Growing a business in a small town

Landscaping in Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, May 10, 2000

This week of sunny weather has had people pouring into the nursery, families strolling about, talking about various trees and shrubs. Parents and grandparents introduce favorite plants to the next generation of gardeners, kids dig in piles of sand and run along the river shouting and jumping through sprinklers.

Life doesn't get much better than this. Our kids come back from Little League with their pals, they all get ice cream, then they pitch in and help water the stock. They are unusually polite to the people they don't know, but occasionally squirt someone they do know.

Some of these young exuberant kids are children of people who got their first jobs working at Landscape Alaska. They never would have known a Rhododendron from a European Hedge Maple except that they got to carry about a hundred to people's cars one summer. Now 10 or 15 years later they can discuss relative merits of varieties and rates of growth with the best of them.

This is what Margaret and I hope for, that our own fascination with the horticultural world will get passed on. When I see one of these young people enjoying themselves in the nursery with their own families I feel that we have had a positive impact, that these people will carry on the centuries-old relationship between humans and botanicals.

This relationship is not of farmer and grain, although a myriad of parallels exist. We do not grow these species for our livelihoods; we do so for our souls. We create special resonances, establish sanctuaries and express subtle self-awarenesses through the medium of living plants. We continue to hold onto the lifeline kniting generations of gardeners together into a worldwide fabric. The sense of familiarity with these plants transcends national boundaries or decades of life. A primrose enthusiast of whatever age and nationality will speak with another with the same sense of kinship as someone finding a long lost relative on an ocean liner.

People meet among the Maples. They have lived across the street from one another for three years and never spoken more than ``Hi, How're you doing.'' Then they find themselves looking at the same tree, and the obvious result is that they talk about planting mutually complimentary groves. Their entire experience of home and neighborhood changes as they knit together their surveyor sundered parcels with the yarn of similar plantings. Communities happen, they react to the economic opportunities offered by place and time, but they also are influenced by the personalities they attract. Our town would not be the same without Ken Moss or Gary Hedges. It wouldn't be the same without Mountain Ashes or Lilacs either.

This last week's Garden Conference brought a speaker named Felder Rushing. He said the measure of a plant's success is not in being desired by the extreme experts, but rather by being passed on through generations by families and friends. This is the same way we think about manners of speech, habitual poses and handwriting. They all derive from intimate association with other people, whose likes and dislikes become the basis for our own.

My parents took me to nurseries in every city we visited. I saw desert ones, rainforest ones, rolling California spring ones and slow polite ones in the deep South. The receptions were always warm, the facilities were used but comfortable, and the nursery stock was cared for with the same sense of handling a favorite pet.

This society-wide similarity is the basis for the pattern we follow as we carry on our business in this community. We hire local kids and teach them the rudiments of our world. Some take to it like a duck to water, others pass after the first wet, cold miserable day. What the ones get that stick it out is like learning another language, one spoken on all continents and by people of every age and ethnicity.

Don't worry, we are taking good care of them too. They are becoming part of a larger society. They will be able to find kindred spirits anywhere, and who knows? They might just move in next door to you and help you change your life too.

Next time you are contemplating a new tree or a hedge line, look up and meet the eyes of a nearby person. You might find someone else who thinks the same things are valuable and, even better, understands just why the thought of planting a 40-year-old weeping larch in your yard is as close to ecstasy as you've been in years.

David Lendrum is a master gardener and, along with Margaret Tharp, owns Landscape Alaska. Any responses or questions can be sent to .

Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved.  | Contact Us