Digging In to Dreams
Story by Julianne Winkler Smith
Photos by Matt Williams Photography
Ask most 10-year-old boys what they want to be when they grow up and you’re likely to hear pro athlete or firefighter. But when Keith Ramsey was that age, he knew exactly what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: Keith wanted to be a horticulturalist.
And from that time forward, he dug in and spent every day living the dream of his 10-year-old self.
Tandem to his love for landscape design, Ramsey has also nurtured his entrepreneurial spirit. “In addition to being an avid gardener,” he says, “my mom ran a Christmas shop in Richmond, Virginia, so I watched how she handled and grew the business. I definitely got my entrepreneur gene from her—she’s my inspiration.”
As Ramsey worked for garden shops, landscapers, and design centers, he became determined to run his own business and establish a garden center that fulfilled his visionary approach to the industry. “I am an entrepreneur first, and a horticulturist second,” he says. “I wanted to provide products and services that went beyond pure gardening to integrate marketing and merchandising.”
Back in the mid-90s, a landscape design project brought him from the Tidewater area to the Triangle, and he initially relocated to establish a branch for his Virginia employer. In 1996, however, he fully embraced his entrepreneurial spirit and Garden Supply Company was launched. It’s been a staple in Cary for the past 21 years, and Ramsey’s gift of greenery has been making our community a little bit more beautiful one plant at a time.
Cary was a much different town in 1996 than it is now, with only one other garden center in the area. “Cary was a very quaint community, and I saw something very special here,” Ramsey says. “I knew this place was burgeoning, and I was confident my business would thrive here.”
The accuracy of his foresight—for Cary and for his business—was spot on. While Cary grew exponentially year after year, Keith’s property expanded to 30 acres and multiple facilities.
It turns out that anticipating future trends is actually one of Keith’s other gifts. Much like interior design and fashion, arboriculture has its own trends that mold and shape the landscape of commercial and residential sites, and Garden Supply Company always seems to be at the forefront of what’s coming. “I’ll hear or read about a quiet trend that I’m interested in, and start researching,” Ramsey explains. “The next thing I know, I’m all-in, full throttle.”
For example, back in 1997 Garden Supply Company introduced koi ponds as a key landscape design element. Soon, a koi pond was the “in” thing to have in your garden. Then, about six or seven years ago, bees came into the public spotlight and Ramsey knew the bee population was in a severe decline.
“My initial concern, as a horticulturalist, is that if pollinators go away, we’re all in big trouble.” His solution: Implement a beekeeping program, produce and sell honey, equip customers with bees and beehives, and help residents become beekeepers. “This ecological cause has become a big lifestyle trend, and today we have over 100 hives,” he says.
Now he’s looking to another cause. Also born out of a sincere desire for the environment, a current craze focuses on oysters and the ecological issues surrounding aquaculture. “Oysters are a huge uptrend in interior design right now,” Ramsey says, “so we grow oysters on the coast, sell them there, and reclaim the shells to create design elements.” Customers can buy the oyster shells for their own projects, such as ornaments, or they can purchase finished oyster shell products created by the shop’s full-time interior designer.