Katie Brooks bought Bagley's Greenhouse in Orono and reopened it as The Garden Shed in 2022, after nearly 20 years working in health care, trucking and management. Credit: Emily Burnham / BDN

Most people will switch careers at some point, going from one industry to another at least once during their working lives.

Hampden resident Katie Brooks has had four different careers in very different industries before she turned 40 — the most recent change being the one she finds the most fulfilling of all.

After working in health care, trucking and even running a golf course with her husband, Jason, Brooks is now the owner of The Garden Shed, a greenhouse and garden supply shop on Stillwater Avenue in Orono, formerly known as Bagley’s Greenhouse until Brooks purchased it from that family in 2021.

After an abbreviated first season in 2022, Brooks will open for this year’s planting season on April 29 with a refurbished greenhouse and expanded shop offering an extensive selection of house plants, planters and garden decor, in addition to outdoor flower and vegetable garden staples like petunias, geraniums, tomatoes and herbs.

“I will admit it’s a pretty far cry from trucking,” Brooks said. “But it just feels right. And every day I am surrounded by flowers.”

Though she grew up in a family that always had gardens and she has grown flowers and vegetables at her home, Brooks’ road to buying a greenhouse wasn’t something she planned.

She attended the University of Maine and studied food science and nutrition, getting her bachelor’s degree in 2004 and master’s degree in 2006. She spent nearly 10 years working at Eastern Maine Medical Center as a dietician.

By the time she was 30, she was ready for a change — one that involved being her own boss. In 2012, she and her husband signed on to manage Pine Hill Golf Course in Orrington, while he worked in the off season driving for FedEx. Jason Brooks stayed on with the golf course, and in 2021 the couple bought it outright.

In 2014, Brooks heard that several FedEx routes in the Bangor region were for sale. She decided to buy them and start her own FedEx trucking company, which was contracted to run ground shipping routes in eastern Maine.

Over the course of seven years, Brooks grew her company from a handful of routes to more than 20 throughout Washington and Hancock counties, covering the entirety of the area between Calais and Bar Harbor for FedEx ground shipping.

She had 20 employees driving 20 trucks, and her company made nearly $2 million in revenue in 2019, making hers the 12th largest woman-owned business in Maine at that time.

“It was a lot. Being a woman contractor in a very male-dominated industry was definitely a challenge,” she said. “And we had three babies during that time. It was a very, very busy time in my life.”

As it has for so many people, the pandemic caused another pivot in Brooks’ life. Faced with skyrocketing gas prices and three small children at home during quarantine, she pondered the idea of getting out of the trucking business. In 2021, she saw that the Bagley family wanted to sell their longtime greenhouse business in Orono.

Now that, she thought, was something she could see herself doing.

Katie Brooks bought Bagley’s Greenhouse in Orono and reopened it as The Garden Shed in 2022, after nearly 20 years working in health care, trucking and management. Credit: Emily Burnham / BDN

“I definitely loved gardening, but I knew absolutely nothing about running a greenhouse,” she said. “It was a huge learning curve. And, of course, we bought during the pandemic, when there was a big plastic shortage and we couldn’t get enough pots. Last year was all about learning the ropes.”

She also wanted to get into a business that she could get her kids involved in. Though they are all ages 8 and younger, Brooks said she looks forward to teaching them about operating a small business, and to love nature and gardening.

“They’re still too young to really do anything, but I have my 8-year-old filling pots,” she said. “I want them to see what it’s like to work and to be responsible.”

After an inaugural season in 2022, Brooks renovated the greenhouse and greatly expanded her offerings in house plants and succulents. The care and display of indoor plants has grown exponentially in popularity over the past few years, with Millennials and Gen Zs outfitting their living spaces with carefully curated selections of plants.

The outdoor planting season is still her major money maker, and it is starting slightly earlier this year — it’s traditionally thought that the first full moon in May signals the start of the season, and that’s set for May 5 this year.

Working on nature’s timeline is very different from working on that of a large corporation like FedEx or Northern Light.

“You can’t predict the weather, and the kinds of plants that are available can change all the time. I think one thing running a business like this has taught is to be much better at going with the flow,” she said. “You can’t be rigid when it comes to plants.”

The Garden Shed opens on April 29 at 111 Stillwater Ave. in Orono.

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.