WOONSOCKET – After a long winter, Ralph Bileau is planning to greet the spring planting season with a big assortment of garden plants and yard flowers at Bileau’s Flower & Stove Shop at 665 Diamond Hill Road.
And, he’s not alone.
Fontana’s Flowers and Greenhouses, at 1098 Diamond Hill Road, is already raising flats of vegetables and flowers that will be sold when planting season is warmly in place.
It is a tradition that has been going on for years for both businesses.
Bileau, who now operates his longtime family business with co-owner Jean Bis, said his father, Joseph Bileau, had started selling spring plants while operating an ice cream stand and soft-serve ice cream trucks from the site in the 1950s and 1960s. The Bileaus had bought the property in 1947 and also operated an oil delivery service from there during the winter months, Bileau said.
Bileau, one of 14 siblings, started working with his dad and two of his brothers, Ovila and Jean, when the boys were just kids.
“I’m 74 now,” Bileau said while noting Ovila and Jean got out of the business in 1986 and 1992, leaving him to carry on the family tradition.
Bileau’s also operates a cut flower and floral arrangement business at the site and the stove shop providing goods for wood and pellet stoves.
“We’re getting ready for Mother’s Day right now,” he noted.
This past week, most of the plants outside were various types of pansies, or violas — a big-faced flower that can survive a sudden frost. Bileau’s was also selling young cabbage plants and cauliflower that can survive the cold.
Sue and Ralph Hamwey of Blackstone stopped in at Bileau’s this past week to buy a flat of pansies and selected a variety of purple, white and red, and gold colored blossoms.
“I like planting flowers. It just makes me feel good,” Sue Hamwey said as she waited to pay for her yard color plants.
Callie McCutcheon, the business’s floral designer, said she was happy to see the flats of outdoor flowers on sale in Bileau’s parking lot.
“I think it’s fantastic; we are all sick of winter. I want spring weather and I want summer and I want to see the butterflies out there,” she said.
Ralph Hamwey said he would probably wait until the weekend to put the flowers in the ground.
“The weekend is a good time to do planting,” he said.
Bileau, who cherishes the long-ago days when he and his brothers worked the ice cream counter in the store or drove their routes around the city, doesn’t expect to be planting anything himself.
“I don’t have time for that,” the Lincoln resident said. “When all the plants are out there, I will have eight hours of watering a day.”
And while he expects to be getting regular deliveries of garden plants in the days ahead, Bileau said, he advises his customers to be patient when it comes to planting them.
“People do want to rush the seasons and they want to plant them tomorrow, but you can get a frost right through the 20th of May,” he said. Anytime after Mother’s Day is usually good to plant in an outdoor garden, he added.
Up Diamond Hill Road at Fontana’s Flowers and Greenhouses, Bob Vilt, 83, was doing his own preparation at the business his family bought from the Fontana family in 1947. Fontana’s heated greenhouses were used to start plants from seeds years ago, but today mature, already-started seedlings and cuttings into a crop of annual flowers and vegetable plants are ready for the planting season.
Fontana’s grows flats of petunias and the business’s specialty, geraniums, for yard color, and also a number of varieties of tomatoes and other garden vegetables in its greenhouses along Diamond Hill Road.
Although Fontana’s spring offerings are already growing, Cam Goulet, one of the business’s greenhouse tenders, said the garden plants and flowers, like petunias and summer-hardy New Guinea impatiens, won’t be ready for planting for a few more weeks.
“By Memorial Day these are going to be beautiful,” he said while showing a batch of young petunias.
Vilt said he has been growing plants in greenhouses since working for his father, Tony Vilt, at the family flower and garden business in Cold City, Ill.
“Back in 1932, my father started out selling flowers from the front steps of the house,” he said. One of six siblings — three boys and three girls — Vilt said he starting helping his father when he was just six. The fact he is still in that business and now working for his daughter, Elise Goulet, all these years later doesn’t surprise him.
“All of my life, I have never had to travel to work,” he said. “I have always worked just next-door.”
Another local business, Nys Flowers, at 508 Diamond Hill Road, doesn’t sell outdoor flowers but does have plenty of live plant arrangements to bring a little green and color into a home before the full summer arrives in the area.
Elieen Faford, who owns the business with Ernest Picard, said Kalanchoes and Begonias are among Nys’ popular selling indoor varieties for the home as are African Violets. The flower shop also sells mini rose arrangements that can in turn be planted outdoors.
“Customers don’t just stop in to pick them up, they also have them delivered,” Faford said.