This past August I attended Farwest, known as the largest "green industry trade show in the West," for the first time. The very first booth I encountered was a familiar one, the Little Prince of Oregon nursery. I have purchased many of the nursery's plants over the years via Portland Nursery, Fred Meyer and many other retail outlets. It's a treat to see them in such a venue as they are a wholesale nursery, so the opportunity to see masses of their plants at one time is rare.
Fry Road Nursery. Still involved as half owner with Fry, Mark is able to introduce many interesting plants to Little Prince. Fry Road's specialties are fuchsias among other interesting plants as Mark has a passion for more exotic and rare perennials. I look forward to seeing them offered through Little Prince one day soon. The owner of the nursery is Ketch de Kanter (he was gone the day I visited) and the head grower is Mike Hicks who I also did not meet. I believe Mark mentioned there are 32 employees in all, so a good-sized operation. Let's have a look:
Blades of Glory (grasses), Cliff Hangers (trailing), Common Ground (companion plants for Northwest gardens), Fit for a King (rare and unusual), Ground Control (for erosion control and weed suppression), Hebe Jeebies (hardy hebes for the Northwest), Made in the Shade (shade plants), my favorite Native Ground (plants indigenous to the Pacific Northwest), Foot Traffic Perennials, Water Misers, and others.
Moving on from the loading area to the greenhouses.
Fit for a King line. He pointed out several very interesting plants:
here is a link to see the complete list. I am quite impressed with the number of natives they do offer and hope that they continue to rise in popularity in our region.
While they do have a lot of natives, I did see a couple of more aggressive and possibly invasive plants such as Vinca minor, which is listed as an invasive weed in much of the Eastern US and is considered a category B nuisance plant in Portland. I asked Mark about this and it boils down to they grow what people demand, and landscapers demand this plant for its quick-growing habit, smothering all in its way. The thing is, even if this plant is pretty and quick-growing, it spreads by runners and is notorious for invading woodland understory.
There are alternatives, landscapers! Just sayin'!
They do offer buddleia but it's a sterile variety, thank goodness. Buddleia is also invasive and you can legally have it if planted before a certain date if you deadhead and do not allow it to spread (via seeds and birds eating those seeds). Better not to grow it at all.
For a guide to non-invasive alternatives in the Willamette Valley, click here.
Moving on from the special plants for the Fit for a King line, we encounter some serious propagating in the other greenhouses.
Blades of Glory section - many varieties of ornamental grasses.
Foot Traffic groundcover plants.
Hebe Jeebies line, not sure which one - perhaps Silver Dollar.
The tour itself was really interesting and I'm glad I went. Mark is a most gracious host, offering to answer any question I had and as he's been in the business a long time, I have a lot of respect for his knowledge and interest in all plants. He shared a couple of tips as I asked him what is the biggest mistake gardeners make, he said over-watering, which was surprising to me after experiencing such a dry summer, but he has a point - I probably over-water. One of the most useful skills Mark has as a propagator is knowing when to take a cutting and where to cut. This is a skill I would love to hone.
We also spoke about big box stores vs. small nurseries. This is a point that has come up before in my circle of gardening friends. I really prefer to support locally owned and operated nurseries and related businesses, but I must admit I do shop at Fred Meyer, a local "has it all" kind of store. While I don't technically classify them as big box, others might. Fred Meyer carries a lot of Little Prince of Oregon plants and I for one have bought them knowing they are a local business, at least Fred Meyer is also supporting local businesses. Little Prince does not have a retail outlet as Xera Plants does or I would shop there, believe me.
The nursery itself is immaculate, the gravel is clean, there aren't weeds growing everywhere as they regularly pull them. Mark and I talked about the use of pesticides and herbicides and while we both agree that they are generally toxic and often not necessary (not at all for a home gardener like me), for the nursery trade he tells me there are rare occasions when they need to be used. The nursery uses Integrated Pest Management, or IPM using both chemical and biological controls. After all, a nursery needs to make money and can't afford to lose plants. When controls are used, they should be the least toxic methods first such as cultural control with any chemical controls being the very last. I wish every nursery were 100% pesticide-free, but I fear I am living a fantasy.
My overall impressions of the nursery is that it's a class act with very friendly and enthusiastic employees. Everyone I said hello to had a smile on their face and was working away. Mark says that working for Ketch is wonderful, that he is a generous and great boss and all employees are treated well - and for Mark, he takes promoting great working conditions seriously.
It was great fun to explore Little Prince of Oregon wholesale nursery, I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I will continue to buy their plants, especially as I know a lot more about their origins.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will part by saying that the flat of sempervivums (below) were gifted to me by Mark right before I left the nursery, he also took me to lunch on the nursery. While I am not paid to write this blog and what I write is entirely my opinion, I do occasionally receive the gift of a four-inch pot and a salad.
Thank you for reading and until next week, happy gardening!