WIHA dinner meeting highlights Winthrop’s Tewksbury Greenhouses

Ashley Tewksbury-Barisano, fifth-generation owner of Winthrop’s Tewksbury Greenhouses, and her mother, Deborah Tewksbury, shared their unique family tradition during a Winthrop Improvement & Historical Association (WIHA) dinner meeting in the Deane Winthrop House barn on May 7.  

“It’s one of the oldest greenhouses in New England,” exclaimed Deborah. “We have old kerosene lanterns for heat in the greenhouses. They’re not used; but history is important. We even have a piece of the Narrow-Gauge track. We use that as a door stopper.”

Deborah described the family heritage, starting with a photograph of their homestead, at 294 Bowdoin Street. A glass conservatory accented the Victorian, English home along a dirt road lined with orange and lemon trees. Passersby would inquire if the Tewksbury Family could grow other fruits and vegetables, as well; and thus, the conservatory was replaced with two glass greenhouses, and Tewksbury Greenhouses was established in 1885.

“The Tewksbury’s go back to the 1600s,” recounted Deborah. “We have papers and family history. There were 27 kids in a one-room schoolhouse; and 20 of them were Tewksbury’s.”

Deborah displayed other family images, such as a picture of Ashley’s great-grandfather, Charles Tewksbury, in the potting shed. In another photograph, Ashley’s grandfather, Richard “Tick” Tewksbury – who served in both world wars – is leaning against a flower delivery truck.

For 30 years, Deborah and her husband, Charlie, owned and operated Tewksbury Greenhouses while both worked for the airlines and were raising three children. The Tewksbury Family had considered selling the property in 2011; but maintaining their family legacy took precedence.  

“As a teenager, I had no interest in working in the greenhouse; but that was all about to change,” said Ashley, whose duties as a youth included watering plants, and managing the cash register.

The Winthrop Chamber of Commerce presented Charlie and Deborah with the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of operating the longest-run business in Winthrop. At the ceremony, they officially handed over Tewksbury Greenhouses (and a shovel) to Ashley and her husband, Rick.

“I was moving back from West Palm Beach, Florida, and I didn’t have a plan. I needed to step forward and try. I didn’t know much more than a geranium; but it was great,” remembered Ashley. “I was used to working in the restaurant industry. Not every day was pleasant; but it is in the greenhouse.”

Incorporating her creative background in the arts was how Ashley helped Tewksbury Greenhouses flourish further. She especially enjoys arranging the suspended planters, pumpkins, corn stalks, and celosia plants of the autumn season.

“What I like most about the fall is the different containers that I plant. A lot of people come in for gift ideas that are unique,” explained Ashley. “We love antiquing and repurposing different things.”

Two years ago, Tewksbury Greenhouses began offering tea parties in the greenhouse on the first Sunday in October. Ashley plans a menu, and her executive chef husband prepares the finger sandwiches, pastries, and scones. In the future, Ashley hopes to offer two tea parties on consecutive weekends.

Being given artistic freedom to customize window boxes and planters for patrons’ homes is what Ashley loves.

“I enjoy talking to everybody about their visions,” said Ashley. “We take a lot of pride and care in our customer service, and knowledge about our plants.”

When the Covid-19 pandemic caused businesses to close two weeks into Tewksbury Greenhouses’ spring season, Ashley had considered purchasing a truck and driving around town to sell plants. She was relieved three weeks later, when greenhouses were added to the list of essentials.

“We were able to open. I kept the volume of people down and six feet away in the narrow paths in the greenhouses by having booking appointments every 30 minutes, and having the greenhouses to yourself. People loved that,” recalled Ashley, who also organized curbside deliveries. “It was a very successful year. Everybody was home and many people started gardening.”

Today the two greenhouses are filled with 800 hanging baskets, and thousands of plants, herbs, and vegetables grown from seedlings. No harsh chemicals or pesticides are used, and the family welcomes butterflies, bees, and dragonflies.  

Deborah assists in tending to the greenhouses every spring – a loving gesture that Ashley appreciates; especially considering that the family hand-waters all their plants, which can take two to three hours per greenhouse (and be done twice a day during the summer).

When Ashley’s father announces that he will be visiting the greenhouses, Ashley jests to the plants that they must stand straight to pass her father’s inspection.

Ashley and Rick’s (almost) 8-year-old son, Brayden, is also a valued apprentice.

“My son is a big helper. I call him the mayor because he’s very friendly and is a great door greeter,” boasted Ashley. “He will hand you a tray to fill and even bring your things to the car for you. He’s very sweet.”

Visit the Tewksbury Greenhouses, located at 294 Bowdoin Street, Winthrop, Monday – Saturday, 10am-6pm.

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