February 23, 2024
HEO recognizes Washington family during African American History Month
MOBILE, Ala. — In honor of African American History month, MCHD’s Health Equity Office is highlighting African Americans who made a significant contribution in the lives of Mobile County residents. Featured below is a brief biography of Oliver Washington, the first licensed Black Nurseryman in Alabama. We are proud to highlight three generations of entrepreneurial acumen in the horticultural industry.
Here is a link to the Dora Franklin Finley African American Heritage Trail website which features audio tours of 32 points of interest about people and places that have had and continues to have an impact on shaping the history of Mobile — https://www.dffaaht.org/point-of-interest. We hope you find the information engaging, interesting, and informative.
Just a mile outside the gates of Mobile County’s world-famous Bellingrath Gardens stands a business that — like its glorious neighbor — is a vibrant, living monument to the entrepreneurial spirit of Oliver Douglas Washington Jr. Starting from humble beginnings in 1945 as a backyard nursery and selling plants from the back of his pickup truck he laid the foundation for a business that has grown to serve customers throughout the southeast, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama.
As a young man, Mr. Washington Jr. worked at Flowerwood Nursery, where he developed a love for plants and the idea of owning a successful greenhouse operation. He served his country as a Merchant Seaman during World War II. Upon his return home with the dream of owning his nursey, he started a backyard nursery. He became the first licensed Black nurseryman in Alabama. Each Spring, he rented land from Bellingrath Gardens to set up his roadside plant stand. After several years, he purchased that land, and this was the beginning of owning his greenhouse operations.
In the meantime, Oliver Douglas Washington III, who grew up working with his father and other family members selling azaleas and camellias, decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Alabama A&M University and a master’s degree in Ornamental Horticulture from the University of Florida. After returning to Mobile, he worked for another company, but began working on his first greenhouse with the idea of making his father dream a reality. In 1978, Mr. Washington (known as Big Ollie) left his job, built six more greenhouses, incorporated Shore Acres Plant farm, and expanded sales to regional retail stores. In 1979, Hurricane Frederic flatten everything, but thanks to the tenacity of its owner the business still stands strong.
Today, Oliver Douglas Washington IV has assumed the torch of running the family business that began more than 78 years ago. He is a third-generation nurserymen and horticulturist. He attended Auburn University and Alabama A&M University while majoring in Horticulture and Plant Science. He supervises more than 50 employees and handles more than 400 species of plants. In addition to the complex of greenhouses, they have 12 acres of fields where they raise 1-gallon perennials.
Something is always in bloom at Shore Acres from fiery poinsettias at Christmas, to dazzling marigolds and begonias in the spring, to brilliant mums and pansies in the fall. He says what makes Shore Acres unique is their customer service, “We are open seven days a week, and we deliver small orders as willingly as we do for large chain stores.”
Shore Acres Plant Farm is located 11545 Bellingrath Road in Theodore. To learn more, visit https://saplantfarm.com.