Meet the makers: Greg and Allison Shannon of Sun Harvest Greenhouses

By Emily Coppella

Supporting every growing journey

Sun Harvest Greenhouses | 2542 Perth Road | Website

2022 marks Sun Harvest Greenhouses’ 20th anniversary. Sun Harvest is a family-owned, full-service garden centre and market, located in Glenburnie, just a five-minute drive from Kingston, that celebrates every customer’s growing journey.

From its start solely growing and selling hydroponic tomatoes to becoming a centre for educational workshops, custom growing programs for events, and a cut-your-own flower garden, Sun Harvest continues to bloom bigger with each passing year. We spoke with the business’s co-owner, Allison Shannon, about how Sun Harvest has evolved over the past two decades.

“I’m a person who’s always wanting to improve, and if you’re wanting to improve a business you have to pay attention to your customer base and what they’re looking for. That drives you to make changes in your business and as a result, our business looks very different today than it did when we started. Our original reason for being was to grow a better tomato and to share our love of growing, to help make people more aware of locally grown food, and to have access to locally grown, nutritious, affordable, food. It snowballed from there.”

Beginning with only one growing zone bursting with their now Kingston-famous hydroponic tomatoes, Sun Harvest later began growing cucumbers and a variety of lettuces through the closed loop system that relies on water, rather than soil, to produce crops. They gradually added new products and opened their all-season garden centre.

“The business has been growing to the point where, every few years we add on a little more production space to grow more of something. Most of that space has been dedicated to growing annuals for gardeners, such as that we’ve evolved into a full-season, full-service garden centre specializing in our homegrown annuals, veggie, and herb transplants for the home gardener. We’ve partnered with some growers in Niagara to bring in flowering shrubs and perennials, and we’re known for our hanging baskets and containers.”

Allison focuses on managing the garden centre and social media marketing; her husband, Greg, and son tend to the hydroponic crops. While they stay busy year-round, preparing for the spring gardening season requires all hands on deck. As visitors seeking bunches of homegrown annuals, colourful containers, vibrant hanging baskets, and fresh herbs increase in May, the Sun Harvest team takes copious notes each week to use as benchmarks. How fast a perennial is selling, what herb people are asking for, and which item seems most popular—these are all measurements used to tweak production.

“It’s constant. Even though we’re in the middle of growing and executing the plan for spring 2022, we’re always thinking ahead. I’m the type of person who always wants to enhance the customer experience – whether through customer service, educational workshops, bringing in speakers, trying new varieties of veggies, herbs, annuals, or new colour combinations for containers – that just takes research. The research starts with working with our suppliers, the companies that develop the genetics of geraniums or petunias, so I like to travel in the summer to grower trials where I research new varieties. When people walk into the greenhouse, one of the first questions they have is: ‘What’s new this year, Allison?’ I think it’s important that we give people that excitement, that opportunity for them to try something new on a limited basis and hopefully have success and expand on that in future years.”

This season, Sun Harvest continued to add some exciting new variants to the garden centre. While the team has always been a huge fan of Supertunia Vista Bubblegum petunias, this year they’ve added a new variety for customers to fall in love with: the Supertunia Vista Snowdrift. This pearly white petunia is a garden showstopper. Another Sun Harvest plant pick for 2022 is the Hot Blooded Red lantana, a shrub that bursts with red-hot flowers all summer long. It can withstand even the hottest heat wave and encourages pollinators.

Allison’s passion for excellent customer service has inspired her to ensure that a visit to Sun Harvest is a community experience. Various educational events attract both long-time home gardeners and first-time visitors. While workshops have always been a part of Sun Harvest’s programming, the team began offering pop-up markets in 2022 as a thank-you to the community.

“We had one market in March and one in April and we have a few in the summer: June, July, August, and September. This is where we get to collaborate with local makers in an interesting plant-filled environment. They’ve been really well received. Everyone who comes those days is just in a happy mood. The makers have been wonderful, and the quality of products is incredible. We have a robust, rich community of makers in YGK.”

This year, Sun Harvest will be expanding on the Flower Fields, a cutting garden that’s been open to the public for the last three summers. Visitors can walk through a one-acre garden brimming with a variety of flowers, to cut a bouquet for themselves or simply spend time in a quiet, beautiful space.

Although springtime at Sun Harvest buzzes with energy, the family business requires hard work year-round. Hydroponic veggies are planted in January and by March these crops are available for purchase, along with a robust selection of houseplants. April is a hectic month as preparations for the spring rush begin, and by the middle of June thousands of mums have already been planted for fall. May marks the biggest wave of customers searching for vibrant annuals, while perennials and shrubs are available all summer long. The summer market also offers sweet corn, potatoes, and beans, in addition to the usual hydroponic tomatoes, lettuces, and cucumbers. The lively fall season offers pumpkins of all shapes and sizes, and the holidays are filled with wreath-crafting and tree-decorating workshops. While the season wraps up just before Christmas, hydroponic planting begins at the start of the new year.

Allison sees her job as a vocation, and she’s been excited about how the last few years have shown people embracing a biophilic lifestyle, that is, the desire to be connected to nature and incorporate natural elements into one’s home. Allison believes that everyone has the capacity for a green thumb.

“People are excited about growing their own food, growing their own plants indoors and outdoors, and seeing success with that. People are being extremely kind to themselves and celebrating their growing journey and that is really why we are here in the community, to celebrate growing journeys. If we can help with that in any way, that’s what we’re here for. Our journey has been a growing one; we started as just a hydroponic greenhouse and have diversified to be a full-service garden centre with aspects of education and experiences throughout the season here. It’s been quite a journey for us.”