After receiving an ecological education in college during the late seventies, it became obvious to our founder, Jim, that we would be better off if our landscapes were dominated by native plants, rather than plants from foreign lands. The natural ecological processes that provide us with a high quality of life do not function without the native plants that have evolved to support them. One day, Jim asked his gardening neighbor and mentor Thompson Palmer whether he thought it would be possible to landscape using only native plants. The answer came after a long pause. His, "Well, I suppose so", contained just enough uncertainty for Jim to claim the challenge as a worthy goal. The native plant movement had yet to materialize, so Jim launched his own little nursery on leased land, and in his parents' side yard, to provide natives for his landscaping jobs.
By 1986 Jim had found the land for his future nursery, 44 acres of degraded farmland and some logged woods, with an old log house thrown in free. Like most of the abused land in our area, it was covered by invasive exotics. Over the decades, a nursery dedicated solely to growing plants native to the eastern United States has taken shape.
Our long-term employees form the backbone of the nursery. Isabel has overseen field operations since 1991, and still prefers to do most of the hand-digging. Roberto joined Isabel in 1997 and together they oversee the field crew and get the hardest work of the nursery done.
Most of the nursery is dedicated to growing native shrubs and trees in raised in-ground beds. Beds are mulched and surrounded by grassy margins to improve and protect our precious soil and water quality. In-ground nursery stock is not irrigated, receives little or no fertilizer, and no pesticides. Any plant that is not well rooted is unlikely to survive, and our customers receive plants that have proven themselves in the real world.
We also have a modest container operation, which allows us to grow seedlings, root-prune trees before they are planted in the field, and provide natives for customers who require pots for their retail sales. Most of our plants have been grown from seed, allowing their natural variation to shine. We prefer to foster this diversity, the stuff of evolution, rather than to just grow the easier cultivars.
Just keeping up with the demands of the nursery consumes most of our energy - and then some during the growing season - but we're always hoping to improve. We welcome advice from anyone willing to offer it. We're particularly interested in further limiting our ecological footprint, and in strengthening our connections to other local green businesses and our community.
In late 2006 we installed solar panels that produce all the electricity that our home and business use, and send some off to the neighbors. By late 2009, they had paid back our investment. Our native plants are grown in a relatively natural manner consuming minimal resources, and our log home is heated with wood from local sources. We have not yet weaned our tractor and pickup trucks from needing to burn fossil fuels, however, and hope to improve on that in the future. Most of our nursery is based on using organic materials, but we still use herbicides for weed control, and commercial fertilizer on containers. We'd like to reduce our reliance on these inputs, and would appreciate advice on how alternative methods might be feasible on a fairly large scale.