Weekend getaway turns into tale of sowing and reaping for Greenery owners

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJanuary 31, 2013 

Forty years ago today, Berry and Ruthie Edwards closed a deal they seemed totally unprepared for.

Berry, then 29, suddenly owned a landscaping business. He says he knew nothing about landscaping and didn't even work in the yard.

The purchase came only three months after the couple first came to the island.

To move, Berry was giving up a high-flying job in textiles just as the company he co-founded was slipping into the lucrative world of pantyhose.

In 1973, the island had no hospital and questionable schools. It had few places to buy groceries, or even clothes, Berry says, unless you wanted expensive golf attire.

And they had two young sons in tow, Berry III, 5, and Lee, 3.

They had come to the island for a weekend getaway. They were living in Gastonia, N.C., but Berry worked all week in New York City. Ruthie hated it.

They fell in love with Hilton Head on that October weekend. He could see development going on, and figured there had to be a business here he could do.

They checked out the nursery, and on the way out of town, Ruthie saw something that made her shout, "Stop the car. Turn around." It was a white clapboard church in the Cherry Point area of the mainland.

Before they even had a price on the business, Ruthie had its signature headquarters in mind.

They bought the business from a Ridgeland family. It had six employees, six lawn mowers, and the almost humorous name of Hillside Landscape Nursery.

They changed the name to The Greenery. Ruthie designed a logo with the help of island artist Ralph Ballantine.

And they bought the Old Bethlehem Baptist Church building for $600 and had home-movers and a barge haul it to U.S. 278.

The business soon employed three landscape architects as it took on design and installation jobs for homes, condominium developments, large oceanfront hotels and full communities.

In 1982, Berry thought growth had peaked, so he got into landscape maintenance.

Today, the business has almost 500 employees at peak season, serving Hilton Head, Bluffton, Hardeeville, Savannah and Charleston. It contracts landscape maintenance for the city of Beaufort.

Berry Edwards is now retired, and the employees own the company. Lee Edwards runs the company, while his brother Berry owns the Island Tire & Automotive Services business. Ruthie owns Ruth Edwards Antiques and Interiors.

Berry and Ruthie Edwards have been involved in the community from the minute they got here.

Ruthie has chaired almost every gala or fundraiser. At one time, it was for things like a Montessori school. Now she chairs a capital campaign for the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina that just announced $5 million in donations.

"You reap what you sow," Berry Edwards said. "Giving back has been instrumental in The Greenery's success. We should give back. It's an obligation."

He said the landscaping business "is like any business. It's a service business. Offer quality and service, and people will come back to you. One good project leads to two more."

Berry and Ruthie Edwards represent a generation that gave everything to shape Hilton Head, when it didn't seem like a smart thing to do.

And they say Hilton Head has exceeded their fondest dreams on that weekend getaway, 40 years and three months ago today.

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