Nursery Tour: Take Your Blog Readers to Work Day

Reader Contribution by Cindy Murphy
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In 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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

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