Plants make people happy

Marlene Aitchison helps prepare seedlings for the upcoming spring rush. Photo courtesy of Landon’s Greenhouse

by Sally Colby

When Keith and Jennifer Kershaw were asked to become partners in a greenhouse business in Wyoming, Keith jumped at the opportunity to move back to his hometown. The Kershaws bought into the business, eventually bought out the other partner, and today, Keith and Jennifer own Landon’s Greenhouse, Nursery and Landscaping in Sheridan, WY.

The Kershaws have been at the helm for eight years, making changes along the way. “We’ve added a second landscape crew, and we continue to make improvements to our facilities and property,” said Keith. “The biggest thing we did in 2019 and 2020 is move the production facility, which was about five miles south of us. We tore all the greenhouses down and rebuilt them here behind the retail garden center.”

Keith said the timing on that project was ideal because they had to switch gears to sell differently during the initial COVID outbreak. “We could restock immediately,” he said. “We could never have survived that if the production facility was south of town and had to shuttle stock back and forth. If we were out of basil, we could have it in less than a minute. We were never sold out.”

Despite being able to access stock immediately, Keith said they didn’t know from week to week if they’d be open or closed. “We produce as much as we can ourselves,” he said, “especially the bedding department. We start bedding plants in December and January, so when the end of March came, we had so much already in the works so it would have been devastating to shut the door.”

Adjustments included offering masks to staff and for customers before masks were required. Since Landon’s sponsors a farmers market in one of the greenhouses, several changes were made to that area. “We had to watch the spacing and have an entrance and exit and get people to line up if it got too full in the greenhouse,” said Keith. “Our managers get together on Monday morning for a staff meeting, so we’d talk about a lot of the issues thrown our way and make decisions as to what changes we needed to make.”

Landon’s has several big sellers in spring including hanging baskets, herbs and vegetable starts. Last season, they were able to ramp up production when brisk COVID sales resulted in crop sellouts. “It’s a long way between towns in Wyoming,” he said, describing their customer base. “The town has about 17,000 people and we can draw on 30,000 for the entire county.”

Keith and his team increased production for 2021. “We have a profile for everything we do,” he said. “We have 40 years of history for our plant profile. We ordered extra seed so we can add more plants.” He said the history helps his team plan seeding for each variety so plants are ready at the right time. “We know what we have to do on February 4, April 2 and throughout spring,” he said. “We’re pretty well dialed in.” He predicts last year’s trend of selling more herbs and vegetable plants will continue this season.

Selecting colors and plants for hanging baskets is Jennifer’s specialty. She begins the process early in the season, collecting catalogs and placing orders. “One of the events we try to go to every year is Colorado State University’s flower trials,” said Keith. “They grow plants both in the ground and in planters, so we can see all the latest and greatest geraniums, salvia, petunias and everything else. We take a lot of pictures and notes to work with the production team for the following year.”

As other landscapers discovered last season, they found many people were staying home and were anxious to work on their landscapes. “This year, I don’t think everyone is gung-ho to jump on an airplane and go anywhere,” he said. “Folks are going to stay closer to home and continue to do things around their house at least through spring and early summer. We saw an uptick in that last year with our designer who goes out and does consultations with customers.”

Their landscape clients usually have an idea of what they want, but they need more details, such as which side of the home is subject to winter wind and summer sunshine. “We need to know ahead of time what they don’t want – if they don’t like yellow, we won’t put a lot of yellow in,” he said. “Sometimes they can’t have the plant they want in that spot because of the winter wind, or maybe it’s too hot on the west side of the house.”

Since people are visual and landscaping is a highly visual process, Keith uses landscaping software to help customers see what a plan will look like once executed. “We need to see what a tree looks like against the house, and we can do that with the software,” he said. “It’s so different from an overhead view, which is essentially a blueprint. If I talk about a Norway spruce, that doesn’t help anyone. If we can show them a picture, or show them one planted on the property, they can see what it looks like.”

Customers are welcome to select plants then decide whether they want Landon’s to plant it or do it themselves. Keith and his crew make sure customers go home with everything they need to be successful.

Keith said people have already started to call for landscaping services. “Our crew is back now, getting ready,” he said. “It’s typically April and sometimes May before we can get out and do anything. It depends on our weather – if there’s still snow on the ground or if it’s wet and muddy, we can’t get out there.” Snow cover hampers initial design work because the designer needs to see the ground and contours.

Nursery stock that has overwintered will be uncovered in mid-March, and Keith said hardy stock do fine even if temperatures drop below the teens. “For our nursery department, we have to stick with Zone 4 or less,” he said. “Everything has to be hardy to at least 30º below – that’s what we’ll see once or twice through winter.”

Numerous plants are categorized as “deer resistant” and “less preferred by mule deer.” “Deer are a factor here,” said Keith. “We try to guide people to plants that are typically deer resistant.” The problem is that deer will often nibble on plants but might not continue to eat them, but the damage is done.

Landon’s retail store offers a variety of merchandise to suit all tastes including porch furniture, seeds, bulbs and gardening supplies. “We try to be a one-stop shop,” said Keith. “There isn’t another garden center in our town.”

As he discusses the upcoming season, Keith said, “We’re excited and everybody is ready. Plants make people happy.”

Visit Landon’s Greenhouse online at LandonsGreenhouse.com.

2021-03-02T10:56:59-05:00March 2, 2021|Grower West|0 Comments

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