The Family Business That Keeps Growing

The Family Business That Keeps Growing

The Siebenthaler Company has served the community with its gardening expertise for 150 years

By Karla Hollencamp

Siebenthaler’s has used its landscaping expertise to create one-of-a-kind gardens for generations.

For any small business to last 150 years, it must be doing something right. The Siebenthaler’s Company, a landscaping and nursery company with garden centers in Beavercreek and Centerville, has used its continuing expertise and good management to survive.

Over the years the company has had many prestigious projects, including Orville Wrights’ Hawthorn Hill and the Dayton Art Institute.

“And now we’re finishing the [institute’s] historic hillside preservation project,” says sixth-generation President Robert Siebenthaler of his family’s business.

But the true test of sustainability is how the company handles the not-so-good times.

“I think I counted 80 different worldwide events we’ve been through as a community over that time,” Robert says. Siebenthaler’s has survived world wars, pandemics, economic crises, tornadoes and floods.

“As Dayton was recovering from the 1913 flood, we supplied produce to the downtown residents and stores. We are helping to reforest the areas of the city destroyed by the tornadoes a year ago,” Robert says.

“The current coronavirus situation has people looking at their yards and gardens in a different way. It’s not quite a back-to-nature movement but they want to live outdoors more. Anybody with a square inch of space wants to plant something. [There’s] a renewed interest in growing vegetables, planting trees, creating flower gardens, [and] also making the most of outdoor living—patios to enjoy, more elaborate grilling and cooking space.”

Each generation of the Siebenthaler family has added something and found new ways to serve the community.

First-generation Georg immigrated from Germany in 1866 and purchased an 8-acre plot along what is now Siebenthaler Avenue and Catalpa Drive. That’s where he and his son John started the business in 1870. The nursery grew to offer fruit trees and over 60 varieties of grapes.

The family grew, too. Second-generation John had seven children, including Wilber, who succeeded his father as head of the company. Wilber traveled throughout the world, establishing a broad base for the business. By 1920, ornamental trees and shrubs were the chief offerings. A wide variety of evergreens, including Norway Spruce, were grown.

This third generation also included Clarence, who developed the company’s landscape planning services. Clarence was part of the nationwide movement to establish home and industry beautification as a profession.

Siebenthaler’s did the original landscaping for the Dayton Art Institute.

Brothers John and George took over growing the plant stock and the retail side of the business, respectively. In fact, John developed many new varieties of lilacs and two new shade trees (Moraine Ash and Moraine Locust) while George used his Cornell University degree to pioneer the development of the modern garden center, one that was located within easy reach of city and suburban customers. Merchandising was his specialty and he was internationally recognized for his innovative designs.

In 1947, the company purchased the land that became the Siebenthaler Farm.

Fourth-generation Robert “Bob” Siebenthaler graduated from Michigan State with a degree in landscape architecture, served in the Korean War and then came home to Dayton to head the business. He was a National Landscape Association Hall of Fame member and received the Distinguished Outstanding Horticulturist Award. He gave much to his hometown and has been recognized by the Dayton Rotary and Beavercreek Wetlands Association for his service.

Fifth-generation Robert “Jeff” Siebenthaler was president from 1990 until 2015. He continues with company as CEO and chairman of the board. He is a past president of the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association and the National Landscape Association. He has served the community as a board member of organizations like Dayton History, the Better Business Bureau and Dayton Children’s Medical Center.

The family tradition is to work in the nursery and garden centers after school and during the summer. Afterwards, they go to college and study horticulture or landscape architecture as well as business. Sixth-generation Robert, the company’s current president, is a certified arborist as well as a graduate of the Miami University Farmer School of Business.

Siebenthaler’s has two garden centers—one in Centerville and one in Beavercreek.

Family members learn a lot of the business at the dinner table and at family gatherings on the holidays.

“We like to have fun,” Robert says. “In honor of my grandfather’s birthday we’re having a plant growing contest. There are four different entries in the contest. My secret weapon is my 8-year-old son Jackson.”

Robert smiles. “He’s got an 8-foot-tall avocado tree he’s raised from the seed.”

Looks like the seventh generation is in place.

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