Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Local Wholesale Nursery: Little Prince of Oregon

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.

Their sign made of sedums is a crowd favorite.


And their mascot, the little frog with the motto "our plants won't croak." Since you see their plants throughout garden centers on the West Coast, this little guy is a very familiar sight. While browsing their booth, Mark Leichty, the Outside Sales Manager, introduced himself and upon learning that I am a garden blogger Mark invited me to come out for a visit to the nursery. Of course, I was thrilled and accepted.


Fast forward a month, I drove to Aurora, Oregon, to pay the fine folks at Little Prince a visit. One of the first things I noticed as I pulled up to the office was the infamous sign, gathering some rain on this drizzly day. Mark said that they would eventually like to sell these letters, plants and all - the "sedum letter" craze could be taken to a whole new level. I would buy them, especially as the retail price point would be very affordable from what Mark shared with me.


I could see having "Chickadee Gardens" spelled out. Well, I can dream a little, anyhow.




About Little Prince and Mark's background: Mark originally came to Little Prince about a year ago from 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:


Little Prince has been in operation since 1997, expanding a little more every year.


Here's the loading area where plants are trucked out to destinations across the West Coast. On the right are the bins that hold plant tags.


Whoa! That's a lot of tags. In fact, Little Prince currently carries over 800 different plants in its online catalog, and there are many others in cultivation. Mark has introduced more than 100 varieties since starting at Little Prince; he is a very experienced propagator and plantsman. Some of the plant categories offered:

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.

These beauties are headed to California to a landscaping client.


It is interesting for me to see the wholesale process in action - the labeling, packing and shipping is something I, as a retail shopper, rarely have the chance to encounter.



Shrink-wrap and cardboard boxes on palettes, it looks fairly straightforward. Since they deliver in their own trucks, the plants are treated with care.


Here's a lot on its way to New Season's Market locally in Portland. Mark told me they have been great clients and are especially excited to be able to offer these succulents in rice hull pots made from renewable and sustainable plant by-products.


The colors! The choices!

Moving on from the loading area to the greenhouses.
On this 20-acre site, there are 40-plus greenhouses to help satisfy wholesale and landscape clients.


An area where Mark is propagating stock from Fry Road Nursery, some more unusual perennials for the Fit for a King line. He pointed out several very interesting plants:


 He pointed out this Adenium / Desert Rose 'Evelyn Marie', a tropical ever-blooming plant, as an especially great one.


Here's its bloom. Apology for the blurry photo.


Abutilon 'Savitzii', salmon flowers and heavy variegation.


Crossandra infundibuliformis.


Hedera congesta.


 Curcuma petiolata 'Snow Drift', variegated ginger.


 Lochroma cyanea 'Indigo'.


Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow'.


Bletilla 'Yokohama' - hardy orchid.


Bletilla striata or Chinese ground orchid, a hardy, deciduous orchid.


Theobroma cacao or Chocolate Tree. How wonderful to be able to grow cacao. However, if memory serves me correctly Mark said that this is a very difficult plant to grow and propagate, especially as it has to consistently stay above 60 degrees F.


Here's a cool one: Cestrum 'Orange Zest'


 One of the Native Grounds plants, mahonia. I was thrilled to see so much of this in production. They grow some 30 species of native plants, including maidenhair fern, sword fern, Mahonias repens, M. nervosa and M. aquifolium; Heuchera cylindrica, Gaultheria shallon, Juncus patens and J. ensifolius; Oxalis oregana, Polypodium scouleri (one of my favorites, Scouler's polypody fern), 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:

Artemesia, so little!


Nearly every greenhouse was full.




Moving on from the special plants for the Fit for a King line, we encounter some serious propagating in the other greenhouses.


Oh, the agaves. There are over 35 species listed on their website. I have a feeling Mark has something to do with the vast number available as he is definitely an agave lover, too.






There's Mark, taking care of some phone business while I pop into another of their some 40 greenhouses.


I spy some Japanese umbrella pine back there. I really would love to plant one of these some day.


Japanese umbrella pine or Sciadopitys verticillata.


Sollya heterophylla or Australian bluebell creeper, an evergreen vine.


 Vaccinium vitis-idaea 'Red Pearl' or Lingonberry, a relative of our native evergreen huckleberry Vaccinium ovatum.


Some of the many fuchsias in which Mark specializes.


Blades of Glory section - many varieties of ornamental grasses.






Heather -- I did not note the species.


 Agave x leopoldii, hardy to zone 7.


 Agave 'Red Margin', also hardy to zone 7.


More heathers, such color. Orange flags indicate propagation stock, so not for sale.


 Agave striata


Oh, isn't this a thing of beauty? I definitely want this.


Grevillea 'Ivanhoe'. Want this one, too.


Lost in Agave Land, a dream come true. Speaking of agaves and being lost in a dream, I think I dreamed that Mark may have mentioned something about propagating Agave polyphylla


Now for Tillandsia land.


You see these everywhere, at restaurants, gift shops, salons, you name it. I was recently gifted a few from a fellow garden blogger and have come to love them, too. For my husband, they creep him out for some reason. Strange, that.




Mark, very thoughtful to take me around to every single greenhouse. What a trouper.




Do you know what this reminds me of? The Shire, of course (in the spirit of the Hobbit). Would love to come out to these seas of green on a cold, late winter day to get a dose of cheerful, fresh color.


Creeping thyme, one of their Foot Traffic groundcover plants.


Hebe, from their Hebe Jeebies line, not sure which one - perhaps Silver Dollar.


Ready for a sea of sedum?


Sea of sedum.


Sedum tetractinum.


Sedum lineare.


Sedum rubrotinctum.


And Sempervivums, too. A greenhouse (or more) full.


My favorites, Sempervivum arachnoideum.


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.


My gifted sempervivums...
Thank you for reading and until next week, happy gardening!

26 comments :

  1. This just makes me want to buy some land and put up a huge greenhouse. Seriously.

    Fantastic post, except... I'm a little disappointed for some reason because I thought that Little Prince was a small operation. They're bigger than what I imagined. (Small by some standards I know)

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    1. Thanks, Alan! I know, if only I had a greenhouse. Someday.
      Actually, I thought they were bigger than they are as they have such a presence locally, they feel small and family friendly. There is a husband wife team who has been there for a long time (Reggie is the wife of the husband/wife team and the office manager, very lovely woman), for example. But I know what you mean, getting behind the scenes is often surprising in one way or another.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  2. What a cool and interesting place to visit. I am so jealous. I buy their plants at Fred Meyer too, knowing they're a local PNW business. You showed way more than I've ever seen at Fred Meyer or any of the local nurseries here that offer their plants. I don't think I've ever seen a Little Prince Agave. All the plants you showed were so marvelously pristine. What a great parting gift.

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    1. Oh, no jealous, no jealous! I'm sure they'd welcome a visit from you if you contacted them, Alison. Really. Agave....I know...I haven't seen any at Fred Meyer but hopefully someone out there in retail land is listening....

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  3. Yay for Little Prince! Great photos Tamara and a wonderful tour. I had the opportunity to chat with Ketch awhile back and he definitely seems like a great boss and businessman.

    What I found most interesting in your photos were all the larger plants, I think of LPO as growing only smaller plants. As for their agaves I started to see some of them showing up at Fred Meyer last summer, so happy about that! Oh, and did you mean Aloe polyphylla (not agave)? That is exciting news! Love that Grevillea 'Ivanhoe' too, did Mark mention if they'd be selling that in Oregon or is it just for the California trade?

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    1. Danger! Yes, the larger plants are quite interesting in my mind. I wish F Meyer or Garden Fever or P Nursery would sell the larger ones, I for one would buy them. And the grevellias....Mark and Ketch...and retail outlets who carry LPO plants...are you listening? I did also mean Aloe, yes. Thank you Loree!!

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  4. Darn it. I had a post all written but I don't think it made it. So second try here. I know Mark and his wife Ann personally and they're great people. Although Mark has offered to give me the tour of Little Prince, I rarely make my way up there which makes your post all the more special. Great post and photos!

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    1. Hmm...I wonder where it went? Very strange. In any event, that's lovely you know him, he sang your praises and is such a nice man. Glad you enjoyed the post!

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  5. What a fascinating insight into their operation Tamara, thoroughly enjoyed reading about it. They have so many great plants and their selection is colossal. Plus the nursery looks so pristine! Am I right in recalling that the Tillandsias from the fling came from them?

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    1. Hi there, thanks for reading - I'm so glad you enjoyed it! They DO have a plethora of wonderful plants, I was a little ADD with excitement around every corner and in each greenhouse. They ARE the people who supplied the Tillandsias, good memory!

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  6. I love their mascot!! I love frogs and plants! what a cool place...there are so many plant related cool places over there!! great pictures :)

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    1. Oh yes, Lisa - frogs and plants are both great. Thanks for your comments! Glad you enjoyed the photos.

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  7. I really love Little Prince! They have such great stuff, and their greenhouses are like clean white cathedrals with tapestry floors! It really is a pristine place... Last time I was there shopping for a client, I excitedly grabbed one of those Grevillea 'Ivanhoe' for myself, but sadly had to put it back. I hadn't realized they were for propagation only. :( Judging from your photos though, the propagation was successful, so I imagine there are good things to come our way soon - yeay! Anyway - thanks for a fab tour, and wonderful photos!

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    1. Don't they, Anna? So clean, so lovely. Darn about the Grevilleas, I really want one. Hopefully they will be available soon….Mark are you reading this?? :)

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  8. Great tour and awesome plants! I could spends days there. I think people would pay for guided tours there if they came home with a tray of sempervivums and a lunch!

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    1. Thank you Jim! I know, I could spend days there too. Guided tours….Mark - you reading this?? Great idea!

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  9. Well, they were very smart to invite you as they could not have chosen a better ambassador. The humor of their tag line seems to leak into the rest of their business.What a great place to work...and to visit...and to patronize!

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    1. Miss Rickii - you are too kind! Their humor is great, they have a couple more lines in the works, very clever and I won't spill the beans but Mark is something of a wordsmith.

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  10. Very interesting wholesale nursery, they have a huge collection of different plants, I think I could spend a day in all those greenhouses, great. So nice you had a tour and even got a tray of sempervivums.

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    1. Aren't they something? The variety for the size of the operation is impressive. I love my semps, I think I'll make some kind of vertical planter with them if all goes well!

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  11. Nice tour of one of my favorite nurseries. Their plants are beautifully grown!

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    1. Thanks Darcy! Thanks for reading and commenting…their plants are really wonderful, as Anna pointed out, it's a pristine place and a lot of smiling faces.

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  12. Wow! Thanks for the tour. I had no idea Little Prince of Oregon was such a substantial operation. I only learned about them this summer while I was home with my parents in Washington. Their greenhouses look immaculate and well-organized and their plants look very healthy!

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    1. You are so welcome Evan! Thank you for reading and commenting. It is substantial, but also very small feeling in the office and employees and pace that I witnessed. Very healthy plants, indeed - they have some very talented plants people working for them. Great place overall.

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  13. Wowee!!! What an awesome opportunity! It would have made my teeth hurt to see the sea of solid plants like that. Man, I want one of everything. So cool. Thanks for the photos!

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