by Aliya Hall
Melissa Van Hevelingen of Van Hevelingen Herb Nursery, and her husband, Andy, are simply collectors at heart.
Located in Newberg, OR, their nursery grows and sells over 150 lavender cultivars, as well as a variety of herbs, unusual perennials and shrubs.
“It’s always exciting to find something new or something that’s actually different,” she said. “A lot [of lavender] coming out is very similar right now. We’re collectors – what can I say?”
Van Hevelingen Herb Nursery was established in 1982, although at the time both the Van Hevelingens held other jobs and worked at the nursery part-time. Melissa said Andy had originally started the herb garden and while they were dating they attended mini sales together. It wasn’t until 1989 that they were able to work for their nursery full-time.
One of the things the nursery is best known for is its lavender. They have bred and introduced multiple cultivars to the trade, including Melissa, Royal Velvet, Portuguese Giant, Ivory Crown, Silver Frost, Ana Luisa, Opal Rain and Cottage Pink. Melissa said they have always sold the full herb gamut, but when they traveled to Europe in the ‘80s they began to pick up other species of lavender and home in on the plant. At the time, they could bring home five different cultivars. From there, the collection grew.
The nursery also has a lot of cistus plants because they’re number one drought tolerant. Melissa said she likes the plant because of its tolerance and she likes the flowers. For perennials and shrubs, she said they sell a lot of penstemons. At the moment, though, jasmine is the big focus.
“I really like fragrant plants, even though cistus isn’t,” Melissa said.
Van Hevelingen Herb Nursery has also introduced two plants with the full profits going to charities. The Agastache Licorice Candy funds are sent to the Alzheimer’s Association and lavender Opal Rain funds are sent to the Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon.
“We’ve had relatives and friends affected by both so the donations are important to us,” she explained.
Although the nursery is primarily wholesale, they do attend local markets and offer some retail options. Melissa said they did more direct-to-consumer sales in their early years, but once she realized that she could make one sale that would take her supply, she switched tactics. “I was like, ‘Why am I staying at a market? I can sell this all to one person,’” she said. Now, she handles the wholesale operation, and her children, who have become more involved with the nursery, are handling the markets.
While the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t adversely impact Van Hevelingen Herb Nursery, Melissa said that they didn’t do as well as they had in years past. This year, thought, has been “crazy,” she added. Part of the influx has been attributed to the addition of their online store, which has helped them adapt.
Having their own nursery was crucial to maintaining life-work balance and raising a family. “I would have gone insane if my husband and I weren’t working together,” she said. “We could make our own hours and join in on cooperative preschools and work at the school part-time. The huge advantage for us was the family aspect.”
Family also plays a role in the future of the nursery. Melissa is 65 and Andy is 70 and “your body doesn’t do quite what you want it to do,” she admitted. She said the next generation is interested in taking over and already learning more about the business aspect beyond growing plants.
Despite retirement on the horizon, Melissa isn’t sure if they would want to – or if they could. “Propagating plants is in our blood,” she said. “We can’t stop. I don’t know how we’ll fully retire.”
Melissa has also been thinking of homing in more with specialty plants and working directly with other nurseries to set up a small retail space there or creating a retail outlet of their own in Newberg.
Plants aren’t going anywhere, though, because even if Melissa finds a way to retire that makes sense to her, she wants to use her free time to better maintain her garden.
“I love growing plants, and I love to garden. I find it more rewarding,” she explained. “I love our plants and have been doing this for 40-plus years and it’s in our blood.”