With deep roots, Mundell Greenhouse delights generations
Mike Mundell is very much aware he is the custodian of a family tradition in Hobart
Mundell is a very familiar name in Hobart. The original flower store was located where the Wiseway Supermarket now does business.
Mundell Field, a popular staging area for youth soccer and football, is located on land in the same neighborhood, donated by the family and on property where once stood a school of the same name.
The Mundell Greenhouse, 383 N. County Line Road, is ablaze with colors about now, having just satisfied the Mother’s Day rush and still helping weekend warriors arrange their garden palettes for the coming summer season.
“I grew up in the greenhouse,” says Mike Mundell, without a trace of irony for coming of age amidst all manner of growing things.
“My grandfather started it, then my dad and now I have two kids of my own ready to take over.”
Not that he followed that same garden path to get where he is today.
“I worked in it when I was in high school, of course,” Mundell said.
“But I had a ‘Not a gardener, gonna do that’ attitude.
“So I did several other things. I grew up. I went away to college. I worked at U.S. Steel. I was a cop for awhile.”
But he found himself back home, back in the greenhouses and now that’s where you’ll find him almost every day.
“ I love doing it; it is truly more like an avocation than a job. I love the challenges, Every day is different.”
He said his children are something else he enjoys and the fact they work so well together is special.
So are the traditional offerings.
“We specialize in flowers, vegetables and hanging baskets,” he said.
As the big box stores have launched their massive garden and landscape flower sections – it seems every mall parking lot has one part sectioned off for such sales nowadays – Mundell welcomes the competition because he believes his place will win out.
“Mostly because of experience,” he said. “I find them (the competition) actually more helpful rather than taking away customers.
“We offer experience. They usually don’t have knowledgeable help. They can introduce people to plants and gardens. They don’t provide selection or service.”
Those are two keywords in the Mundell lexicon.
“We have hundreds of varieties of perennials,” Mundell said. “We have a couple hundred of varieties of vegetables and lots of unusual stuff.
“Those other places may introduce you to an idea, but, eventually, they come here to learn.”
Families have come and come back.
“We have generations of customers, even a few that first came in when my grandfather had it where Wiseway is now,” Mundell said.
Back then, they didn’t know they were planting ideas for decades. The elder Mundells just did what caught their fancy.
“My dad started growing orchids for a few years and became very good at specialty orchids,” he said. “Then others started importing orchids from South America and undercut him.”
It is a similar situation to what happened at the famed (now-closed) Lake County Greenhouse in Crown Point. They grew the best roses for decades until, again, it became less-expensive to import from South America.
“But just because they ruined the orchid business here didn’t mean we couldn’t go into other things,” Mundell said.
“They started selling retail where they wouldn’t sell to the public before.”
That is still the market they serve. If a landscaper insists on the quality Mundell offers, he will make a bulk sale price. “But 95 percent of what we sell is retail,” Mundell said.
And, still, there is the magic of discovery for first-timers.
“Our in-house slogan is slogan is ‘Northwest Indiana’s Best-Kept Secret,’ ” he said.
“People wander in and they can’t believe all we have,” he said. “I’m enjoying it. We offer the best we can offer.”
If there is a secret it is that he grows his own.
In February, vegetables all start as seeds. No imports there. Flowers may starts as cuttings — “specialty propagators” — but they, too, are rooted and grown to maturity in the greenhouses. “A little of them come from seeds, too,” Mundell said. “I like having my own veggies in my own
greenhouses from my own seeds; 80-85 percent of what we sell is what we have grown.
“I don’t know of any other greenhouse that grows most of what they sell. They don’t have the expertise, service and variety.
“Greenhouses tend to be family-oriented and generational.”
He will and has tried almost everything once.
“I had my own bananas once,” he admits. “My dad started the tree and, by the third year, we had bananas. They were pretty good bananas, too.”
They will be open until the last day of June, then close again until the third Thursday in April, as family tradition dictates.
Staying in the rhythm of the season just makes sense.