The courtyard at Monrovia’s 1,200-acre plant nursery in Dayton, Ore. was buzzing with bees Tuesday as visitors toured elaborate displays set up for the company’s 2018 Handcrafted Expo, which runs through Sept. 7.
Kate Karam, editorial director for Monrovia Nursery — one of the largest growers in the country — highlighted new selections for 2019, including hydrangeas, roses and rhododendrons, which she said have jumped in popularity over the last several years.
“It’s been a really steady category for a very long time,” Karam said. “A couple of big designers in the U.K. started doing big designs with them. All of a sudden, everyone wants rhododendrons.”
The fourth annual Monrovia expo kicked off July 30, overlapping with the 2018 Farwest Show, the industry’s largest trade show on the West Coast. An estimated 6,000 people are expected to attend Farwest, Aug. 22-24 at the Oregon Convention Center in downtown Portland.
Both events come at a time of promising growth within the industry. According to figures released by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, wholesale and retail nurseries posted their second-best sales year on record in 2017, at $947.7 million.
Greenhouse and nursery plants were the most valuable agricultural commodity in Oregon in 2017, followed by cattle and calves at $695.2 million, hay at $585.1 million, milk at $500.7 million and grass seed at $455.2 million.
Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries, hailed the latest figures in a statement, adding that more than three-fourths of what is grown in Oregon is shipped over state lines to destinations as far as the East Coast.
“The wholesale nursery industry is a traded sector that serves markets in every time zone of the United States, as well as Canada and overseas, and brings significant dollars back to the Oregon economy,” Stone said.
Oregon is the nation’s third-leading greenhouse and nursery state, behind only California and Florida.
Jonathan Pedersen, vice president of business development and intellectual property for Monrovia, attributes strong sales nationwide to the rebounding U.S. economy. Indeed, the Oregon industry’s best sales year came in 2007, topping $1 billion worth or products just before the Great Recession hit, causing sales to decline.
“The landscape and nursery industry is very tied to housing starts,” Pedersen said in an interview at the 2018 expo. “When housing rebounded after the recession, so did we.”
Along with new houses, Pedersen said landscaping is the number one return on investment for current homeowners to increase their curb appeal, adding $1.15 to $1.20 in value for every dollar spent.
Monrovia has four nurseries across the country, including Dayton, with the others in Visalia, Calif.; Cairo, Ga.; and Granby, Conn. Corporate offices are located in Azusa, Calif. The company grows roughly 4,000 different varieties of plants.
Josh Cady, a sales manager for Monrovia, led a tour of the Dayton nursery, which handles most of the plant propagation and is the only nursery of the four to have a tissue culture lab.
Tissue culture now accounts for 26 percent of propagation inside the greenhouses, Cady said.
“It’s a great way for us to keep selections true to type,” he said.
It generally takes at least three or four years before plants are ready to ship to stores, and as many as six years for certain varieties. From seedling to shipping, Cady said the goal is consistency.
Looking ahead, Pedersen said the company is focused on breeding plants that require less intensive care and maintenance. Western Oregon is a great place to grow nursery plants, he said, based on climate and availability of water.
Pedersen is hesitant to predict the future, but said that as the economy continues to do well, the industry will also continue to thrive.
“We’re a discretionary income product,” he said. “Right now, it looks good.”