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Retail Nurseryman

The Real Poop

More Low-Down:  More Poop

The plants that retail nurserymen work with are often more interesting than the customers they have to deal with, albeit not as dysfunctional or entertaining. There are trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and annuals. They are grown for shade, flowers, foliage, fruit, vegetables, erosion control, privacy screens and to annoy neighbors who do not like trees. Many are evergreen. Many are deciduous. Some might even be from outer space. (No one really thinks the Venus fly-trap originated on this planet, do they?) There is really no end to the variety.

More than any other horticultural industry, retail nurseries feature merchandise that has nothing to do with horticulture. Many retail nurseries look more like boutiques. Patio furniture, sunglasses and gloves are somewhat relevant… but come on. Who buys their “gardening” clothes at a nursery? Scented candles, party supplies, jewelry, kitchenware, soap and books have no business being sold by merchants who want to specialize in horticultural commodities. Nurseries may as well be selling new Buicks, ammunition, cell phones and dentistry supplies. (Hopefully this doesn’t give people any ideas.) Does anyone realize how degrading this stuff is for retail nurserymen?

Sadly, the retail nurseries that do the most lucrative business are those that disgrace the industry most. Garden centers in big box stores are the worst. They have no problem selling large volumes of frost sensitive plants in cold winter climates with no regard to the customer, simply because they can turn a buck by doing it. Even plants that should do well locally are inferior “factory” grown plants (hastily grown without time to mature adequately) that are so jacked up on fertilizers that they are likely to die from withdrawals once they get into a garden. For plants such as these, one can only hope they get themselves into a fertilizer rehab clinic before it’s too late.

Because these big box garden centers rely on such immediate turnover, there is not much interaction with the plants being sold. Hardly enough time for a nurseryman to get to know them on an individual basis, take them out to a movie, show them around town. No wonder their social life suffers. The plants come and go just like lumber, paint, power tools or any other commodity. The unfortunate thing about this is that these boring and unscrupulous garden centers can also offer the best and most secure employment. Welcome to the-way-the-world-works.

Some of the more interesting retail nurseries have slower turnover of merchandise because they spend time improving some of the plants that they bring in before selling them. They can purchase small seedlings or rooted cuttings and then grow them to marketable size, or grow their own from scratch. It is common for many retail nurseries to bring in bare root stock while it is available in winter in order to can (pot) it to be available through the rest of the year. For plants that are paranoid about getting older, nurseries can dye their roots, if requested. There are more and more ferns these days using “Just for Plants.” You laugh, but it’s hard when your green starts to go grey.

Then there are the really interesting nurseries that actually lack a full range of plants but specialize in types that have a particular cultural requirement. For example, there are nurseries that sell primarily rhododendrons, along with a few other plants that want what rhododendrons get. (The rhododendron is always greener on the other side.) Others sell only citrus trees and a few of their friends. Another may sell only camellias and company. These nurseries are intensely focused, and give you certain distinction and bragging rights. People who work in these nurseries can be eccentric, to put it politely (downright weird to be blunt), but are a blast to work with because they are so passionate about what they grow and sell.

If you're a plant lover but not so much a people lover, you can always think about working on the wholesale side of the biz, where there isn't all the customer interaction. That way, you can keep on talking to your plants and to no one else. Bless their hearts, they never talk back.

So the money ain't great and the tedium of the work can wear on you from time to time, but this is a great gig for someone who would rather commune with nature than with Excel spreadsheets or legal briefs. Working in a retail nursery really is a lot more work than most people realize, but it definitely has its advantages. It’s just probably a good idea to make a few friends on the side that don’t need to be watered daily.