“Taste is the adversary of originality”
– Anonymous, IKEA advertisement
“The tendency to impute order to ambiguous stimuli is simply built into the cognitive machinery we use to apprehend the world. It may have been bred into us through evolution because of its general adaptivness.”
– Gilovich, “Heuristics of Judgment: Extensions and applications”
Lou Kimmel turned 80 on December 7, 2002. She was the co-founder of Twixwood Nursery. She named Twixwood and the story is that my father told her to make up the name for the nursery and that it could not have the name of the owner in it and that it had to have the word wood in it because all nurseries should have wood in their name. There were trees surrounding the original 33 acre property and hence the name. The nursery was started in early spring of 1968 and the first plant produced was Vinca minor ‘Bowles’. My father had planted several rows down by the river and they grew well. He had obtained the original stock from Springhill Nursery in Tipp City, Ohio after they had imported it in from England. There was an exponential expansion of the nursery for the first six years. My father did all of the growing and field work and my mother did the office work and employee supervision and was the front man, so to speak, dealing with the customers. My mother is finally retired. She lives on the nursery and she can look out her window to see when the light goes on in our house and when we wake up.
The new catalog is almost out and we would like you to look at it and file it somewhere that you might find it in an emergency. Anyone who needs to consult the catalog during the year should have their own personal copy, so please let us know and we will send out as many as your company needs. The memory is frail and we want everyone to be able to refresh it from time to time.
A few of you still have not changed the mailing address to P. O. Box 247 and now all of you need to change the area code to 269. The thought of people trying to call in an order and not being able to get through causes me to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. This is doubly traumatic as I often find my wife already awake and staring at the ceiling worrying about the money and how we are going to get through another winter.
The prices in the new catalog are about the same as last year. We have added a new type of tray to go along with our many others. This is the Root Tutor from Summit Plastics, which is a 10-20 tray with 32 cells, 2 ¼” in diameter and 4″ deep and with vertical grooves to ostensibly limit root circling. To better serve the buying public and to make the job of production scheduling infinitely more complex we now have four different paks for producing groundcover in the 32 per tray size: Jiffy 527 peat pots, SVD’s, Jumbo 4 Paks, and now the Root Tutor. These are all the same price per pot, unit, cell, or whatever. To the landscaper these are more or less fungible. The retailer usually prefers something that does not disintegrate with a lot of handling and sorting that happens when the customers search for the largest plant in the tray. This goes a long way toward explaining why I am not in the retail business. The Jumbo 4 Pak is the preferred retail pak as it is plastic and tears away easily and at least 4 plants are sold at a time. We do peat pots for historical and sentimental reasons because they are what we started with and as I have said before ‘you always want to dance with the one who brung you’. We also custom grow a 2 ½” pot in what was the old NuPot 25 and is now the Landmark 25. As mentioned before, the Landmark 25, which is almost the identical pot to the SVD, has the added advantage of saying 3″ on the side of the cardboard box that they come in and this provides some sop to our conscience when the customers call for a 3″ and we only have a 2 ½” in our line. The same quality plant material is in each pot: 3 cuttings of ivy and coloratus, 2 cuttings of pachysandra, and a handful of vinca minor.
The big news this year is that we produced one million dollars worth of plants more than we have in the past. We did not build any more poly houses so they are all freezing outside this winter but there is no reason to share our internal management debates with our customers except to mention that there are some. The medium big news is hypertufa. This is a light- weight concrete using peat, perlite, and vermiculite as the aggregate. The pots and troughs made from it weather well and have the latest au courant rustic look. This is our first big attempt at horizontal integration and its attractiveness relates to the fact that concrete does not require watering, at least after it is cured, or fertilizing or trimming to be saleable. At this time our customers are requesting these as a planted item. I would prefer to sell these as a hard goods and to give someone else the opportunity to plant them up and deliver them. We are geared up to produce about a thousand units a day and this can be expanded on short notice. We can produce about any shape or size. If you have any more ideas about shapes other than those that we offer or if you have a finer sense of aesthetics than we do, just let us know. Send us a sample or a photo or a drawing of what you can sell and we will figure out how to make it. We are developing the technology to make large globes and columns and strawberry jars and everything in this material. We have worked hard and long in the nursery business and now we want to make money the easy way. In our nursery side of the business we have a policy of being completely open about showing everything to visitors. In part this is because of the late Ralph Shugert’s fine example, in part because we are long time International Plant Propagators Society members and that is part of their ethic, and in part because I am so happy to see anyone that I spill the beans with little provocation. There is an exception going to be made from this open door policy when it comes to the manufacturing of hypertufa. We think that we have some new techniques to produce and reinforce this new product and we will be hesitant to explain these to the curious. We hope that you will be understanding of and not too offended by this policy.
A good place to start getting conversant about troughs is to join the North American Rock Garden Society, J. Mommens, Exec. Secretary, PO Box 67, Millwood, NY 10546 for $25. These are interesting people and it is broadening to one’s perspective on life to look at their publication. The main purpose of joining is to buy for $2.50 their booklet “Handbook on Troughs”. This has many nice photos of hypertufa troughs with plants in them and instructions on how to do it.
In my insatiable quest for knowledge to share with our good readers I was, the other day, perusing “The Mulch Book, A Complete Guide for Gardeners” by Stu Campbell and found the following useful information. The subject was wood chips and sawdust that had gone sour due to anaerobic decomposition and when used around woody plants caused “leaf scorch, chlorosis, and defoliation”, in other words, declining, dead, and dieing. Also used were such technical terms as “methanol, acetic, acid, and ammonia”. Useful information is imparted such as if it smells sour it is sour and which is caused by storing it in large piles and not turning it often to add oxygen to the mix. This was all well and good until the author went on with what we used to call obiter dicta, on page 53. “Wood chips from a brush chipper generally make excellent mulch. Regrettably, they are not a cheap item anymore. At the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, wood chip mulch is stolen from beneath plants faster than the gardeners can put it there. That gives you an idea on how popular wood chips are.” Call me provincial but I think that this tells us a lot more about New York City than it does about the economics of wood chips.
In regards to the aforementioned ongoing quest we have here in the office the book “Gardens for the Future: Gestures Against the Wild”, by Guy Cooper and Gordon Taylor, Monacelli Press. This is $35 from Amazon and it is the most entertaining $35 that I have spent in years. Anyone who has anything to do with plants needs this book and they need it during the winter months so that they can curl up with it on a cold snowy day and be continuously reminded that there are some strange people out there and that those people have nothing better to do than to design landscaping. Every page in it is my favorite and my only wish is to not meet these people in person.
We had our open house the end of September and for the second year in a row we all experienced a cold rain. Next year we are going to have it in July as we generally can use a good rain then. We all walked around and looked at plants and saw enough 1 and 2 year grass clumps in the field to produce half a million divisions. Some got a tour of the steam shop. Most got to see our 37 acre, 1.7 million square feet, newly leveled container and building site across the road. We were expecting to see more of our fellow groundcover growers for the midwest market to stop by for a visit; however, it appears that the owners do not want their people to see our 15,000 square foot covered loading dock to the which we are in the middle of adding another 12,000 square feet. This covered loading dock is just the bananas when there are cold rainy days in the spring and cold frosty nights and it was a good place to have the open house besides.
In studying the new price list I was puzzled by the little “new” leaf symbols in front of the hostas: ‘clausa’, Hyacinthina, Fragrant Blue, Fresh, and Honeybells. These varieties looked vaguely familiar to me as we have been trying to foist them off on the unsuspecting public for years. It appears that we programmed the computer to designate the new plants and they are ones that were not in the price list last year. Of course the reason that they were not in there last year is because no one had bought them the year before. Upon further reflection on this matter I was overcome with a warm glow of satisfaction at the exhibition of optimism emanating from the college graduate marketing people that I have hired. They have confidence in their ability to sell anything and I am encouraging that confidence.
During my proofreading of the new catalog I noticed a surfeit of “unmatcheds, unsurpasseds, and lovelys” used in the plant descriptions and this reminded me of the ex-employee who wrote these some years ago when we were under the influence of a management consultant who told us to delegate everything and it would all turn out fine. Fortunately for us we have had teenage children and are past being easily embarrassed. The real problem with the descriptions and the one that is costing us money is that the aforementioned ex-employee included such unnecessary information as the ideal soil type and ideal growing conditions for each plant. They all want rich, loose, well drained, loamy soil. This does not help the situation as we want people to plant our plants in front of their new house and the soil there is generally some clay and silt that was dug up from the bottom of the basement excavation and run over a few times by the bulldozer. As far as I am concerned this is ideal soil for plants as it keeps them from getting overgrown and floppy. We will correct the plant descriptions as we get the time and for now we have more pressing matters such as getting through another winter in a reasonable state of solvency and surviving some long range planning meetings.
The slickest way for groundcover people to achieve profitability is to grow plants for the green roof people. Green roofs are totally devoid of aesthetic considerations as all that they need to do are to capture rain water when it rains and not burn up when it is dry. Few people climb up on top of factories seeking out beauty. The best web site is the Penn State Center for Green Roof Research, 102 Tyson Building, PSU, University Park, PA 16802, http://hortweb.cas.psu.edu/research/greenroofcenter/about_ctr.html
(2015 Updated Link: http://plantscience.psu.edu/research/centers/green-roof )
There is a fascinating subject that I am waiting patiently for someone to address. And that is a listing of really truly great perennials that are not grown and offered for sale for the sole reason that they do not look good in a gallon pot in the garden center in the spring. Some of the best hostas; So Sweet and Summer Fragrance, which are the best in the landscape because they are variegated, do not fade in the full sun, and have sweet smelling blooms that make excellent cut flowers, do not look good in a 1 gallon pot as they are weak foliaged and flop a little when shipped out in the spring. Other plants of a similar nature are the Dendranthemas Mei Kyo, Korean Single Apricot, and Venus. These are the best ever landscape plants as they are hardy, have tight dark green foliage all year in a mounding habit, and they bloom very bright pink colors late in the year, up until the third snow. Because they do not show color in the spring they do not sell. Even the Michigan State forcing program of controlled heat and light would not get these to bloom five months early.
The Penstemons are another excellent plant for the landscape. I grow “Elfin Pink” and “Prairie Fire” in the field and love them for their spectacular color and their use as a cut flower. They do not fill the pot well and besides that they flop and are unsaleable. My current favorite for sandy soils is Echinacea Tennessennsis. It flowers all summer long from late May until mid-September and the flowers are relatively short and make an even display. The bright pink goes well with Caryopteris in August. It is a slow grower and the foliage does not fill the pot, so of course, it does not move in the garden center.
At the groundcover level one of the best plants is the ever blooming forget-me-not, Myosotis palustris. This is covered with bright blue blooms all summer and makes a good understory plant for hostas. It grows well in a swampy environment. It is, again, so weak stemmed that it looks like chick weed in the pot and does not sell. The question then becomes how to get these plants out to the customers and even further what are the ethical responsibilities of the nursery industry in this matter.
This leads into the next subject and that is our primary ethical responsibility, which in my opinion, is to run our business well enough to still be in business another year. If we can afford to pay our employees a decent wage that is another big plus. After that we can spend some effort attempting to raise the level of consciousness of the rest of the world.
In mid-March we will get you a new newsletter with a large spring availability list enclosed. Along with it will come the standard exhortations about working harder and being more frugal. We are fortunate to still be in business after the cold and rainy spring and the hot and dry summer. As I explained to my banker the other day, it can only get better next year.
Our target market used to be whoever called that day. Once we paid a management consultant to assist us and he told us that we should have a target market, both geographic and demographic. This topic is both fodder and grist for some planning session meetings. My current analysis is that the landscape market in the Detroit to Chicago to Indianapolis area is the ideal business for us to go after. One reason is that shipping is throughout the summer and fall and thus more efficient than the spring rush to the garden centers. The other reason is that most of the plant material is euonymous coloratus, purple leaf wintercreeper. At least that is what the other large and significant groundcover supplier grows and supplies to their customers, from my personal observation of looking in the poly houses while visiting Peter and Gary. Also just enough of the large inquiries for Fallopia cuspidatum, Japanese fleeceflower, come in to get our hopes up. We now have enough of a trained staff to follow through on quotes for large jobs and we can go out and find the plant material that we do not grow ourselves to put together for delivery at the same time. Our delivery system will make job site deliveries. We have many plants in our stock blocks that we do not list so feel free to make inquiries for custom growing. Over the last few years this business has changed from being a seller’s market to being a buyer’s market and we want you to know that we have finally figured that out and we are prepared to act accordingly.
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.
The catalog has two new liriopes, muscari ‘Big Blue’ and muscari ‘Silvery Sunproof’. We have had in the field for many years muscari ‘Majestic’.
‘Silvery Sunproof’ and they are hardy in this area. They die from about Michigan City on west. It is only the spicata that is hardy in Chicago and this suits me as it is stoloniferous and we have an unlimited stock block of it and it is easy to grow.