First Family of Gardening: Three generations keep Geist Nursery, area gardens growing


By Sam Elliott

Tucked away at 9890 N. Mollenkopf Rd., Geist Nursery has remained a hidden gem of the Geist area while also being a family and area tradition for nearly 40 years.

Fred Richwine, a Noblesville native, landscape designer and land use consultant, purchased the five-acre property to found Geist Nursery upon returning to the Indianapolis area in 1977.

“Nobody was coming out here, but this property was on the market,” Richwine said. “I had spent the past eight or nine years in upstate New York, western Massachusetts, Boston, and was doing architectural restoration and was getting my graduate degree in landscape architecture.

“Before I moved back here, I had called my brother and asked if there were any farm houses (available),” he added. “I tried to find something in western Massachusetts, but I’d just gotten out of graduate school and couldn’t afford anything. … He said there was this property out at Geist.”

“From then on, he spent like the last 30 years restoring the house, building the business, doing landscaping, opening the garden center and all that,” said Whitney Klein, Fred and Sarah Richwine’s daughter, who joined the family business in 2003 after graduating from Indiana University. She is also Geist Nursery’s garden center manager.

Whitney and her husband Andrew’s 5-year-old son Levi is the family’s third generation to call the property home. But his experience growing up in the house with the family business is vastly different from Whitney’s.

“When I was real young we slept in the parlor because that’s where it was warm, because there was a wood-burning stove,” she said. “It’s come a long way since then. It’s so different. Now we have the retail and garden center, we have a lot more people coming and going, and it’s just so different around us. He’s growing up with a lot more going on around.”

New neighborhoods and housing developments over the years have slowly chipped away at the more rural experience Whitney grew up with.

“I loved it. It was really fun to grow up here because you’re out in the middle of nowhere, and my backyard was these empty cornfields,” she said. “It was just like typical country life. You’d go out in the cornfields and play ‘corn tag’ or other games and pick stuff to make stews for my mom or whatever. There wasn’t much out here. In the mid-’80s they built a few (neighborhoods), but before that it was all cornfields and soybeans.”

Today, the property includes the restored and expanded original house, most of which was destroyed in a 2010 fire, and a barn that can house weddings or other special events. It also has a one-acre garden full of fresh fruits and vegetables,  and the main garden and flower retail center.

Rising From the Ashes

The Richwine and Klein family home is believed to have been built in the 1890s. It was in rough shape when Fred Richwine purchased the property in 1977, but the Geist Nursery founder completely restored the home to livable conditions.

“It ended up in my hands because (the previous owners) couldn’t get it mortgagable, so we came in and restored the house as best we could and cleaned up the property and got a mortgage on it. That’s how it all started.”

The family has researched the house’s history and a stash of letters dated as far back as 1890 were found in a wall during an addition to the home. They revealed an Anna Brown once lived there.

“We’ve always tried to figure out who Anna Brown was,” said Whitney Klein, Fred’s daughter and Geist Nursery manager who grew up in the house.

A house fire in December of 2010 destroyed part of the family’s home, as well as many of their belongings and documented history of the property. But just as he did when he purchased the home, Richwine rebuilt and restored the house while also expanding its footprint two feet in most directions.

“He tried to keep the original integrity of the house. We just made it a little bit bigger and newer,” Klein said.

Fires over the years have also claimed a pair of barns. The current barn was rebuilt in the early ‘90s following an arson fire.

As they later did with their house, the family used fire as an opportunity to expand, constructing the next barn bigger and better as buildings have continued to rise from the ashes as the family business has grown.


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