SILVERTON, Ohio — Driving along Interstate 71 through Silverton, it's hard to imagine what is hiding atop the wooded hill that climbs up from the highway where it bends at Red Bank Expressway. If you exit and wind your way up to Plainfield Road, you'll find it: an oasis of sorts.
John Clark's great-great-grandparents purchased a 38-acre plot in 1939 to open HJ Benken Florist and Greenhouses. At the time, it was just a seed of a business. But in the decades since, it has blossomed — and remained in the family — for more than 80 years.
"(They) were dairy farmers on the west side of Cincinnati and didn't want to be dairy farmers anymore," said Clark, who grew up working the greenhouses and now is Benken's chief grower and the fourth generation running the business.
"As with any business, it has its ups and downs, but when it's in your blood... I was a greenhouse brat," he said. "If I don't go home dirty, I don't feel like I've done anything. I love soil. I love the smells, and once it gets in your blood, it's hard to get it out."
What began as a handful of greenhouses has grown into 22 grow spaces. In July, 6,000 mums are potted for fall planting. Elsewhere on the grounds, poinsettias are in their infancy to be in full bloom for the Christmas season.
In addition to greenhouses, Benken now hosts a venue space, too.
"So we can offer a space for getting married here, where you can have your wedding reception here," Clark said. "We've had corporate dinners here. We've had parties."
Still, the Benken family is surprised when people figure out they're hiding here on this hill.
"We are sort of tucked away," he said. "We've had people that have lived here for, you know, 25 years, and finally turn left into our parking lot in our driveway.
"It's a nice little piece of heaven, if you will."
For anyone wishing to plan a visit, HJ Benken is located at 6000 Plainfield Road in Silverton.