk with Lois looking in the cooler behind him, selecting flowers for an arrangement.
While Lois focused her time on floral design, Harold managed the day-to-day business and delivered flowers. As they aged, they brought family in to help, including daughter Judy (Jones) Grooms and son David R. Jones, but still some jobs were reserved for the elder Joneses.
“I helped at the greenhouse my whole life and did just about everything, but funeral bouquets and wedding flowers were something else,” says Grooms. “Mom always took pride in her funeral flowers and wedding bouquets and wanted to ensure they were done to her specifications. She would start early and stay late until the final touches were made.”
This need to meet their customers’ expectations was common for Harold and Lois throughout their ownership of the greenhouse. They even installed a telephone at home for the greenhouse calls.
“They would go at the drop of a hat to satisfy their customers’ needs. The customers became their friends,” Grooms recalls. “Dad always believed in the old adage ‘you do business with the people who do business with you.’”
During deliveries, Harold would make stops throughout La Crosse in his green delivery van to visit with friends and further develop relationships in the community. During this time, Lois and other family members—Wally and Mart Jones and Mae and Vern Harvey—would help watch the shop, ensuring customer needs were met. And on Decoration Day, Harold knew exactly where each cemetery flower needed to go.
But the selling of plants didn’t just happen naturally. It required planting, watering and waiting.
In the spring, dirt was hauled into the greenhouse using wheelbarrows and wooden planks. The dirt was put through a manure chopper to ensure the best product. Planting was done by hand.
In addition, Hillview Greenhouse had hotbeds outside the greenhouse that helped start vegetables early. Grooms said they were among the first greenhouses to grow four-foot tomato trees. Also, cuttings from geraniums would be put into sand beds for rooting and then transplanted into pots, where they would then grow and be sold.
Once the plants were large enough to sell, regular customers would return to purchase “the usual” and others would come by word of mouth. The Joneses built a reputation of quality and were known throughout the area for their plants.
Harold’s parents, Lillie and David, grew leaf lettuce for purchase that also attracted many customers. To help the plants develop, Harold fumigated weekly to keep pests away, a common practice at that time.
The greenhouse was filled with varying sights and smells throughout the year; however, Judy and Deanna (David and Lois’s great-niece) recalled the poinsettias at Christmas and lilies at Easter as being the most beautiful. “There were many customers who came in specifically looking for them,” Judy said. “They were well known for the quality of plants they sold at holiday time.”
Harold seldom took time away from the business, and the couple raised their family and worked within the 700 block of North 24th Street. In 1987 they retired, a difficult decision for Harold, as he enjoyed working and interacting with his customers.
The devotion of Harold and Lois to Hillview Greenhouse was remembered by many, even after they sold it to Joel and Jean Olson.
Before my great uncle and great aunt, David and Lois, owned the greenhouse, I remember the entire family making their living by pitching in, filling the beds with dirt and planting seedlings in flats for the vegetables. Grandma Lillie would yell at the boys for watering too much.
I have many memories in my short time in the greenhouse, playing with the beautiful snap-dragons they grew and standing as the lookout for my grandfather as he would sneak his pipe. There wasn’t a better place to be or two better people to be with— unless you count the other family members that were around.
I have so many wonderful childhood memories with my parents owning the greenhouse—the great times and the not so great times, never needing a baby sitter, always knowing where my parents were. I learned so many life and business skills from my parents, just by spending time with them at the Hillview Greenhouse.
Judy (Jones) Grooms