There’s a certain odd euphoria that comes with survival. I’d been thinking about this lately, having spoken with a number of green industry folks who had weathered a few years of chaos, but who also seemed to be rather upbeat. It brought to mind the phrase “survivor’s euphoria.” Meant to describe a sense of relief or optimism following a period of challenge, it’s an apt description of what growers and landscape professionals have told me recently. Some have a renewed optimism based on reports of better-than-anticipated retail sales over the holidays. Others appreciate their good fortune simply because they’re still in business.

In our annual wage and benefits survey, we heard from a number of growers who were able to maintain compensation levels; a few increased wages, a few decreased pay. (Turn to page 22 for results.) The majority, however, held fast. These days, that’s a good sign. And a couple of respondents allowed us to ask them some questions.

Mark O’Brien, vice president and nursery director of JFNew, a supplier of native plants and seeds in Walkerton, Ind., says that 2010 “was an improvement over 2009. Both years saw the month of June come in at about half of what it had done in the past. 2010 finished at our 2008 level. A few large projects got pushed to 2011, and that should help us this year.” The company offers “better than industry compensation. We also realize we have to be flexible with a seasonal work force to attract and retain quality people.” The outlook for 2011? “We expect standard wage increases at 3 percent. We pay out year-end bonuses based on the year’s profitability.”

Steve Black, owner of Raemelton Farm LLC, a wholesale grower of 2- to 4-inch B&B trees and large shrubs in Adamstown, Md., says the company’s sales were up 15 percent in 2010. “The increase in revenue was due largely to a continuing increase in our customer base – also up 15 percent,” he explains. “Average sales per customer did not significantly change – flat is a huge improvement over the 28 percent drop we saw in 2009.”

Is his compensation package competitive? “Wages for our hourly personnel are on a par with average nursery pay in the Mid-Atlantic. Benefits remain limited – we’re still on the cold Cokes and hot coffee program.” As for 2011, Black says, “all compensation will remain at present levels until there is sustained improvement in the general economy and the glut of plant material ‘grows’ itself out of existence. Right now all parties are content to be in the field and on the payroll.”

A couple of clarifications:

It must have been the excitement of a new year; I find I need to clarify a couple of things that appeared in the January issue. First, in the article titled, “Shake It Up,” Charts 1 and 2 on page 12 were transposed (in the printed version). Our apologies for the confusion. Second, regarding the article “Propagating Oakleaf Hydrangeas” on page 16, the author would like to point out that the propagation information provided pertains to growing the species from seed and is not meant to imply that either ‘Ruby Slippers’ or ‘Munchkin’ would breed true from seed.