When the owner of a nursery decides to retire, what happens to the business?
If there is a family member involved who would like to take it over, then that might become a solution to keeping the business alive. But, if family involvement is not an option, then what?
A nursery is unlike most other businesses because the inventory is alive and needs to be constantly maintained. It is not as if the owner can just shut the door and walk away. The inventory needs to be consistently sustained, watered, fertilized, and perhaps, protected from the weather and other natural elements such as animals, insects, and disease. This makes the closing of a nursery not quite as easy as some other types of businesses.
With the recent closure of Joy Creek Nursery in Scappoose, Oregon, it was with some sadness that I learned that Buchholz Nursery in Gaston, Oregon was for sale.
Buchholz Nursery is a 25+ acre wholesale nursery that was started in 1979 by Talon Buchholz. While Talon had previously been employed by a wholesale nursery, starting his own was a new adventure. The land that he bought at that time was a wheat field, but Talon had a passion for plants, especially those not common in the nursery trade. These plants tended to be primarily conifers, Japanese maples, and as Talon says, “anything else not so ordinary.”The Japanese maples seem to have been the winner because Talon introduced almost 100 individually named cultivars into the nursery trade. He has a saying: “Be careful, or you’ll catch maple fever.” The well-known Ghost series of Japanese maples is one small part of his introductions.
His second-largest introduction category would be conifers. After that, it would be the anything-else category, including Davidia, Styrax, Magnolia, Cornus, and others. His Cornus kousa ‘Summer Fun’ is a very good seller within the retail trade and that is no surprise — it provides white spring flowers that are so profuse that they almost cover the variegated foliage leaves with a wide white margin. In the fall, the foliage displays a spectacular show of purple, orange, and pink. Along with the almost 100 maple cultivars introduced, Talon has introduced more than 70 other non-Acer plants.
With all of the plants that Talon has introduced, none have been hybridized. He has not crossed different plants to produce a new one. All have been seedling selections, cuttings from a sport, or witch’s broom. Even though many of his introductions are well-known cultivar names, he has never patented a variety or registered a plant name.
One of Talon’s early mentors was J.D. Vertrees, who wrote the Timber Press book Japanese Maples in 1978. One year later, Buchholz Nurserywas founded and Talon was hooked on Japanese maples. The J.D. Vertrees book has been well-read and has well-worn pages. Incidentally, this was the first horticulture book published by Timber Press.
The business model for Buchholz is certainly not the norm in the industry and is rather unique. There are no outside salespeople, nor are there any outside sales representatives. It was felt that the high-quality condition of the plants sell themselves. The nursery prefers small orders and has developed many long-term relationships with customers. Most of their business is from out-of-state customers with approximately 90-95% of sales not from Oregon. Buchholz has never sold to box stores. One of the slogans that Buchholz Nursery has is that they have plants from all corners of the world and all seven continents. I was curious about Antarctica and what plant that might be. It is Colobanthus quitensis (Antarctic pearlwort).
When Talon bought the property, he said, “It has good soil with a miserable little house that is hot in summer and freezing in winter. I focused on financial survival. I had a mortgage and no money to invest. For me a nursery business was a necessary evil and a means to collect and observe plants.”
On my recent visit, it was as if I was in a botanical garden. The nursery is a plant person’s delight with its numerous champion trees and display gardens. It is a treasure that should not be lost. March, April, and May are the busiest shipping months, and this has been a good year. Currently, shipping is an issue. With fuel prices rising and a shortage of trucks, that issue is likely to continue. At 25+ acres, 40 greenhouses, and irrigation ponds, a sale would have to go to another passionate plant person to continue the legacy. The buyer needs to be a person who views the plants not as cash crops, but as members of his plant family.
Talon laughed when I asked if his daughters were interested in taking over the operation of the nursery. He said that when they were asked the question, there were comments like, “No way,” “Are you kidding?” and “Pops is losing it.”
As with many other businesses, the younger generation members have their own plans and ideas on how they want their life to be.
It is hopeful that the new owner(s) will continue the business, but there is no guarantee that that will happen. I asked Talon if he thought he would miss the business, and he replied no — he has had a good relationship with the plants, but it is time to move on and start a new chapter in his life.
As with plants, individuals can be transplanted into new areas and continue to thrive.