James Lowell Bartlett worked as a student at the Mass-Aggie school in the weather office of the
greenhouses. While there, he had the opportunity to go to the University of Wisconsin. After a brief
time there, he knew he wanted to come home and start his own greenhouse. A friend of his told him
about a broken down greenhouse in Sudbury described as “a pile of rusted pipe, rotted timbers and
broken glass” which he purchased in 1911.
Everyone in Sudbury was in the carnation business; so that is what he went for also. During WW I, there
was no coal for the flowers but there was for food. So, father Bartlett started growing tomatoes. He
died in 1943. His wife Philena leased out the business as all her sons were in the service.
In 1947, John Pike Bartlett took the reins of the company. A farm boy with a Bachelor of Science in
mechanical engineering from Tufts University became known as the “geranium engineer”. He
developed and patented the first plastic covered greenhouses with Lord and Burnham known as the
“Bartlett Structure” that revolutionized the industry. His passion for improving the business often kept
him working till the wee hours of the morning. Some of those late nights lead to sleeping in. However,
he knew his greenhouses were in good hands with his wife Dorothy who at 87 years young still comes to
work every day.
Bartlett’s became known as the “geranium specialist”. John was once told that he treated the blood
lines of his geraniums the way a cattle man speaks of his cattle. He was so meticulous of what produced
a quality plant. It had to have the right stem length, the right amount of buds, no crooked necks, and
had to produce cuttings for winter propagation.
In the 70’s, John’s health began to fail to the point where he was considering closing or selling the
business. His daughter Laura approached him and asked, if she were to come into the business, would
he want to keep it going. And so the business continued. Not only did John get to teach his daughter
(from the bottom up), but also his son-in-law Fred who left his family business to work alongside his
wife. Sadly, John passed away in 2001 and Fred in 2005 leaving big shoes to fill.
Today Laura and her sister Martha who runs the lab greenhouses and continues to breed new
geraniums, along with Laura’s son Fred and daughter Beth who runs Family Garden & Market retail; the
business continues to grow.
James Lowell Bartlett would be proud to see that those broken down greenhouses turned into a fourth
generation business right where it all started.
And for Dorothy who ran the greenhouses while John was off building bridges and running the
greenhouses; well, at 87 years young, you will still find her working alongside Martha and continuing to
educate her grandchildren on how things use to be done.