American Nurseryman Magazine - Horticulture Magazine and Horticulture Books - From Roots to Fruits - January, 2014 - FEATURES

American Nurseryman Magazine - Horticulture Magazine and Horticulture Books - January, 2014

FEATURES

Profile: From Roots to Fruits

Specializing in hard-to-find veggies and local ornamentals, this family-owned nursery in the mountains of North Carolina proves that good things do come in small packages.
By Randy Collins

Offering bedding plants, hard-to-find veggies and local ornamentals, this family-owned nursery in the mountains of North Carolina proves that good things do come in small packages.



Bedding plants at Taylor's are prepared for spring.

Variety is the spice of life. This is especially true for the folks at Taylor's Greenhouse and Nursery, located in Robbinsville, a small town in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. Customers visiting this unique facility can expect to find just about anything - from vegetable transplants and fruit trees to native and non-native ornamentals, Taylor's has something to fit every taste. This is one of those rare places that still offers a truly unforgettable retail experience coupled with Southern charm and hospitality.

Snapshot


Owners:

Karen and Jean Taylor

Years in business:

48

Location:

Robbinsville is a picturesque town of just over 600 in far western North Carolina. It serves as the seat of Graham

Number of employees:

Three

Acreage:

2

Product mix:

Heirloom vegetables, bedding plants,native and non-nativeperennials and woody ornamentals

Specialty:

Bedding plants

How it all began

Taylor's Greenhouse and Nursery is the oldest and largest container-grown, retail nursery in Graham County, N.C., and it started quite by accident. Husband and wife Ken and Jean Taylor began their career by producing trellised tomatoes for both local and commercial markets in western North Carolina. The couple soon realized that the early tomato market was where the best money was located, and they decided to construct a small, 20-foot by 40-foot greenhouse in order to grow transplants for early production. Shortly thereafter, other growers, as well as family, friends and neighbors, began requesting that the Taylors start transplants for them, and in 1965, Taylor's Greenhouse and Nursery was born.

Having realized that transplant production could pay the bills, the Taylors expanded their small, existing structure to 100 feet and began offering plants of all types, both vegetable and ornamental. In 1991, they ran out of room for both growing space and parking, so they once again expanded the operation and relocated to a piece of family land that was larger, closer to town and had a better source of water.

From veggies to perennials and beyond

Currently in its 48th year of business, Taylor's Greenhouse and Nursery now utilizes three greenhouses and three cold-frame structures, with one high-tunnel greenhouse on the way. It is still a locally based, family-owned business.

Taylor's has one of the best selections of plant varieties for miles around. The majority of their selections are propagated on-site, and they offer customers a lot of visual, hands-on information about growing different plants. They also conduct growing and propagating classes throughout the year that draw a lot of folks in. The company has a huge selection of heirloom vegetables, many of which you'll find nowhere else.

Jean, along with her daughter Karen (who now owns the business), propagates 90 percent of all plants sold from the nursery. This not only allows the company to remain economically viable, but most importantly, it sets them apart from many other retail nurseries that simply order from larger wholesalers and do very little propagation.

In addition to propagating much of their own inventory, Taylor's Greenhouse and Nursery offers other attractions that make their operation unique. About three years ago, Taylor's added a greenhouse dedicated entirely to heirloom vegetable varieties, many of which are no longer available commercially. One particular item of interest is their tomato collection, which contains more than 15 varieties, most of which are rare or have been carefully preserved through culture, seed selection and seed saving in western North Carolina. The heirloom greenhouse alone draws thousands of customers to Taylor's each year and has even drawn the attention of the North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, who visited a few years ago and has received Taylor's tomatoes on several occasions since.

Taylor's also holds classes for folks interested in starting herb gardens or growing medicinal herbs, and it has one of the largest selections of herbs in the area. Visitors to the nursery around the holidays find a large selection of handmade wreaths, crafted on-site and made from locally grown materials, such as Frasier fir, gold mop cypress, nandina, juniper and American boxwood. Taylor's sells its holiday wreaths both locally and on the commercial market.



Owner Karen Taylor inspects hydrangeas that are ready for sale.

Fruit trees are available in abundance, and selections range from apples, pears and peaches to native paw paws, wild black cherries and several varieties of nut trees. Dwarf mandarin oranges, lemon and kiwi trees round out the inventory.

Taylor's biggest sellers are bedding plants in both spring and fall. The perennials selection includes such standards as ornamental grasses, Asian lily, daylily, phlox, hosta, columbine, lupine and foxglove, Shasta daisy and black-eyed Susan, as well as native monarda, trillium, ladyslipper and iris. The woody selection ranges from azalea - including flame azalea - to butterfly bush, cedar, cypress and maple. Native woodies include mountain laurel and rhododendron.

The challenges

Jean Taylor has seen many changes over the years, and like most business owners, she has endured her share of ups and downs. Aside from the usual problems, such as limited space, parking or equipment malfunction, Jeans says their biggest problem has always been the lack of skilled labor. Operating a business that is as diversified as Taylor's requires that all employees be proficient - from growing plants to answering customer's questions. Jean definitely feels that lack of skill can be devastating to the business. Currently, the employees at Taylor's are family members, some of whom, like Jean's cousin Cathleen Rogers, have been with the business for more than 20 years. Taylor's is always open to employing other trained individuals, however, fewer and fewer students from Graham County are going into the horticultural field, so Jean feels that employing family members might not change.



After 48 years, founder Jean Taylor still finds satisfaction in the business she established with her husband, Ken, in the small North Carolina town of Robbinsville.

Customers are No. 1

Customers are the highest priority at Taylor's Greenhouse and Nursery. The company serves a diverse customer base, both commercial and private, ranging from landscapers to homeowners. Faithful customers come from near and far, including local residents and shoppers from surrounding counties, as well as visitors from Tennessee and Georgia. Many have annual, standing orders for items they likely could find closer to home, but they've dealt with Taylor's for so long that they're willing to log the extra miles to do business.

The majority of the company's commercial customers are landscape professionals who can usually find all they need to complete any job. They also value the expert advice they get from Taylor's when it comes to new or unusual species.

Because Taylor's strives to serve its customers on a personal level, many of them have become lifelong friends. When asked to describe their typical customer, Jean says, "Many of our customers come to us with special requests and depend on us to meet those requests year after year. As a result, we find the majority of our customers to be kind, considerate and understanding, and we try to treat them the same way."

Apart from the crowd

One final aspect of Taylor's Greenhouse and Nursery that makes the company unique is that the owners have always been eager to share knowledge and production techniques with anyone interested. Jean's husband, Ken, who passed away in 2003, had a true passion for the nursery industry and is fondly remembered for his gentle demeanor and uncanny ability to propagate even the most difficult plant species. In fact, he is well-known for having developed a method for propagating flame azaleas (Rhododendron calendulaceum) and mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) from both stem cuttings and seed, a task few nurserymen have mastered. In a business where growing techniques are often kept secret, Ken was always eager to share, especially if it meant helping growers and customers find success.



Christmas wreaths are one of many items Taylor's Greenhouse and Nursery uses to tap the Christmas market; materials are sourced locally, and include Frasier fir, gold mop cypress, nandina, juniper and American boxwood.


When asked if she had any advice for those new to the industry, Jean's answer was quick and to the point: "Learn to propagate, save seed, be good to people, and research your market first! These are the reasons this nursery has survived."

Randy Collins is Graham County Extension Director, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robbinsville, N.C. He can be reached at randy_collins@ncsu.edu.