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Business blooms for retired teachers

Tom Borich, left, and Gary Banker fill a planter outside Spirit Room with plant from the goodgarden company Tuesday. The two retired teachers have teamed up to start their own garden design business, the Blooms Brothers. Maria Lockwood

Two retired Superior High School teachers are combining their green thumbs to beautify the area. Gary Banker and Tom Borich launched the Blooms Brothers, a small business specializing in the design and planting of small gardens and container greenery, in May.

The venture caps years of friendship for the two, who attended Cooper Elementary School together. It's also submerged them in the new media of the age.

"We've gone gmail and we've gone Facebook," Banker said. "Pretty techno for an over-60 group. We're not tweeting yet but you know ..."

It might seem unusual for teachers with a combined 60 years of education experience to turn their talents to growing things. Then again, maybe not.

"I've been interested in gardening since I was a young boy," said Borich, 63. "I knew I wanted to do something after I retired but I just wasn't sure quite what that was."

When it did come, he said, "It was right under my nose."

Borich was working part-time at the Goodgarden company in Billings Park.

"Tom was helping us out last year and noticed that so many people were coming in and asking for 'Can you plant this tree for me? Do you have somebody who can do it?" said Goodgarden owner Michelle LeMasurier. Although she works with many different landscaping companies, "they were all so busy I couldn't get anybody."

Borich decided to fill that niche with The Blooms Brothers, tackling projects that were too small for other businesses. He tapped Banker to be his partner.

Banker, 64, picked up a love of gardening from his father and plant know-how from his next door neighbor, Mrs. Ellison.

Over the years, the two men have shared gardening tips and learned from one another. Even during a trip to Boston, the friends were drawn to the weed-filled garden outside their hotel.

"As we're waiting for the cab, both of us, without even thinking, bend down and we de-weed the entire thing," Banker said.

There's something both calming and satisfying about working with growing things, they said.

"When I taught I could not see my handiwork maybe for years," Banker said. "When I garden I could put a plant in, I can pull a weed out and it's immediate. And I can watch it grow."

Wednesday, the pair filled containers outside Superior's Spirit Room with coral petunias, tall purple salvia, tiny white bacopa flowers and flowing sweet potato vines.

Each brings their own flair to the business.

"I just like to get my hands dirty," said Borich, who taught high school social studies.

Banker held up his black-clad hands.

"I wear gloves," the retired English teacher said.

Borich deferred to Banker on the creative placing of the plants. After the planting was complete, he added extra dirt and neatly stacked the empty containers.

"Tom is the perfectionist," Banker said. "He doesn't mind doing the little extras to get everything just right."

The pair can steer customers to plants that will perform well in the area's short growing season and show them how to make the most of the available space. They've traveled as far afield as Lake Nebagamon for jobs, and are open to crossing into Minnesota as well. The size of the job is the biggest factor for them.

"We're not going to build a retaining wall; we're not going to build a garden path or patio," Banker said. "Those we defer those to the larger companies. We're looking for the smaller gardens, the containers. We also design."

Dan Vandenhouten called on the Blooms Brothers to design gardens for his Hughitt Avenue home. Originally from the Green Bay area, he wasn't sure what plants would thrive in Superior's cooler climate. So he turned to local experts.

"I found the two guys to be very knowledgeable," said Vandenhouten, who works at a local grain elevator. "I got some great ideas."

LeMasurier said the pair have been great customers over the years, and they are filling a needed niche in area landscaping.

"They're just wonderful guys and they'll do a great job for you," she said.

For the retired educators, building a new business has been an exercise in continuing education. They worked with former student Andy Donahue at the Small Business Development Center and Bruce Thompson at National Bank of Commerce to put their company together.

"Both were excellent in guiding us, still are, in answering questions and giving us direction," Banker said. "So we're still learning."

For more information, call (715) 919-6230, (715) 919-6123, email, visit The Goodgarden Company at 2724 N. 21st St. or the Blooms' Brothers Facebook page.