“The first step to wisdom, as the Chinese say, is getting things by their right names.” page 4, “Consilience, the unity of knowledge” by Edward O. Wilson
“Success, like war and charity in religion, covers a multitude of sins.” Sir Charles Napier as quoted on page 345 “How the Scots Invented the Modern World, the true story of how Western Europe’s poorest nation created our world & everything in it”
– by Arthur Herman
“Not every weakening of the external base of an intellectual position results in retrogression of the abstraction-reflexivity sequence; after all, there are also the great synthetic positions in times of weakness, which push up the level of abstraction in the grand combination.” page 799 “The Sociology of Philosophies, a global theory of intellectual change”
– by Randall Collins
The purpose of this newsletter is to advertise and to admonish. The advertising will consist of a listing of all of the plants that are available for shipping this spring and the admonishing will consist of many suggestions how you, our many fine customers, can work harder and longer and live more frugally so that you will be able to purchase more and to pay your bills on time. The reason for all of this advertising is because our product line, groundcovers and perennials, is an inelastic commodity, economically speaking. This means that our customers, whether landscapers or garden center operators, only want it when they need it and not at any other time, and that price is almost irrelevant compared to quality and timeliness of the delivery.
What we do not have on hand we can make during the spring and early summer as we are producing all of the time. Fast growing plants, ajugas and fallopias, have as short as a six week production time and they actually make up a good quality plant during that time. Also when we have a heavy liner all over-wintered and all, such as the ornamental grasses, these will make up a well rooted gallon in a short time period. Thorndale ivy and coloratus are just right eight weeks after sticking because we stick a lot of cuttings in a pot or cell.
Please remember the new area code, 269, or the calls will not go through. We are hoping that the construction project down the road does not cut the phone line for the third year in a row. It was fun to walk into the office in the middle of the spring rush and to hear no phones ringing or anyone talking, just sitting around waiting, until the $100,000 per day loss in sales started to sink into the consciousness.
Notice in the new catalog/price list the color aerial photos of our six properties scattered around Berrien County, which is in the Southwestern corner of Michigan equidistant from Chicago, Detroit, and Indianapolis. Next year we will not believe the printer people who said that the catalog paper would print up good color photos. We will get some paper that actually works. We are on the St. Joe River that flows through South Bend, Indiana and the clever reader will figure out why it is named South Bend. The Shawnee Farm Main Office photo shows the new gutter connected loading dock extension. The South Shawnee Farm is actually called Shawnee South and it is a 95 acre farm directly across the road from the 24 acre Main Office location. The Jung Farm is 87 acres and is all sand and will be the main field growing operation in the future. The Snow Road farm is currently the main field grown operation. There we are dealing with heavy clay soil that has been augmented extensively with organic matter. The Niles Farm is a 48,000 square foot AAA gutter connected on a 4 acre fenced in plot. It is for sale to anyone who wants to have their very own nursery. It is a lot of fun to own a nursery and a good way to make money and, best of all, you are your own boss so you can take off any time that you want. It has natural gas and city water and a loading dock, indoor plumbing, and everything. It is too far from the office for us to easily manage and organize so we are ready to peddle it.
The next page of hypertufas is self explanatory except that we have found that some of the shapes advertised are difficult to mass produce and some shapes are real easy to produce. Therefore there will be very few of the #5 rustic oval planter in the near future as we need to get the molds vacuum formed before we can go into production. There will be thousands of the #7 8″ Herb Planter and also a lot of the #9 14″ Classic Color Bowl. We are also developing half a dozen other sizes and shapes and these will be illustrated in the next newsletter that will come out the middle of May. For now we are shipping the hypertufas on our folding racks. Once we get the customers up to speed everything will be palletized, stretch wrapped, and shipped out by the truckload. We prefer to sell these as hard goods and to give the customers the opportunity to pot them up with plants at their place of business. The temptation when we pot them up ourselves is to throw in any over-grown and strange plant found laying around and call it beauty. To begin with these pots are being produced with a smooth, lightly textured surface and a relatively thin wall, less than 1″ a thick. Conventional hypertufa production has a thick wall of 2″ to 3″ thickness and is hand made over a male mold thus giving it a textured surface. For sheer amusement we have our staff look at the prototypes and comment on which ones appeal to their tastes. This supports the old saw that beauty is in the eye of the beholder as everyone has a different opinion. We have arrived at that stage in our journey through life where we are in this business for the money, in case there is any confusion in anyone’s mind from me being too subtle in years past, and we will now grow any plant, however ugly, and produce any hypertufa of any shape, color, texture, or size that sells. If we find a particularly ugly one I will put it beside the refrigerator and see if that helps with the weight loss program.
A very good plant is Geranium sanguineum ‘Alpenglow’ that is a slightly dwarfer version of the Bloody Cranesbill, Geranium sanguineum. It makes a nice rounding clump with dark green leaves and a lot of deep pink blooms during the bloom season of early summer.
Hosta Fragrant Bouquet is a nice variegated hosta with chartreuse green leaves and white borders. It does not fade or scorch in the full sun and has a sweet smelling flower besides.
In the grass selections, Miscanthus ‘Condensatus’ is one of the best large miscanthuses and one with the least name recognition. It is similar to Malepartus. It is listed because there is a lot of it because years ago someone probably told us that they would buy a truckload of it if we grew it and all of that information is lost in the mists of time.
Schizachyrium scoparium ‘The Blues’, Little Bluestem, is the best grass or perennial for groundcover of all. I cannot say enough good things about it for a mass planting and three season interest. In the shrub area is Sorbaria sorbifolia, one of my all time favorite plants formerly known as False Ural Spirea. This plant reminds me of sumac as it is a woody shrub that spreads a lot and takes trimming with a brush hog. It gets a little tall if left alone. The blooms are unique and make a good cut flower. In fact I recently planted a 200′ long row out in the field for the wife to cut and it was one of my better moves in years and has obviated the need for marriage consoling for a few years. The bloom head starts as a lot of little white BB shaped flowers that later on open into an astilbe like plume. This texture can be obtained nowhere else.
Lamiastrum gal. ‘Compactum’ is one of the better groundcovers. The smaller leaf makes a good texture. The compactness makes it less invasive than the regular Yellow Archangel. Once one gets past the yellow blooming stage it makes a handsome and extremely hardy groundcover. If sales for this item do not pick up dramatically the upper echelon management will think that either no one reads this newsletter or that few are influenced by it. And this would be disheartening after so much effort has gone in to establishing credibility. This reminds me of the old adage about 50% of the advertising dollar is wasted but that no one knows which 50% it is. That is why we put out a regular availability list so that you will know what we have. At least that is a good start in this whole process of getting the right product to the customer who needs it and can make money with it, at the right time.
The Native prairie and wetland plants are grown for us by another nursery. We cannot begin to pronounce the names so we are not going to be growing them ourselves. You will note under the native listing the archaic nomenclature for little bluestem grass. We call it Schizachyrium scoparium and they call it Andropogon scoparius. This is the same thing although I have spent much time in the office wetting my pants while listening to our sales staff trying to convince a customer that this is the same plant.
The STEPABLE™ program has been a good marketing program for us. This program was invented by Frances Hopkins out west who actually knows how to advertise and promote and we are the Midwest franchisees. In fact it is such a good idea that it has spawned several cheap imitations that you should be on the alert for. I had tried to sell some of these very same plants such as herniaria glabra in years past and could not give them away and now with a little advertising and promotion it just walks out the door. Speaking of promotion you will note the P.O.P. material on page 24. Us big time marketers know that P.O.P stands for “point of purchase” and this is advertising that is right out there on the bench next to the plants that are on display. It is the latest thing, for those who are backward, promotionally speaking. The “Retail Package” listed on page 20 is one of our folding shipping racks full of plants along with some free promotional material. The only size pot that STEPABLES™ come in is the suggested by the franchisor 3 ½” pot. These come in a skinny tray of only two rows so that one does not have to buy too many of one variety. The 3 ½” is too large to plant between flagstones and thus it is suggested that the planter person quarter them with a knife and this works out real well. If anyone finds a plant that would work in this program, let us know and we will send it out to the coast to be vetted by the marketing geniuses out there.
The first rule of advertising says that someone out there, for some reason, however unlikely it may be, will want to buy what one has for sale. We are hoping to find that person and we will not inquire too closely as to why one might need 10,000 gallons of Waldsteinia ternata, although it is a fine groundcover and spreads just right and is not invasive or subject to reversion as would be the Houttuyinia cordata of which we have 3,000 gallons. Another good plant is leadwort, Ceratostigma plumbaginioides. This is a relatively well- behaved full sun groundcover. It has light green leaves and for three months during the heat of the summer it is half covered with the most brilliant blue flowers. When frost hits it the foliage turns red and mahogany for a few weeks. With plumbago, as with most things in life, nothing is free and the blue flowers all summer come at the expense of this being a herbaceous perennial and in late fall it needs to be mowed down or one has ugly brown leaves and stems to look at all winter. In Chicago it will benefit from a light mulching all winter, or so I am told. There are 3,000 gallons and a lot more can be made in a hurry from potting up a heavy quart. There are 5,000 gallons of Liriope spicata, creeping lilyturf, and it makes a good grass-like groundcover. It is all over the Chicago Botanical Garden, which is an indication of its hardiness and not necessarily of their good taste. We really want to sell the 18,000 gallons of Thorndale Ivy. These have been around for a year or two and have been trimmed back regularly. These have a lot of buds and will really pop once planted. The 3,000 gallons of E. Coloratus, purpleleafed wintercreeper can be greatly expanded as we have plenty of heavy quarts to trim and pot up. On big orders we can always use some lead time to turn out an exemplary product. It is so much easier and more fun to always have an exemplary product and with plant material quality is almost always the same as age. All that is needed besides time are a deep pot, a good soil mix, and regular trimming. We, here at Twixwood, attempt to provide all three of the variables to our product.
A glance at the 2 ½” groundcover availability, and we hope that you have time to curl up with this list some evening to commit it to memory, will show that we are approaching our goal of producing exactly what will sell the next season. To do this accurately involves some special prognostication skills which involve taking into account the prime rate, new housing starts, the weather as influenced by El Niño and La Niña, a determination of the rain patterns in the forthcoming spring such that the weekends are always sunny, and the heat spells in June that will cause people to quit gardening and to go boating. As though life is not complex enough without us needing to be fluent in the social graces in two languages and in two entirely different cultures, we now need to worry about Martha Stewart’s public persona. Whatever one thinks of her personal business practices, and my favorite story is that when she does business with someone she picks them up by their feet and shakes them until all the money falls out, she has created a general awareness bordering on guilt of people about their yards and gardens. This all accrues to our benefit. Back to the 2 ½” groundcover, we have 8,000 flats of Pachysandra Green Carpet. A few years ago we resolved to never be short of this, our highest margin product. Its only shortcoming being related to the six week hysteresis between the time that it is tall and floppy, cut back, and buds out again. When we can get our customers to take the newly sheared product that looks a lot like bare green stems sticking out of the dirt this will be a perfect world. Just think how much easier it will be to install and mulch over. Collecting from the customer may be a little difficult as often they expect to see something out in the yard besides mulch by the time that they pay up. All landscapers owe a debt of gratitude to the Oehme Van Sweden landscape designers as they have done a great deal to lower the level of expectations of the customers as to how the landscaping will look during the first year after installation. First of all this is realistic and secondly, by then the check has often cleared.
With regards to the lamiums and lamiastrums, the dead nettles and the false dead nettles, and whom do we thank for this nomenclature, you will note that we have attempted to simplify our lives by offering these in the 48 cell pak and the 4″ quart sizes and have skipped the 2 ½” size, which can always be custom grown. This plant is a cool weather grower and it overgrows rapidly in the early spring and then in the heat of the summer either it stops growing or out and out dies on us when it is over-watered, under-watered, or fertilized at all. Sometimes life is rough in the nursery business. The same cultural practices apply to Sweet Woodruff, Galium odoratum, which we can produce in spades, but only in March and September when it is cool.
The four monardas listed are always ugly and this is a problem because our pickup people have been carefully instructed to not pick up ugly plants, which are defined as ones that are not in bloom, are overgrown and floppy, are covered with mildew, or are recently cut back. This pretty much describes the life cycle of the monardas, bee balms, bergamots, which are most commonly known as being the flavoring agent in Earl Grey Tea. Monardas are great for mid-summer color when planted en masse in the full sun and when viewed from a distance. Thus they are a better landscape plant than a garden center plant.
The Penstemons ‘Elfin Pink’ and ‘Prairie Fire’ have similar characteristics; being very colorful in the field and being very floppy in a pot.
The best ever mid-summer plant is Rudbeckia ‘Summerblaze’. This is substantially improved over the regular goldstrum. It is a little dwarfer and an all-around better plant.
All in all this is making out to be the best spring ever. The shipping system is at the best ever, with expanded loading docks, and with picking up, sorting, tagging, and shipping and delivery systems being at peak operational efficiency. It is a well-oiled machine. All that we need are some sunny weekends in the spring and a lack of late frosts and we will all be happy that we have chosen the nursery business for our business. Production will begin in March and continue throughout the spring and summer so that any plant shortages will be of a temporary nature.
Over 100,000 gallons of daylilies have been produced, all being potted up last summer or the year before, and all being over-wintered outside under a good snow cover. We want to sell them all. Until late May they will look just like a pot of dirt with nothing in it except for a nice color tag. This is by far the best time to ship them as the customer cannot complain that they are not in bloom that the scapes have been broken off in the shipping process, that the late frost has curled the leaves, or that the occasional weed is in the pot. Just trust us. At least these will be better than the ones that are potted up in March from roots bought in from Europe. The most difficult part of reading the catalog is to decipher the descriptions of daylily bloom colors and sizes. Good luck in this process.
Another availability list with very little accompanying text will show up the end of May so that the garden centers will be able to extend the season into June and so that the landscapers will be able to get a good start on the summer installations. Keep your spirits up and your powder dry.