A North Carolina native Pete Gulley was born in in the tiny Edgecome County town of Tarrboro. After serving in the US military as a Green Beret he attended East Carolina University and majored in physical education. Settling in Virgina Beach after college seemed like a logical choice after marrying in 1971, but after a time Pete began to feel the the flowering of another interest when he felt an inner urge to try his hand the art and science of horticulture. Discovering the existence of Sandhills College and it’s renowned horticulture program, he and his wife sold literally everything and moved to Southern Pines so Pete could pursue his dream of working with plants. Living on the GI Bill and working toward his graduation Pete and his wife rented a vacant building and opened a garden center selling almost nothing nothing but azaleas. “Calling it a shoestring venture doesn’t come close” says Pete. “I didn’t even have the rent money at the time,but the azaleas kept selling”.With each load I picked up and sold, I garnered more credit and attracted more customer interest in my business”. After losing the lease to the original building they purchased the house next door was and filled the front lot with plants. From there the business grew says Pete: “My entire family became involved” and Gulley’s Garden Center soon became a family concern employing his son Graham, daughter Megan and his wife, Linda who, sadly died in 2005.
Gulley’s Garden Center has been in business since 1974 and has grown from humble beginnings of an near empty building selling little more than azaleas and a few flowers into an entire complex of structures located on Southeast Broad Street in the middle of downtown Southern Pines, just beside the railroad. The Garden Center features an extensive variety of plants, shrubs, a large nursery as well as many materials for the home owner, plant hobbies and even the professional landscaper as well as anyone looking to create green creations ranging from a window sill box to a fine and expansive garden. Pete Gulleys humble dream of keeping the business afloat from month to month has grown so successful that it now employees a dozen person staff, each of them fully educated in the field of plants obtained from years of practical experience and interaction with the different needs of customers. “One of our main focuses is on plant education” says Pete, “but sometimes our customers actually educate us”. This close relationship and focus on service has lead to tremendous loyalty in the Sandhills area to Gulley’s Garden Center.
Gulley’s Garden Center isn’t just a place to purchase plants and supplies and has been become a genuine tourist attraction which for some people is a destination spot not to be missed when visiting the area. A year round Christmas House now adorns a complex of buildings which are decorated with water fountains and water wheels with gardens that feature continuous music heightening the sensory experience of all visitors. Upstairs one building houses “The Military Museum” that features military collectibles dating from the Civil War to the modern theater of Afghanistan. Veterans will often visit the complex just to see this exhibit and often educational school groups are ushered into the museum which is free of charge to all. On the outside of building complex, antique gas pumps adorn the pathways with old farm equipment from various locales showcasing technology from different generations. Once inside one main building, there a sort of social gathering place where people congregate and converse in front of a unique wood burning fire place.
Gulleys Garden Center is not simply a place selling plant supplies to people looking for pretty flowers, but also a local concern that draws both tourist and locals because of a unique quality that combines both business and personal interests of it’s owner, someone who has created an extension of his own personality by turning the ethereal nature of the love of plants into a concrete and mortar tribute to all his interests. Pete Gulley and his Garden Center is proof positive that those who try hard enough can succeed in the pursuit of the American Dream.