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Nursery Tour: Take Your Blog Readers to Work Day

By Cindy Murphy

Tags: nursery, work, tour,

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgIn 2003, “Take Your Daughters to Work Day” expanded to include boys, becoming “Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day.” “Take Your Dog to Work Day” was instituted in 1999 by Pet Sitters International, and is now celebrated around the globe. On June 26 of this year thousands of canine companions accompanied their owners to work. Fortunately, the ill-conceived “Take Your Cats to Work Day” never got off the ground; plans of hostile business takeovers where discovered early on, and in a worldwide effort to prevent company break room pantries from being stocked with only Fancy Feast, the event was cancelled immediately. “Take Your Blog Readers to Work Day” isn’t as well-known as “Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day” or “Take You Dog to Work Day”; in fact, I’m pretty sure there is no such event. But it certainly can’t be as dangerous as “Take Your Cat to Work Day,” so I figure, why not give it a try?

Welcome to Huntree Nursery and Garden Center, my place of employment for the past nine years.

Huntree Nursery and Garden Center

The nursery has been around long before I was even a twinkle in my parents’ eyes. It began in the 1930s after the lumber industry had clear-cut most of the white pines and other evergreens in Michigan. Walter Studley started raising seedlings in 1932, and his tree farm became the first private nursery in the state to grow large quantities of evergreens.

The nursery changed hands in 1954, when Howard Hunt purchased it from Mr. Studley. Howard and his wife, Sally, gave the nursery the name it still has today: Huntree. Along with the tree seedlings, the Hunts began to sell azaleas from their front porch. One azalea led to another species of plant, and soon a retail garden center was added to the nursery. In addition to still growing seedlings, the Hunts started growing ornamentals in a newly added greenhouse, using discarded tin cans from the Michigan Fruit Canners and Lloyd J. Harris Pie Factory as containers.

In 1971, shortly after graduating from Michigan State University with a forestry major, David Landry and his new bride, Jan, started working at the nursery. They purchased it nine years later, and are still the current owners.

Hop on board the Gator; I’ll give you a little tour.

Hop on the gator for the nursery tour

David handles the landscape end of the business. He and his son, Matt, head up the landscaping crew. Plant and hard-scape installation are services Huntree has provided for over 40 years for private residences as well as for commercial properties.

The women’s crew works right alongside the men on landscape jobs, and also provides maintenance and spring and fall cleanup. The crew is in high demand, and no weed is left standing when they’re done. They’re headed up by Elvira, who started working at the nursery for the Hunts when she was just fifteen. That’s over forty years ago! The wisp of a weeping willow she and her mother (who also worked here back then) planted by the pond when she was a teenager is now fully mature. Underneath its branches is Shelby’s favorite spot at the nursery, and Shannon loves to swing from the rope swing over the irrigation pond.

Shannon swings under the willow

Elvira may have the most seniority, but most of Huntree’s employees have a long tenure with the nursery also. Our staff is very experienced. Some of the members on the men’s crew have been at the nursery for over thirty years. Carmen, our landscape designer has twenty-seven years of design experience; over twenty of it spent at Huntree. The majority of the rest of the employees have been with the nursery for nearly a decade or more.

Jan is in charge of Huntree’s garden center. She works right alongside Paul, Koko, and me maintaining the retail area. The garden center encompasses approximately four acres of the nursery’s total thirty-some acres consisting of growing fields, and acres of tree, shrub, and perennial restock.

The garden center offers aisles of shrubs; we have fruits, rose, ornamental grasses, and fern sections also. We have trees from aspen to zelkova. Each department is clearly marked, and the different species and varieties within that department are alphabetically placed in rows, with each plant tagged with price and growing information. Signs placed in front of each row of plants further detail the information, providing customers with what they need to make a good choice for their site conditions.

The shrub aisle

The same goes for perennials – we’ve got over 500 species and varieties of perennials, and over 100 hosta and 60 daylily varieties. I do most of the ordering for these three departments, and I have to admit sometimes I get carried away. These past two weeks I’ve spent pouring over our perennial supplier catalogs, agonizing what to order for spring.

Perennials, hostas and daylilies

Daylilies are the hardest for me to choose; I’d love to carry them all, but we simply don’t have the space. Who can resist something that looks like this? I can’t; 'South Seas' is one of my favorite varieties, and, as well as carrying it at the garden center, I’ve got it in a few of my gardens at home.

South Seas daylily

We carry seasonal items too. Annuals, bedding and vegetable plants fill greenhouses in late spring and early summer; mums, bulbs, and pumpkins come in fall. Inside the store, we have everything for your birding, landscaping and gardening needs, from a full selection of organics to unusual garden décor.  

We’ll get you loaded ... not with drinks, of course, although a cocktail hour might be nice. (I’ll have to bring that up to Jan.) Mulches, topsoil, stone, and mushroom compost are offered in bulk, as well as in bags.

Loading mulch

We set up vignettes throughout the retail area with informational signs giving “how-to” tips. Xeriscaping, prairie gardens, deer resistant gardens, shade gardening, and butterfly gardening displays have been some of the most popular among our customers. My favorite had to be “In the Garden of Good and Evil”, a fun display that combined plants with names such as Crocosmia ‘Lucifer,’ Salvia ‘Vatican White,’ and ‘Pope John Paul’ roses with ‘Bela Lugosi’ daylilies. Our planted display gardens show what plants will look like at maturity, and our Children’s Garden is a fun place to visit for kids of all ages, even the full-grown ones.

Shade garden vignette

We have birds, bees, and butterflies, and smiling frogs. There is no shortage of furry creatures either; some of our regular visitors are of the canine variety. Dogs are welcome, (but leave the cats at home please; I have no desire to open the cupboard in the lunch room and find it fully stocked with Fancy Feast). Some of the not-so-welcome visitors are the deer, rabbits, and groundhogs. To them, it’s as if we had a neon sign out front stating, “Open buffet; all you can eat! Invite your friends!” (We much prefer the frogs – they eat the mosquitoes; we have them too.)

Smiling frog

You name it, we’ve got it ... and if we don’t have it in stock, we’ll work to get it for you. One thing we never seem to run short of is customers after closing time, and that means I better cut this tour short, and see to their needs.

Closing time at the nursery

Many changes have occurred since the nursery’s early days. The total acreage was cut in half when Interstate 196 was built in the sixties, dissecting the property. Despite the decrease in size, Huntree expanded to a garden center, landscaping service, and wholesale nursery with an experienced staff dedicated to providing quality service and plants. To think it all started with evergreen seedlings, which are still grown here today.

Evergreens all in a row

Because at the nursery, we like to keep in touch with our roots ... and branches, and leaves, and flowers ...

cindy murphy
9/23/2009 8:20:33 AM

Hi Jean, Brenda, and Dave. I'd love to give you all a real-live tour sometime; my less-than-adept photography skills don't do the place justice. I'd show you this and that, and make sure Jean leaves with dirt under her fingernails, (smile and snicker). Brenda, I can't imagine bringing my two cats to work. Even getting Dusty (the Hell Cat), and Ranger (the Lovable Idiot) there would be a challenge. Dusty would want to drive just because he's always got to be in charge. I'd probably have to turn the wheel over to him because Ranger would be would be wrapped around my neck and up in my face in fear and I wouldn't be able to see a thing; he hates car rides. Once they got there, Dusty - the brains behind the operation - would put Ranger to task as the bumbling henchman carrying out plans for a nursery take over. Dave, it's great to hear you not only didn't commit planticide this year, but that your garden did so well!!! I'm flattered that you thanked me, and though I can't take any credit for your success, I'm glad if some of my suggestions might have helped a bit.

nebraska dave
9/22/2009 4:54:44 PM

Cindy, that’s quite the tour of the nursery. I love spending time wandering around in nurseries, box store garden centers, and well planned and taken care of parks. Our city is blessed with a city green house for the planting material for the city green areas and the parks and is open to the public. We also have huge a garden that was designed as a private garden, but has since been turned into a garden that can be toured for a nominal fee. The walk through the garden is well worth the fee and both native and exotic plants have been planted in dazzling displays. This garden has a waterfall which fills the air with that wonderful refreshing smell as well as other water features. We are also blessed with a world renowned zoo that has a rain forest as one of the dome features. It is filled with plants of the rain forest and has dripping, falling, and flowing water throughout the exhibit. As you can tell I love water features as well as plants. I don’t have one yet, but I’m working on it. The impatiens and begonias have taken over the poor man’s patio wall. Thank you so much for your expert advice about what to put on the wall. The nine foot tomato plant produced from the first part of July to the middle of September. It was really sweet to sit on the patio sipping coffee and munching the little cherub tomato clusters. I did not murder one single plant this year. What a record year this has been. My earth bound tomatoes are still producing luscious tomatoes. So far this year it has been 122 tomatoes and counting from the three plants. They have not been bothered with blight, bottom rot, splitting, or spotting. I’ve canned six quarts and four pints of seasoned tomatoes for the winter soups. I’m already planning on the expansion of the miserly 4 X 8 foot garden. Cindy, thank you so much for helping me to have such a successful year. When gardeners garden, it is not just plants that grow, but the gardeners themselves. - Ken Druse

brenda kipp_1
9/21/2009 4:42:59 PM

Thanks for the tour, Cindy. It sounds like a great place to work. How blessed you are to be surrounded by such beauty and get paid for it! BTW, I would LOVE to bring my cat to work. :)

jean teller
9/21/2009 11:42:53 AM

Great tour, Cindy! Sounds like a great place to work, tho it sounds like you're busy all the time. :) I'd like to wander the grounds and dream! And Happy Birthday! (a bit late :))

cindy murphy
9/21/2009 7:30:05 AM

Hi, Vickie. Space can definitely be a problem. Keith, my husband, as said for years that I can not possibly fit any more plants into the yard. I always seem to find room for more, though! I wanted to make a correction on the comment I made to Lori: I mistakenly wrote a daylily variety's name as 'Pumpkin Spice' (it sounds like it'd be a yummy one). The correct variety name is 'Pumpkin Festival'. Just wanted to clarify in case anyone read it, and went out looking for 'Pumpkin Spice'; I think it could only be found in the spice aisle of the grocery.

9/19/2009 4:10:01 PM

Cindy, I just can't imagine working there it would be wonderful. We would have to buy more land for all the plants I would buy! vickie

cindy murphy
9/19/2009 8:08:47 AM

HA, Lori! Your fear is my reality; I like to kid that I'm an indentured servant at the nursery, working only to pay for the plants I buy. I tend to gravitate more towards the bold colored daylilies, though I order a variety of the pinks, and peaches too. 'Spiritual Corridor' and 'Pumpkin Spice' were ones in those paler hues that made my ordering list this year that hadn't in the past, and if I had to choose a favorite pink, it'd be 'Carlotta', 'Country Melody' or the good old standby 'Hall's Pink'. Oh, and 'Apricot Sparkles' is a cute little ever-blooming variety in peachy tones. Who am I kidding? The bright and the bold, or the soft and sweet - I can't help it, when it comes to daylilies, I like them all!

9/19/2009 6:20:37 AM

Cindy, What a great place to work, surrounded by all that beauty everyday! If I were to work at such a place, I fear all my profit would come home in the form of plants, shrubs, trees, and garden supplies!!! It is wonderful to go to work at a job that you love! I don't know how you ever decide on the daylillies! I'm a sucker for the peach and pink colors. Such beautiful flowers on very easy to grow plants!

cindy murphy
9/18/2009 8:49:29 PM

It is a great place to work, Michelle. I love my job. Thanks for the birthday wishes. And a very happy birthday to you too!

michelle house
9/18/2009 7:38:52 PM

LOL, at the Cats at work. I would believe that. It sounds like a wonderful place to work. Happy Birthday. :)