George J. Simpson Sr., 68, owner of greenhouse operation in Howard Co.

April 09, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

George J. Simpson Sr., a greenhouse owner who transformed his business of selling tomatoes as a truck farmer in Baltimore into a year-round operation with 50 greenhouses, died of brain cancer Saturday at his Clarksville farm.

Mr. Simpson, 68, was well-known throughout Howard County for the estimated 30,000 poinsettias and 4 million bedding plants he grew yearly at Cherry Brae Hothouse and Garden Center on Simpson Road.

According to family members and friends, Mr. Simpson had been ill since surgery in October.

A self-taught horticulturist, Mr. Simpson sold produce at Baltimore's Lexington Market and at the Fifth and Florida Street market in Washington as a teen-ager with his father before building his own greenhouse in 1951. Within a few decades, he expanded his business to 3 1/2 acres under glass, growing such plants as mums, impatiens and azaleas year round.

"He was always happier when he was out in the greenhouses tending to the plants himself," said his son, David B. Simpson of Clarksville, who helped him during the past 10 years. "As the business grew, I think he found it frustrating to have to deal with the inside stuff of running a business rather than growing plants."

Always fond of gardening, Mr. Simpson became renowned among local greenhouse growers for his skill. Local horticulturists remember how Mr. Simpson would take ailing flowers to the University of Maryland's cooperative extension agents to find the problem. He was among the first in the area to experiment with fertilizers and heating techniques.

"When he realized he didn't have the recipe down exactly right for a plant or a flower, he went to the agents right away," his son said. "He had a reputation in the industry of growing high quality plants and we wanted to uphold it."

Bud Gahs, who owns the Country Plants nursery in Perry Hall, added: "He [Mr. Simpson] was a leader in the greenhouse business. He was always an innovator who did things like experimenting with gas and wood heat first.

"If it didn't work out too well, he'd try something different," said Mr. Gahs, who knew Mr. Simpson for more than 30 years. "The greenhouse business is not an easy business because you have to have tenacity and innovation to stay with it and make it work. That's exactly what [Mr. Simpson] had."

Mr. Simpson named his greenhouse business after his family's original name for the farm, Cherry Brae. His ancestors named the farm for a now almost extinct cherry tree that grew in Central Maryland and "brae," which is Scottish for gentle, sloping hills. He added Hothouse -- the Scottish term for greenhouse.

A 1947 graduate of the old Clarksville High School, Mr. Simpson grew up in an 18th-century farmhouse -- the same one his great-grandfather was born in. Other than a seven-year stint running a gas station in Simpsonville, Mr. Simpson made his living growing plants.

He was a member and on the board of directors of the Maryland Flower Growers Association, which now is called the Maryland Greenhouse Association.

Before he became ill, Mr. Simpson cared for his wife, the former Suzanne Oyster, who uses a wheelchair because she had polio.

"He never complained or bellyached about anything," David Simpson said. "He saw beyond Mom's handicap to her real beauty."

Funeral services will be at 2 p.m. today at Mount Zion United Methodist Church, at Route 216 and Brown Bridge Road in Highland.

In addition to his son and his wife of 43 years, survivors include two other sons, George J. Simpson Jr. of Catonsville and Hilery Z. H. Simpson of Columbia; and a brother, William C. Simpson of California.

Memorial donations can be made to Hospice Services of Howard County, 5537 Twin Knolls Road, Suite 433, Columbia 21045.

Pub Date: 4/09/97

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