Capital Press | Nursery Capital Press Fri, 4 Aug 2017 06:06:38 -0400 en Capital Press | Nursery Newlyweds start cider apple nursery Wed, 31 Aug 2016 17:02:35 -0400 Janae Sargent While many couples spend their honeymoons on the beach or in a hotel, newlyweds Phillip and Kristin Haworth spent their honeymoon searching for graftwood for their cider apple nursery, Cider Babies.

The Haworths started Cider Babies in 2014, a few months before they got married. The operation started with 1,000 trees in their backyard and has grown to 7,500 on a separate property with plans to expand further.

Graftwood is from a tree that is collected and added to a host tree that has already been planted. When it is grafted onto the host tree, the two species grow together to make a single plant.

Cider babies is a bare-root cider apple tree nursery outside Salem, Ore. They sell specialty cider apple trees to individuals and businesses that grow their own apples.

Phillip Haworth grew up on his father’s nursery outside Gaston, Ore. After going to college and spending most of his life in a day job, he started thinking about something he could do with Kristin that would get him out from behind a desk.

He read an article about cider apples that said the biggest limitation on the cider industry was the lack of cider-specific apples.

“I just thought ‘Hey, I can do that.’ And we went for it,” he said.

Kristin explained that cider apples aren’t a product people would eat. They have a lot of quirky qualities and produce only every two to three years, so they are unattractive to many big nurseries and orchards.

Phillip said the biggest interest he has seen in their trees is from individuals who have day jobs and are interested in being a part of the industry out of their love for it.

The Haworths mainly sell to regional cideries but have also sold trees to customers in Iowa, Michigan and Colorado.

“I call us a boutique nursery because we’re small and our product is a little bit expensive,” she said. “But it’s just a different way of growing.”

Kristin, who had no experience in nurseries, said she is just happy to spend time with Phillip learning about the trees.

Kristin and Phillip still work full-time jobs away from the nursery so they spend most of their nights and weekends on their property working.

Haworth said he hasn’t thought far enough ahead to think about how much he wants the nursery to grow, and is enjoying being a part of the industry.

The couple still lives in Salem and commutes to their nursery but plans to move into the house on the property so they won’t have to drive back and forth so much.

“We wanted to build something together, being newly married,” she said. “We do this because we love it.”

J. Frank Schmidt & Son celebrates 70th anniversary Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:48:52 -0400 Janae Sargent J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. celebrates its 70th anniversary this year — and the 50th anniversary of its introduction of the Redpoint Maple tree.

The 2,500-acre wholesale nursery in Boring, Ore., sells more than 500 varieties of trees and has become one of the nation’s largest wholesale nurseries and has one of the leading tree introduction programs.

Even with such a large operation, Nancy Buley, the nursery’s communications director, said a high standard of respect for employees and treatment remains a cornerstone of the company’s success.

Buley considers herself a “tree journalist,” and has been with Schmidt for 26 years — making her one of many employees who have made the nursery a home.

She handles marketing and communications outreach with Jeff Lafrenz, the marketing manager. Both found their way to J. Frank Schmidt unexpectedly and stayed for the supportive environment.

Lafrenz, who has been with the company 30 years, said the creative freedom he has is as close as it gets to being self-employed but with a lot of support from the company.

The company is owned and operated by J. Frank Schmidt III, a third-generation nurseryman. His father, J. Frank Schmidt Jr., started the company in 1946 after growing up on his father’s nursery.

J. Frank Schmidt Jr. saw a need for trees of consistent quality, form and survivability and began cloning and introducing new trees. The nursery has introduced more than 70 trademarked cultivars.

The nursery’s best-known tree, the Redpoint Maple, took 17 years to develop.

Thirty years ago, Schmidt also started selecting trees for heat and drought tolerance.

“Developing trees is a long process that takes a lot of patience, dedication and vision,” Buley said. “Frank Jr. had a lot of vision for the future.”

To clone and introduce a new tree, up to 2,000 seedlings are planted and the best ones are grown out for several years. They are then sent to evaluation trials in various regions around the United States.

Introducing and growing trees has become such a large operation that production had to be split among five smaller farms across the property.

In the first stage of the growing process, cuttings are made to reproduce trees at High Forest Farms, what Buley calls the “nursery of the nursery.”

Manager Celina Villaseñor said her team makes more than 30,000 cuttings per day at the farm.

Eva Alvarez has been on the cutting team for 18 years. Her husband and son also work at Schmidt.

Buley said she thinks employees stay at Schmidt for so long because of how well they are treated and the close-knit community.

For example, every Wednesday after work, employees gather at the company’s 3-acre garden to take whatever food they want home for themselves and their family.

Schmidt employs 70 full-time employees plus seasonal employees. Buley said labor has become a concern at the nursery because it keeps having to raise its wages above minimum wage to stay competitive with other nurseries to get good help.

Buley said another labor concern is replacing retiring employees with a younger workforce.

Schmidt is well into training the next generation to take over the nursery. Frank III’s nephew, Sam Barkley, is expected to take over the company and has been working in various parts of the nursery for eight years.

Alpha Nursery treats employees like family Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:41:14 -0400 Janae Sargent Doug Zeilinski, owner of Alpha Nursery, credits his employees with the growth and success of his business.

Alpha Nursery is a family-owned container nursery that sells more than 750 varieties of plants across the U.S.

Started in 1978 by Zeilinski, a 23-year-old Oregon State University college graduate, it has grown from 3 acres to 150 and bases its success on innovation, diversification and employee empowerment.

One of those employees is RJ Tancredi, general manager, who has been at the nursery 36 years, since the nursery was started. He remembers walking through the original property with Zeilinski and imagining the future.

“I grew up with this program, a lot of us did,” said Tancredi. “This was my first job and will probably be my last.”

Tancredi is the longest-tenured employee at Alpha Nursery but not the only one that has made Alpha a career. Zeilinski said at least two dozen of his 50 employees have been at Alpha for at least 15 years.

When employees reach the 15-year mark, Zeilinski gives them a gold Alpha Nursery watch as a way to commemorate their place at the company.

Employee value and empowerment is a cornerstone that is honored far before employees reach their 15-year mark.

Alpha Nursery maintains a full-time staff of 38 crew workers and 12 staff. Every employee at Alpha has received health insurance, vacation and sick pay for the last 15 years. Zeilinski and the other managers conduct reviews and report cards for each employee to determine bonuses and raises, honor outstanding employees with plaques, hold regular barbecues and parties and even let employees name the equipment they work with.

“If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t have this,” Zeilinski said.

Family is another pinnacle of the growth of the nursery; Tancredi said he ended up being “Uncle RJ” to Zeilinski’s two sons, Scott and Josh.

Scott Zeilinski now manages the Zeilinski farm in Keizer, Ore., and Josh works at the nursery in nearby Salem.

Zeilinski originally grew up on the farm with his dad, Ernie. He said having the farm has allowed the nursery to take more risks and has helped offset times when the nursery didn’t bring in as much money as other years.

Josh said he remembers working with the irrigation crew when he was 6 for 75 cents an hour to save up to buy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures at K-Mart.

After graduating from Pepperdine University and working at a large California nursery, Josh returned to Alpha to get back to the way a family nursery operates.

“It’s more fun working at a place like this,” he said. “We have a lot less employees so we get to know everyone personally.”

Doug Zeilinski said Josh is always out working with the grounds crew to get to know them and to get out of his office.

Tancredi joked that when he dies, his wife will have to sprinkle his ashes at the nursery because he’s put so much of his heart into it.

“I’m not a religious person but I have a lot of faith and this nursery is about as close to church it can get,” Tancredi said.

Online system helps ‘consortium nursery’ thrive Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:48:12 -0400 Janae Sargent Paul Bizon came across the idea of a “consortium nursery,” at which several growers share space and materials, while he was traveling in Germany in 2003.

When he returned to the United States, he partnered with the owners of Oregon Turf and Tree and started Garden World, a highly automated retail nursery that sells growers’ plants through an online management system.

PlantX, the operating system, links the inventory directly to the website so when someone buys a plant, it is taken off the website and the grower of that specific plant is notified.

Bizon also owns Bizon Nursery, a wholesale nursery that is known for its conifers and Japanese maples.

As a grower, he said he saw the potential and need for a system that would link growers and sell their materials together.

Instead of buying grower material upfront, growers bring their products to Garden World and get paid every seven days online for whatever they sell.

“It’s a place for growers to bring material and it’s kind of a balancing act of not letting growers build the nursery up, not selling too much and giving enough material to keep the inventory fresh,” Bizon said.

Located on the side of Interstate 5 just outside Woodburn, Ore., Garden World is the easiest nursery to see and the hardest nursery to find, Zach Peyton, the manager, said.

Because of its location — it’s not on an exit for the interstate — Peyton said the nursery is reliant on its online system to sell product.

When plants come in from individual growers, they are tagged with the grower’s information, which is immediately uploaded to the website. All of the employees and growers have access to the website on their phones so they can see how inventory is moving.

“A lot of people are saying the website made it so easy and that’s why they’re here,” said Peyton.

Bizon said the Willamette Valley is the perfect place for a nursery like Garden World because the growers are all so close they can easily monitor and control their sales.

Wayne Carstensen, a contractor, developed PlantX after Bizon came to him with the idea.

“No software system is out there that is more sophisticated or easy to use,” Bizon said. “There’s nothing like it in the nation.”

In addition to the website, Garden World’s operations are mostly automated. There are five employees at the 10-acre nursery and Peyton said most of the operations can run off of the app.

Before the housing market crash of 2008, Garden World had 15 employees. Peyton said the crash cut Garden World sales nearly in half. To cope, the nursery reduced its staff and stopped selling small plants and vegetables that required a lot of hand labor.

Peyton said landscapers, designers and homeowners drive the market at Garden World. The nursery delivers locally so a lot of sales come from nearby Portland, where people shop online and have their plants delivered to their house.

Carstenson started selling PlantX to growers across the United States as an online operating and management system after he developed it for Garden World.

“The success of the system has really fascinated me,” Bizon said. “Out of this little Garden World company grew this software company that is being used by people throughout the nation.”

Fessler Nursery branches out Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:48:25 -0400 Brenna Wiegand The modest azalea nursery Ken and Marie Fessler started on their Woodburn, Ore., farm in 1960 has grown to over 500,000 square feet of greenhouse space with 35-45 employees.

Though the azaleas upon which Fessler Nursery was founded will be cut from production this year, lush fuchsia plants and baskets are still a mainstay at the second-generation business. Some 20,000 fuchsia baskets leave the gates each year.

Ken and Marie’s sons Dale and Marvin run the nursery; sister Debbie Farrell heads propagation and Katy Fessler manages seasonal retail and special projects.

Though “retired,” Ken is there nearly every day planting, pruning or irrigating.

The linchpin of the nursery’s staying power is its diversification and mastery of four distinct markets — hanging baskets, bedding plants, houseplants and propagation.

In addition to their own vegetative cuttings, the nursery receives up to 100,000 cuttings in a day from Selecta One, a subsidiary of Ball Horticultural Co. and a world leader in breeding, producing and marketing vegetatively propagated ornamental plants. The cuttings come from all over the world.

“We stick over 3 million cuttings,” Katy Fessler said. “It’s hard to say how many plants and baskets we sell; Marv estimates around 700,000 4-inch pots and about 80,000 baskets a year.”

Like the hanging baskets, Fessler poinsettias are popular material for community fund-raisers and the nursery has become a wide area’s go-to place for plant sale fund-raisers, whether Mother’s Day hanging baskets or the Christmas poinsettias.

Last year the nursery added a new section of greenhouses dedicated to the spring fund-raiser baskets.

Poinsettias join the vast array of tropical plants the Fesslers propagate and grow in more than 30 greenhouses. The houseplants are shipped all over the Western United States.

April through June Fessler Nursery opens its doors to the public, where a brisk retail trade includes a crush for Mother’s Day baskets.

“Since we are the grower and reseller, we can charge less and sell in mass quantities,” Katy Fessler said. “It’s a Costco model: low margin, high quality, low price, self-service for the most part and a high volume of product. Where else can you go and find 10 full beds of geraniums?”

Retail season ended June 30 and with the premises clear staff is redoubling their improvement efforts, starting with replacing old greenhouse siding and roofing with more energy-efficient materials.

The nursery continues its five-year exploration and increasing use of beneficial soil microbes and predatory insects toward cleaner and more specific pest control.

“Our baskets are on drip and fertilizer injectors,” Katy Fessler said. “A new flat-filler sticking line improved efficiency in our cutting division and a programmable watering boom lets us custom water our cutting beds.

“Though managing labor, keeping up and putting up with government-mandated regulations and finding the family-work balance is a continual challenge,” Katy Fessler said, “But we love being able to provide a product people really enjoy. We also like being able to stay close to home — there’s no commute!”

Nursery thrives despite remote location Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:47:57 -0400 Brenna Wiegand Marlene Godfrey started Godfrey Nursery in 1981 with little more than a 50-foot greenhouse.

Located outside the small town of Aumsville in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the nursery is now owned by Godfrey’s daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Darren Schad. It operates on about 3 acres, with an expansion underway.

Godfrey Nursery produces annuals, perennials, vegetables, hanging baskets and containers, shrubs, trees and a full selection of hard goods including a gift shop and yard art by local crafters.

“We’re kind of unique in what we do here,” Darren said. “We’re like a wholesale nursery for retail; we grow almost everything ourselves. We’re propagating every other week from December to March, averaging 35,000 cuttings at a time.”

Their biggest trade is in hanging baskets. They produce more than 20,000 baskets annually from the thousands of flats of annual flowers they put out every year. The number goes up every year.

Also on the rise is the call for vegetable starts.

“The demand is crazy for vegetables now; a lot of people have their own little greenhouses,” Darren said. “The biggest pick-up has been among the younger people.”

The nursery is open daily March through September. In response to repeated customer requests, this year for the first time it will be open during the holidays. During the three weekends following Thanksgiving, they’ll sell greenery baskets, containers and other gift items.

“That’s kind of how we’ve driven the nursery for the past 30 years, people asking if we’ll do things,” Darren said. “It’s risky; you don’t want to go too crazy.”

They employ some social media for promotions but the bulk of their clientele comes through word-of-mouth.

Watching over the decades, a pattern has become evident: Regular customers being showing up as soon as the nursery opens for the season, peaking around May 1. June then brings an annual flood of new customers who’ve just heard about the place from those other customers.

“Mom passed away from Alzheimer’s last spring,” Jennifer said. “Sadly, this prevented her from enjoying the growth of the nursery through the past years.”

Since assuming ownership in 1997, Jennifer and Darren have learned who’s really in charge.

“Without a doubt, Mother Nature drives the bus,” Darren said. “When the weather’s good, sales are good. You’ve got to watch for severe cold, too. I do a lot of staying up at night to watch the greenhouses. Though we try to stay preventative there are always things like heaters that decide they don’t want to work.”

While their location off the beaten path has prevented even some locals from discovering Godfrey Nursery, it doesn’t deter visitors from as far away as Seattle, Idaho and Central Oregon, including landscapers, independent garden center owners and municipalities.

“They’ll bring a big trailer or truck and start filling it,” Darren said. “Some make monthly trips.”

Community college has plans to grow Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:47:13 -0400 Janae Sargent The Horticulture Department at Chemeketa Community College has plans for a new Agricultural Complex to help provide the education the nursery industry needs to thrive.

Holly Nelson, dean of agricultural sciences, said staff and faculty are working to tailor the program for the current demands of the horticulture industry and to better structure the degree for students who want to transfer to a four-year college for a bachelor’s degree.

Chemeketa now offers courses in nursery and greenhouse management and a two-year associate degree in horticulture.

“We feel we haven’t tapped in very well to the full potential of this program,” said Andrew Hone, Chemeketa vice president of governance and administration.

The program enrollment fluctuates between 60 and 100 students, depending on the season and courses offered.

The biggest part of the program’s growth plan is the proposed Agricultural Complex.

The proposal includes classrooms, organic garden areas, crop areas, nursery hoop houses, specialty garden areas and possibly an amphitheater. It will also include the existing community partnership food farm.

Greg Harris, Chemeketa’s public information officer, said the community college has submitted the plan to the state for funding.

He said the project is high on the priority list for the state but Chemeketa won’t get a decision until the legislative session concludes in spring 2017.

The first phase of the plan to grow the agriculture department will be the addition of a woody ornamental lab. The department was awarded a $10,000 grant from the J. Frank Schmidt Family Charitable Foundation to build the lab. Chemeketa matched the donation for the lab, which Nelson anticipates will be done this fall.

The lab will be on the Salem campus and dedicated to demonstrations about various woody ornamental grow systems such as pot-in-pot, baled and burlapped and field grown.

The department has also begun working closely with Oregon State University to develop a strong transfer degree in horticulture.

Harris said students are split evenly between people wanting a finished degree or certificate to go to work and students looking to transfer to a four-year college.

Nelson said OSU has been involved in designing courses that create a more seamless pathway to transfer.

Industry advisory committees helped spark another educational innovation. The college is designing five certificates for students who want education in a specific area without pursuing an associate degree.

Joleen Schilling, Horticulture faculty member, said Chemeketa will offer certificates focused on Landscape Design, Landscape Maintenance, Sustainable Practices, Small Farms and Integrated Pest Management.

Nursery industry rebounds from recession Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:42:56 -0400 Janae Sargent As the nursery industry continues to rebound from the housing market crash of 2008, those operations that survived the recession are sometimes struggling to meet the growing demands of landscapers and consumers.

Breanne Chavez, executive director of the Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association, said the landscaping industry is booming and sales are up at retail businesses but that the smaller number of nurseries sometimes struggle to meet the reinvigorated demand.

Approximately 30 percent of nurseries shut down during the recession in response to low demand and a lack of homes being landscaped, she said.

Josh Zeilinski, Oregon Association of Nurseries vice president, said the supply is being built back up to meet the renewed demand.

Zeilinski said the products that are in the highest demand right now are the ones growers decreased production of during the recession. Japanese maples, hedge material and landscaping products are rebounding with the renewed focus on homebuilding.

Chavez said annuals, flowers and hanging baskets stayed strong and continue to be consistently popular. She added that kitchen gardens, herb gardens and edibles kept the industry going when demand for large plant products was down.

The concept of an urban “farm” — backyards with chickens and vegetable gardens — has also gained popularity.

Alongside the concept of urban farms, sustainability and plants that attract pollinators such as honeybees have gained popularity.

“Edibles do really well with young people,” Zeilinski said. “I wouldn’t say they are increasing because they have held really steady.”

Zeilinski said he thinks the North American nursery industry will move toward the European model in the future — focusing on impulse-buy plants that peak when they are in the garden centers.

While he is concerned about the pressure that puts on growers who ship their plants to keep them fresh and peaking, he said it is a good bet to ensure the industry remains strong.

He also sees a future in plants as gifts.

“If young people don’t start buying houses, we need to push the mindset of plant buying toward gift-giving,” Zeilinski said. “We need to make people view plants in a different way.”

Zeilinski and Chavez agreed that it is exciting to have a strong nursery market again and that the industry will continue to generate innovative new ideas in the years to come.

Little Prince adds creative touches Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:42:55 -0400 Janae Sargent Little Prince of Oregon nursery strives to stand out in the industry.

Whether it’s sporting beards made out of succulents at the 2015 Oregon Farwest Show, developing different advertising strategies for each line of plants or painting a giant frog on the side of its delivery trucks, owner Ketch de Kanter and his managers encourage creativity.

Little Prince is a wholesale nursery in Aurora, Ore., that markets perennials, ground covers, ornamental grasses, ferns, native plants and succulents to landscapers and garden centers.

Kanter began the nursery in 1997 with no background in horticulture. Since then, it has grown from 5 to 25 acres and has 160,000 square feet of greenhouse space.

Mark Leichty, director of business development, said branding and product recognition have been huge factors in the nursery’s success and stability.

The nursery has 12 trademarked groupings of plants that the owner and managers brainstormed to be catchy and recognizable. They include such items as “Blades of Glory,” which refers to grasses that provide movement and texture.

When the nursery prepares to introduce a new product, the owner and managers gather for a week to brainstorm catchy names for it.

“If you could be a fly on the wall listening to us come up with new brand names, you would be impressed.” Leichty said. “We want people to be able to recognize us.”

The name and logo for the nursery follow Kanter’s theme of different and recognizable.

Leichty said the name “Little Prince of Oregon” comes from the children’s book “Little Prince” that Kanter’s father used to read to him as a bedtime story. His father used to call him the little prince of Oregon.

The nursery’s logo is a giant frog with a crown on its head. The nursery puts the frog logo on all of the plants, tags, publications and delivery trucks.

Leichty said his favorite part about driving the delivery trucks is seeing the reactions and smiles from other drivers on the highway when they see the giant cartoon frog.

Beyond brand recognition, Leichty said the nursery’s attention to detail has played a big role in bringing repeat customers back to the nursery.

While Leichty is looking at making the nursery more automated, he said it will continue to have the grounds crew hand-water each of the plants.

“We want to have eyes on every crop every day,” Leichty said.

Leichty will design the Little Prince of Oregon booth at the Oregon Farwest Show and said he is looking forward to pushing outside of box more than he did last year.

In 2015, Leichty and Michael Hicks, the head grower, sported long beards made out of succulents and moss. The booth won the “Most Outside the Box” award at the show.

Leichty is planning to take it further this year with an ’80s rock band theme complete with Van Halen-style moss wigs, colored lights and drums and guitars as planters.

When Leichty was hired in 2013, he said he wasn’t expecting the creative freedom he would get. He said he was also surprised at how close the managers and owner became over the years and called them his best friends.

“I love this job so much,” Leichty said. “I basically live and breathe Little Prince.”

Nurseries become destinations for customers Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:42:46 -0400 Janae Sargent Independent garden centers are adapting the idea of becoming “destination nurseries” and offering classes, events and community projects to set themselves apart and compete with box stores.

Breanne Chavez, executive director of the Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association, said nurseries are positioning themselves as a resource and community partner to bring in new customers and make shopping more of an experience than can be had at box stores.

By becoming a destination spot, garden centers have begun offering instructional classes, yoga classes, large-scale social events and cafés to engage community and get new customers in the nursery and interested in gardening.

Garland nursery in Corvallis, Ore., is a regarded Oregon destination nursery. Co-owners Brenda Powell, Lee Powell and Erica Powell-Kaminskas said people come to their nursery to be happy and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.

Garland nursery offers rotating monthly class geared toward plant care, regular classes to engage children and teach them to plant and holds 4 to five large events each year that are open and free to the public.

“Our events and classes are intended to draw in people who might not be customers now but may want to in the future and when they do- they will think of us,” Lee Powell said.

Josh Zeilinski, Oregon Association of Nurseries executive committee vice president, said he thinks the idea of destination nurseries are a good idea.

Zeilinski said changing garden centers to destinations will take a big shift in mindset but that he sees a lot of value, especially in bringing in the millennial generation.

Chavez said one major debate in the nursery industry is how to bring young people in and get them engaged in gardening.

Brenda Powell said she hopes teaching young kids to plant when they are young will give them a love for gardening that will continue when they get older and start buying plants for their homes.

One of the challenges destination nurseries are trying to address is the change in what kinds of plants young people want to buy.

Aimee Damman, director of marketing and communications at Swanson’s Nursery in Seattle, said most young people live in urban areas so there is a shift from large landscaping plants to houseplants and edibles.

Damman said Swanson has positioned itself as a shopping experience with high quality experts to warrant higher prices and bring wealthier young people in looking for edibles and houseplants.

Swanson’s nursery has a café, gift shop, tables and areas to walk and sit and invites people to be there without buying plants.

“There is a sense of peacefulness and calm that comes over you when you are in the nursery,” Damman said. “It’s OK to just enjoy the moment where you are.”

Swanson’s president, Brian Swanson, said becoming a destination experience gives independent nurseries the ability to out compete the box stores.

Swanson said he is concerned that garden centers will go too far with becoming lifestyle centers and sacrificing square footage for plants to make room for classes and recreational space.

“A destination nursery creates fun and a feeling of friendship,” Erica Powell said. “It keeps a steady flow of customers for us and creates a unique experience for them.”

Diversification helps company weather changes Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:42:30 -0400 Janae Sargent When the housing market crash of 2008 cut the demand for sod in half, Tom DeArmond knew the only way to keep Oregon Turf and Tree successful would be to diversify.

In 2015, the company added 10 acres of hazelnut trees to its 700-acre farm to offset the stagnant sales of sod.

In addition to sod and hazelnuts, the farm grows grass seed, shade trees and pot-in-pot trees.

Oregon Turf and Tree serves the Interstate 5 corridor and southwestern Washington.

The company started growing sod in the 1973 after DeArmond, the company’s co-owner, said his father noticed new homeowners’ and builders’ need for instant lawn gratification.

DeArmond said that during the recession, new buildings were going up at half the rate they were before 2008. While the industry has begun to recover, he said it’s still not back to its previous level.

“We don’t see the industry getting bigger anytime soon,” DeArmond said. “I see (sod) becoming a smaller part of the farm.”

Working more efficiently allowed Oregon Turf and Tree to retain 90 percent of its employees after the crash. DeArmond said the business is split evenly into three parts — grass seed, shade trees and sod — so when sod wasn’t doing well he could count on the other products to provide year-round business.

DeArmond said he noticed a big demand for hazelnuts in Asia and invested in growing hazelnuts as a stable product that is a strong crop in the Willamette Valley.

The sod Oregon Turf and Tree has been focused on growing is ryegrass and tall fescue — a drought- and heat-resistant sod that needs less water.

Tall fescue requires less frequent irrigation and tolerates partial shade better than other sods, he said. DeArmond said there has been an evolution in drought-resistant sod over the last 30 years.

While DeArmond said the company is diversifying and may reduce sod production, he stressed the importance of grass and sod to families and their communities.

“Grass is sometimes regarded as non-essential because it doesn’t feed animals or produce water but there are a lot of benefits to it,” he said. “Two hundred feet of grass provides a family of four enough oxygen for a day.”

Oregon Turf and Tree is in its third generation of family owners. DeArmond co-owns the company with his siblings, Brett, Tom and Linda. DeArmond’s father is also still active in the company.

DeArmond is already getting the fourth generation around the company, bringing his 3- and 5-year-old children out to the farm.

“They just think it’s a big playground here,” he said.

DeArmond said he plans to continue to diversify and grow the hazelnut production in the future.

“Diversity has always been a focus of ours and will continue to be,” DeArmond said.

Nursery specializes in succulents Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:42:10 -0400 Janae Sargent After a career in the RV industry, Barbara Diamond’s son inspired her to start Dancing Lizard Gardens — one of only a few specialty succulent nurseries in Oregon.

Dancing Lizard Gardens is a 12-acre wholesale nursery in Junction City, Ore.

Diamond sells hardy succulent arrangements to homeowners, local garden centers and online gift catalog companies. Her succulents have been used as gifts, homes and for weddings.

Diamond was laid off from her 23-year career at RV maker Country Coach in 2005 and started looking for other sources of income.

While she was figuring out her next steps, she took a trip to Decker Nursery with her son, Jerry. Walking around the nursery, he begged her to buy succulents for him to take care of.

“He really got into them,” Diamond said. “He had them all over the place.”

When her son went to college in Ithaca, N.Y., and left his succulents at home, Diamond thought she would give a succulent nursery a try with her husband, David.

Diamond started out selling to Bi-Mart, Jerry’s Home Improvement and Market of Choice and expanded the business to do drop shipments for catalog companies.

Diamond said succulents are good plants to have because they are easy to care for and people are attracted to the vibrant colors.

In addition to selling potted plants, Diamond designs arrangements for specialty containers, wreaths, birdhouses and baskets. Her most popular items are specialty arrangements she designs in bunny, frog, cat, owl and seashell containers.

Diamond studied landscape horticulture at Oregon State University but had experience with succulents before Dancing Lizard Gardens.

Designing arrangements is Diamond’s favorite part of owning Dancing Lizard Gardens. She said she looks for complementing colors and interesting texture when designing her container gardens.

The nursery is managed and maintained by Diamond and her family.

Diamond’s busy season goes from Valentine’s Day through Mother’s Day with the majority of her plants selling as gifts but she is busy year-round shipping for catalogs and selling to garden centers.

Diamond said if she had started Dancing Lizard Gardens when she was younger, she would have expanded it to be a large operation but that she is happy with where it is for her.

“I’m not the kind of person to sit around and do nothing,” Diamond said. “There’s always something to do here and I really enjoy it.”

OAN’s Farwest Show keeps on growing Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:41:30 -0400 Janae Sargent The Oregon Association of Nurseries 2016 Farwest Trade Show will feature expanded programs that focus on navigating the challenges facing the industry today.

Growers, landscapers and wholesalers representing the horticulture industry will gather for the three-day show at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Ore. The show begins on Thursday, Aug. 25.

Last year, 386 exhibitors were at the show, attracting visitors from 47 states and 18 countries. Crystal Cady, the event and member services manager of the show, said the number of exhibitors signed up for the 2016 show has already passed 400, and she expects the floor to sell out.

Charlie Hall, Ellison Chair in International Floriculture at Texas A&M University, will give this year’s keynote address. Titled “Factors Affecting Short- and Long-Term Demand in the Future,” it will explore the major factors of the current horticulture industry.

Hall is a well-known speaker in regards to economics and the future of the industry. He presented at the Farwest Show about the recession in 2013.

This year’s New Varieties Showcase is themed “Plants with a Purpose: Pollinators.” The showcase will feature 55 plants, a record-breaking number for the Farwest Show.

The showcase and several of the breakout sessions such as “Marketing in the Digital Age: Reaching Today’s Time-Starved Consumers” and “Marketing to Generation Me” educate attendees about how to sell plants to the younger consumer.

Allison Pennell, event and program coordinator, said the idea of the “lifestyle gardener” is a growing trend in the industry, especially in the younger generation.

“People want to use their gardens to show their values,” Pennell said. “Restoration and pollinator support are ways people bring their values and lifestyles into their garden.”

Pennell ran an outreach program at Oregon colleges with horticulture programs to attract young people to the show. An annual favorite networking event for young professionals in horticulture will be at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 25 along with the networking event aimed at women in horticulture at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 26.

Farwest will also feature its annual pub-crawl and tours of nurseries and retailers.

Pennell said OAN has revamped its Farwest mobile application for attendees and exhibitors to download and get connected to the schedule and other attendees.

The app allows users to make appointments and set reminders for sessions, view the schedule and synopses of events, and share contact information with other attendees.

Cady said Farwest has been growing in numbers and attracting attendees from more parts of the globe.

“We are the largest show on the West Coast that is a green industry show,” Cady said. “The floor is getting bigger and bigger every year. No matter what you do in the industry, you’re going to find what you need at our show.”

Bonsai nursery owner thinks small Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:40:47 -0400 Janae Sargent Mirai Bonsai nursery, workshop and school in St. Helens, Ore., melds the 2,000-year-old Japanese tradition with a unique Americanized look to create living artworks.

Ryan Neil, owner of Mirai Bonsai, is one of the U.S. pioneers of bonsai as an art form. He created the nursery in 2010.

Bonsai is the practice of creating a miniature but realistic representation of nature in the form of a tree.

Americanized bonsai uses the techniques and principals from traditional Japanese bonsai but portrays American landscapes using native materials.

Neil said using trees that people know makes the context easier to identify with and relate to.

Before starting Mirai Bonsai, Neil studied under Masahiko Kimura, a well-known bonsai master in Japan, for eight years.

“My breakthrough came when I realized there is a lack of connection in the Japanese model,” Neil said. “With our trees, people are saying ‘I’ve seen that before, I’ve been there.’ It helps them appreciate bonsai in a whole new way.”

Mirai Bonsai’s main flagship trees are Ponderosa pines, Rocky Mountain junipers, Sierra junipers, Douglas firs, Colorado spruces, Engelmann spruces and California junipers. Neil said the nursery is conifer specialized and focuses on native Western hearty species. Bonzai trees range in price from $800 up, according to Mirai’s website.

Neil said his company is paving a whole new direction for bonsai in America.

Last fall, Neil brought his living art to the Portland Art Museum in what curators said was the most highly attended private exhibit in their memory of the museum.

Neil and his wife, Chelsea, envisioned the exhibition, called the Artisans Cup, as an exhibition of American Bonsai featuring 70 trees from across North America.

“I’ve never seen anything like (The Artisans Cup),” Neil said. “We tapped into a new way of approaching bonsai in the way we presented the art form and allowed people to view and experience it.”

It also opened the door for Neil to exhibit his work at the Portland Japanese Gardens, the Wieden+Kennedy advertising agency and several artistic installations around the city and the country.

Neil studied horticultural science at California Polytechnic State University knowing he wanted to apply his studies to bonsai someday. While traveling through California learning from people who had bonsais, Neil met his future garden director, Troy Cardoza. When Neil returned from Japan and began his nursery in St. Helens, Troy was one of his first students.

“Bonsai was always a hobby of mine. Now it is my job and I love it,” Cardoza said. “I have a very personal connection to it.”

Neil said there is a big misconception about bonsai with many people believing a part of it is “torturing” trees.

He added that the materials used at Mirai Bonsai come from very harsh environments where they are considered garbage among the rest of the trees. When a tree comes to Mirai Bonsai, he said it is pampered with water and good conditions and encouraged to thrive.

Mirai Bonsai’s focus on Americanized bonsai is intentional. Neil said it is a vehicle to discuss what the origin of American culture is.

“To me, the origin of our culture is our landscapes. They can form people. Living in the Rocky Mountains formed who I was, what I did and what I aspired to be,” Neil said. “In this world where there is no limitation to what we can do or where we can go, losing our connection is like losing our foundations.”

Neil said his dream for Mirai Bonsai is to be considered at or above the level of a professional operation in Japan and to expand people’s knowledge and understanding of bonsai as an art form.

Dennis’ 7 Dees sets sights on growth Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:40:08 -0400 Janae Sargent David Snodgrass sees Dennis’ 7 Dees as a $50 million company and said its managers have developed a four-year plan to meet that goal.

Growth, sustainability and empowerment are the cornerstones of the fourth-generation family-owned landscaping, retail and maintenance company that celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

Owners of Dennis’ 7 Dees recently challenged managers to put together four-year plans that set goals for their divisions.

Snodgrass, the president, said the company is on track to meet the plan’s first-year goal.

Dennis’ 7 Dees is split into four divisions: retail, commercial bid build construction, residential design build and maintenance services.

Snodgrass said the bid build work has steadily increased and is doing well and that he would like to see the maintenance division experience more growth.

The retail division of the Portland-area company is still recovering from the drop in big projects after the housing market recession that began in 2008, but Snodgrass said he has seen a turnaround. He is also looking to expand retail in the future, too.

“I really like that we’re so diversified,” Snodgrass said. “I enjoy all aspects of this industry.”

Growth has been a priority for the company since it started as a wholesale rhododendron nursery in Portland in 1927.

As the company grew, so did the family. When David’s father, Robert Snodgrass, married into the Dennis family, took over the wholesale business and had seven children, all with names starting with a “D,” the business officially adopted the name “Dennis’ 7 Dees.”

David Snodgrass first bought into the landscape division. When he took over in 1977, it was doing approximately $70,000 annually. He said in 2005, revenues hit nearly $25 million.

In 2005 Snodgrass bought out the brothers he was partnered with and brought in his brothers, Dean and Drew, as partners.

Snodgrass said family is vital to the company’s success. That includes both the immediate family and the managers and staff, which he calls the extended family.

“We really encourage empowerment and growth from within here,” Snodgrass said. “We have people who have worked here for 40 years and family members of employees working here, and I’m very proud of that.”

Part of that empowerment plan is a new experiment for the company in which senior management teams hold meetings about decisions and the future of the company without the owners or other authority figures in the room.

Snodgrass said his hope is to make sure the managers think and act like an owner-operator and make decisions collaboratively.

Snodgrass said a big trend he sees in landscaping is moving toward hard surfaces such as patios and synthetic surfaces. He stressed the importance of having green landscaping.

“(Hardsurface) doesn’t invite kids to be outdoors,” Snodgrass said. “There’s so much green landscaping contributes to our environment and quality of life.”

Snodgrass said Dennis’ 7 Dees will also be focusing on developing habits to manage water more sustainably and design green installations with conservation in mind.

Business combines love of ag, sports Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:39:23 -0400 Janae Sargent When Mike Herbard received a master’s degree in health and physical education to become a teacher, he never would have guessed that by his 50th birthday he would become one of the most called-on athletic field landscapers and designers in Oregon.

Herbard owns and operates Athletic Field Design, a Portland-area maintenance and customized graphics service for sports fields at the local, collegiate and professional levels.

With the help of his son, Andy, Herbard has become a nationally recognized expert in field design.

Herbard got his first experience with athletic field landscaping when he was working at West Texas State University.

“The coach just asked if I wanted to work with the guy on the field and I never had before but I had hardly nothing to work with as far as equipment,” Herbard said. “The players treated me more like a teammate than the grounds guy.”

When Herbard’s dad asked him to move back to Oregon with his wife, he got his first job in agriculture, working with a grass seed salesman.

“I went through a career counselor and took a counseling test that said I was very high on agriculture, which surprised me,” Herbard said. “I knew I wanted to be in sports but I had thought I wanted to teach.”

While working with the grass seed company, Herbard said he learned the need to specialize to be successful. Ten years later, he started Athletic Field Design.

Herbard has installed fields at Oregon State University, Clackamas Community College, Madison High School, Oregon City High School and Clackamas High School.

He has maintained fields and painted logos for Little League games, at Nike headquarters and for professional teams.

In 2012, Herbard designed the Alpenrose Stadium for the Little League Softball World Series, which was selected as the Softball Field of the Year by Sports Turf Managers Association.

Herbard started bringing Andy with him to help on the fields when he was 5 years old. After college, Andy went on to work on the grounds crews for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Washington Redskins before returning to Oregon to start his own athletic design company and help his dad with Athletic Field Design.

“I get therapy out of this work,” Herbard said. “It can be very tough but you have so much space and are surrounded by so much greenery it’s therapeutic.”

Going into its 23rd year of business, Herbard has expanded from just field maintenance to a major logo painting operation.

“It’s funny,” Herbard said. “I was originally just doing this on the weekends and working Monday through Friday. I quit my other job to put more time toward this and I still work weekends because I’m just so busy.”

Herbard said his passion is the baseball fields and that his business has allowed him to be close to the sports he loves.

Water lilies, koi add tranquility to gardens Thu, 18 Aug 2016 17:38:28 -0400 Janae Sargent Ann Spieran sits back in her lawn chair and watches the koi fish circle each other in a pond they share with water lilies.

“I enjoy the sound of the water and watching the fish,” Spieran said. “It’s very tranquil.”

Spieran has worked with water lily ponds and koi since she was 20. Previously located in Silverton, she has been doing business in the Willamette Valley since 1976. She moved to her Salem location in 1990.

Her business, Willamette Koi and Water Lilies, is a specialty nursery that offers a variety of water lilies, water plants, perennials, bamboo and koi.

In addition to being a retailer of fish, Spieran sells koi food, nets, medications, pumps, filters and other pond equipment.

When she started her business, it was one of the few retailers in the area that sold koi. Spieran said there has since been a big increase in the popularity of koi and more retailers are selling them.

However, but she has a loyal customer base and keeps busy. She sells primarily to individuals and to some landscape companies.

The property is dotted with ponds where Spieran grows water lilies and other water plants.

Spieran’s interest in water lilies came from their aesthetic. She said they are “almost too perfect.”

That aesthetic attraction carried over into caring for koi fish. Spieran said she loves the complex colors of the fish.

“You could spend a lifetime just studying the color patterns on these fish,” Spieran said.

Originally, she didn’t go into the industry planning on working with koi but said she knew she wanted to work with animals since she was young.

“My mom says she remembers me being two and laying on the ground watching ants go by,” Spieran said. “I guess animals have always been my thing.”

Spieran said her nursery almost didn’t survive the housing market crash but that last year was really good for her — and so far 2016 has been, too.