Sheyenne Gardens’ founder Neal Holland (L) and current owner Adam Volz. The team at the nursery begins seeding in January, prepping early for their season.
Photo courtesy of Sheyenne Gardens

by Courtney Llewellyn

What does a nursery and garden center do all winter? Work.

That’s what they do at Sheyenne Gardens in Harwood, ND. The business, now running 33 years strong, grows and sells trees, shrubs, bedding plants and plant materials. They’re open weekdays during regular business hours (and Saturdays by appointment only) during the “off-season,” according to owner Adam Volz.

As of the middle of December, winter had yet to fully settle in in North Dakota. “The warmer weather means we’re doing work,” Volz said. He and his crew tore down an older greenhouse and erected a new one.

In general, mid-November through March 1 is usually spent fixing up and repairing buildings and equipment at the nursery. They start seeding on the first of January. “People say winter is so long, but it really isn’t,” Volz laughed.

Volz took over as the new owner of the business in March 2019. He had worked for the founder and original owner, Neal Holland, since 2000. Holland was a former North Dakota State University professor of plant sciences. (While a professor at NDSU, Holland spent time plant breeding, developing Mantador broccoli; several types of squash including Gold Nugget – an All America Winner – Emerald and Discus; several tomato types including Sheyenne, Lark, Dakota Gold and Cannonball; and the Hazen apple.) When he retired from the university, he started the nursery business in 1988 before retiring again in 2019. Post-retirement from NDSU, he also developed the Fairy Tale series of lilacs, including Tinkerbelle, Sugar Plum Fairy, Thumbelina, Fairy Dust and Prince Charming. Volz, who attended the University of Minnesota and completed an internship at Sheyenne Gardens, said they still grow several of Holland’s varieties.

The nursery covers a total of 17 acres, including seven acres of woods. There are 10,000 square feet of greenhouses (kept at 60º all winter), and come spring, one acre is devoted to nursery production. The rest of the land is in display gardens or storage. They do a lot of their own cuttings and bareroots, with a focus on zone-hardy material.

“The model of the business has always been the same, but the downtime is less now,” Volz explained. “In the past, we’d go to conventions in January, order our seeds in January. We look more toward the future now. We’re always planning ahead.”

The seedings start Jan. 1. On March 1, they open their big production house, with a crew of three to four transplanting. On April 1, they start uncovering their outdoor overwintered product – but a lot of spring work depends on whether or not the Sheyenne River, a majority tributary of the Red River of the North that abuts the property, floods. Volz said the first sales start in the middle of April, with bedding plant sales running from May until about June 15; then nursery and perennial sales go until about the middle of November. With a season that long, working through the winter is a must.

Volz said that in winter time, then tend to sell gift certificates, tools, succulents and pre-orders. “Our customers are always making plans for the future too,” he noted.

He added that Sheyenne Gardens had a year that was very similar to everyone else in the industry in 2020 – “a very good year,” he said. “In the industry, we go through cycles of good years and bad years, and last year was a very good year.” He currently has no plans to expand, as “We only have so much square footage!” He said he is planning on having a similar year in 2021.

“As a new owner, I’m trying to do as much as I can,” Volz said. “I’m trying to make it my own with new signs and paint colors, but it’s the same quality of service.”

For more information, find Sheyenne Gardens on Facebook.