Special Reports

Family legacy grows at Smith Gardens

The historical significance of 1265 Marine Drive, home of Smith Gardens, is nearly as impressive as the family members who have lived on and worked the land for 102 years.

The gardens' greenhouses sit on property originally belonging to pioneer Charles E. Roberts. Roberts claimed 160 acres under the state's "Donation Law" when he arrived in 1854. Fort Bellingham was built on the claim in 1856, with the property returned to Roberts two years later.

During the active days of Fort Bellingham, a young New York transplant, David Tuck, served under Capt. George E. Pickett. Through his association with Pickett and Roberts, Tuck homesteaded part of the Roberts claim and lived there until 1901.

That's when he sold 35 acres to his neighbor, Harry Smith, a Scottish immigrant who'd arrived via Nova Scotia a couple of years before and had been farming with his brother, John, down the road a spell. Smith dug right in, literally, clearing, tilling and preparing the land for a garden, with the notion of raising and selling vegetables for a living.

His oldest son, Russell Smith, now 93, still lives on the farm with his extended family.

"It was just an old prairie down here," Smith said. "Tuck partly cleaned it up and then dad finished it. I remember my dad would work so hard during the day he would come in and have a five-minute nap before dinner. Money was scarce and you had to work hard to make any."

Before long, Smith and his younger brother, Andy, who is 90 and also lives part-time at the garden, were out in the fields with their father. After dinner, the boys would head back outside to wash and bundle the vegetables they'd harvested.

"They had to be all fixed up so stores would like them and be able to sell them," Russell explained.

The family also raised chickens.

"We had about 300 to 400 chickens at one time," Smith said. "For a few years, my mother would deliver the chickens and vegetables herself. In those days it was safe."

But it wasn't particularly easy; she had 20 stops to make via horse and buggy.

The hard work began to pay off, especially after the family switched from vegetables to flowers.

"There wasn't any money in raising vegetables," Smith said. "Flowers were more expensive and made more money."

Smith's father began adding greenhouses nearly 60 years ago, providing an edge in the marketplace.

After Harry Smith died in 1951, the two brothers took over the farm, continuing to add greenhouses and variety to their stock. In time, they passed the business into the eager hands of Andy's son, Terry Smith.

He and his wife, Carolyn, have raised four children while running the business.

"Four generations on the same piece of property, and the fourth generation is as excited about it as the first," said Terry, referring to the fact that two of his sons, Mark Smith, 36, and Eric Smith, 31, both work for the company.

Terry has transformed Smith Gardens from a truck farm into a wholesale flower distributor for major home improvement and grocery stores throughout the Pacific Northwest. "I knew what I wanted to do when I was 4-years-old," he said. "I love flowers and I'm as excited as I've ever been.

"We do this because we want to be here. It's a family legacy."