Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Closing A Chapter

This is the final post I will write for this particular blog. You see just as we are moving our blog is moving too. After all, without a full time nursery it seems a little silly to keep blogging about running a full time nursery.

But before I go I’d like to say I’ve had a great time these past 9 years running Ashdown Roses. The roses, the people I’ve met, our customers and most of all the folks I worked with. We are a family and that extends to everyone who came up and spent hours volunteering doing all kinds of things. So a big thank you to all of them.

Ashdown also gave me my “name” in the rose business and I know the opportunities presented now would not be there without it. But quite honestly the events of the past few years that prompted this blog have sometimes made it difficult to go to the old property one more day, knowing I have yet another battle to fight. I would have liked The War Of Roses to remain a past historical event.

More changes are coming and we’ll be announcing them soon. But we will still be in the rose business and so for now instead of focusing on producing rose plants we are going to focus on…

Click here to continue reading.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Doors closing and opening.

It's been a whirlwind month. As it appears the property isn't going to sell anytime soon and therefore we will not be able to use the equity to move and hunker down until the economy gets better, I decided to simply suspend plant sales. The overhead of running a nursery is simply too high and too risky during these times.

What helped push me into this was a trip to Seattle to do a workshop for the HRF group up there. Sue Hopkins invited me up and arranged everything. The day of the workshop some 40 plus rose growers from novice to experienced came, and for five hours we talked about feeding, care, pruning, climbers and the rose business in general.

I loved it! And apparently so did they because all stayed past 6:00 PM. The You Tube videos played a major part in convincing them to come. Lots of nice compliments on them.

What I realized that weekend, with a little prodding by Sue and Marji, is that there are rose things I can be doing that aren't about raising and selling plants. Like teaching, writing, leading rose tours, licensing and more.

So instead of trying to keep a plant production nursery going during these times, and particularly one that's been crippled, I decided to stop producing plants and focus on producing rose growers.

Someone told me during that weekend that in order for doors to open you have to purposefully close some. So I closed the door on selling rose plants and lookee here. Lots of open doors around us.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Adieu Mike

"Hi Paul, it's Mike"

This is a once or twice a week phone greeting usually around 8:30 AM on many a morning. The Mike was Malcom (Mike) Lowe. What followed was a rose conversation that could head in any direction from what roses to carry, to propagation, to new roses to find and always concludes with Mike asking about Pam and how we are doing personally.

A little background.

Mike collected roses for years - mostly old roses. He began his collection in a time when in many cases the only way you could get many old roses in the U.S. was to bring them in from Europe. And import Mike did. Plants from here, budwood from there, the same variety from two different sources to compare them. All documented in a spreadsheet and photographed over and over again with the slides carefully sorted into reams of notebooks.

"Have you ever thought of starting a rose nursery?"

Was the conversation that started Ashdown Roses. Mike and Irene ran Lowe's Roses, a true labor of love and a nursery with a broad ranging selection of rose treasures.

Pam and I were thinking of leaving Los Angeles and permanently moving to our home in the Carolinas. Mike and Irene wanted to slow down a bit and Mike thought I might be interested in starting a rose nursery and continuing their work.

"Irene and I will drive down and give you hand".

Was the start of our first test crop budded in South Carolina now some 14 years ago. Mike and Irene piled into their station wagon and drove the 1000 miles from Nashua, NH to help me work with two budders I'd brought in. They not only brought more budwood but did tags, gave advice; anything they could do to help further me along by sharing their expertise gathered over 20 plus years.

"Let me send you cuttings"

Was the answer I know I can expect when I needed another rose from his garden to add to my collection. The only thing he ever asked for in return was to send him plants to sell out of his garden in the summer. He even offered to pay shipping and a small fee for them. We would just "add it to his bill" both knowing there is no way it would ever become a real one.

"Paul, It's Irene. Mike died today"

Was the totally unexpected phone call I got a week ago.

"Hi Mike, it's Paul. Thank you and Godspeed my Friend"

Saturday, August 1, 2009

E-Bay here we come

My older sister is a Librarian. She has happily been employed as a Children’s Librarian first for a Public Library and for the last umpteen years in an elementary school. Her love of children’s books led her to start collecting them by buying them in thrift shops, garage sales; you name it she visited.

And of course after a while she ended up with more than she really wanted. She began to sell them, a small business was born and that is how we ended up on E-Bay.

She is going great guns over there with her now expanded to all kinds of books business. I asked her if she thought it might be one more way to sell roses and she said why not? My sister and I are a lot alike in that we will wade into most anything if for no other reason than the intellectual exercise.

A week ago I put one item on E-Bay. A collection of 10 ramblers we were overstocked on at an end of the year price. Bingo, a bid! So I put up more roses and we sold two more today.

And better yet we are finding new customers. For us being on E-Bay is as much about that as selling roses. It’s another marketing opportunity this amazing electronic age is offering us and we plan to grab it with both hands.

I wonder if does roses?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

We're bustin out of this joint.


A greenhouse at an independent rose nursery in upstate South Carolina. Rose plants are everywhere in their pots on tables.


A tray of rambling roses, slightly older and slightly wiser, they know the drill.

Rose 1 "I hates to tell you dis but I tink we gotta move"

Rose 2 "On no, why, I like it here. We all grew up together on this table."

Rose 1 "I hears through the grapevine there are some new folks moving over from the propagation house. Youngsters, babies, newly rooted fellas, lots of them, different kinds of roses and they need some space"

Rose 2 "But where will we go!?"

Rose 3 "By jove, if we are fortunate we will be purchased by a kind, caring gardener who will bring us into their home, plant us, take care of us and take photos of us to post on those forums for years to come."

Rose 1 "We all hopes for dat but if don't happen don't youse worry. The folks around here ain't throwing us on the compost heap. They've set up a new pad in the adults only greenhouse and we're moving up there until someone buys us."

Rose 3 "Really. More room, more new roses. Does this possibly mean the kind people who work at this establishment are feeling more positive about the future and that people want more choices in their rose buying?

Over to you!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Size Does Matter

The ongoing move to our new retail site is letting me know I've been living in a rose bubble these past few years. We are so used to dealing with rose people and passionate gardeners who are familiar with mail order plants being smaller, that I forgot what the general public wants when they drive up to a garden center.

They want a large one.

As large as possible.

And they want it NOW!

And even in this economy they are willing to pay a higher price.

Case in point.

We had just transplanted some Mons. Tillier roses from their smaller liner pots that we ship in, into two gallon pots for the retail area. Some good potting soil, nice organic fertilizer, patience and Mother Nature means in about 4-6 weeks that rose will be much bigger and indeed a more attractive plant to sell.

A customer walked in just a few days after we did this and wanted those larger pots. Trish told the person they had just been transplanted and were in fact the same size as the smaller ones, which were less money. Nope, the person insisted, I want the larger ones. Trish said that would be fine just leave them in the pots for a few months. Our motto is give them honest information and then give them the rose they want.

The customer went off happily with three great, newly transplanted, roses and we learned something.

Better to sell the same plant for $22.95 in a larger pot than $15.95 in a smaller pot.

You see, size does matter. To our bottom line!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Congratulations! It's A Bouncing Baby Rose!

We've been potting up roses all week and now the propagation house is rapidly filling up with baby roses.

And all kinds of roses including many we have not seen in years. Duke of York (left), Rosenstadt Zwiebruken (right), Floral Fairy Tale (below left), Crepescule (below right); the list goes on and on.

We are moving through the plants in the ground taking cuttings at a rapid pace. We want to make sure we have new plants of as many of our roses as possible. The side benefit is that it is building our inventory and who this is going to really make happy are our customers.

Our selections of roses dropped over the last two years but this year we seem to heading back in the right direction. And that is to offer all kinds of great roses that are hard to find everywhere else. By the looks of the propagation house we are on the right track!

This is a part of the job I love. Potting up young plants, watching them grow and seeing old friends come around again. I'm a lucky man.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Go or Stay?

This is the time of year when we decide which of the older plants should be held over one more season and which ones should go. Not to the compost heap but into the big 50% off sale we sometimes hold at the nursery at the end of the season. The hope is to find them a good home.

Trish and I go through each variety checking to see how many we have left in stock. Then we decide if we have more than we might need for fall shipping. The logic behind these large, important business decisions is convoluted to say the least.

“Well, I’ll begin, “I think we should hang to Bermuda’s Kathleen because it does great in warm climates and they’ll start ordering in October for winter planting so they shouldn’t go into the sale.”

That one gets by Trish. Most of the time she’ll agree with me but every now and then;

“We have a fair amount of Himmelsauge left and since it’s a plant more for up north and folks up there generally plant in early spring I don’t see them ordering them this fall. Plus it’s a spring bloomer and they really don’t sell well all over the country so we probably have enough for folks up north when they do order in spring”

Trish will counter with, “I seem to be shipping at least a few every week.”

That trumps all my arguments. You see I know what I like but since Trish does all the order processing and talks to the customers, I am not as up to speed on what’s actually selling in what numbers.

Oh sure, Quick Books can give me all kinds of nifty sales figures, trends and pie charts galore in a million colors, but it is never the same as talking and emailing with the customers on a daily basis and feeling what is in demand.

So luckily for the roses the last word at our nursery on if they stay or go is not in the hands of a computer. It’s in the hands of a rose lover with her ear tuned to other rose lovers – and that is as it should be.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Roots of Progress

There are some roses that are just hard to root. You try and you try and you try and every year you wind up staring at trays of dead cuttings. But as I’ve said earlier I’m Dutch and stubborn and so approach it with the attitude that we are just going about it the wrong way.

Two in particular are Stanwell Perpetual (left) and Secret Garden Musk Climber (right). For years I’ve tried over and over to root plants because they are great roses that need to be in commerce.

Enter Michael Hayes. He came to us part time last year and since he graduated from the Horticultural Program at Spartanburg Tech a few months ago, now full time. He’s fine tuned our propagation procedures and re-installed discipline in how they are taken, processed and handled. We had gotten a little sloppy because we were stretched so thin trying to keep up.

I was entering new cuttings in the database where we track such things and I noticed some cuttings of Stanwell were taken about 9 days ago. So what the heck why not see how they are doing? While I know a watched cutting never roots I couldn’t resist.

Viola!! Roots on Stanwell! And Secret Garden Musk Climbers in pots all over the place. It’s going to be a good year!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

As Goes Ohio!

So goes the nursery. Well, as goes Ohio Belle that is. This lovely sport of New Dawn is a rose we have not offered in probably four years. You see, we simply never got around to taking cuttings of it, and hundreds of other roses in our collection. I was chasing my own tail so much I simply forgot to make sure these gems were in our catalogue year in and year out.

Michael and I were taking cuttings from the old Mother Block today when Michael mentioned he had one more piece of burlap left to wrap the cuttings in. I peered under a giant Rose Marie Viaud and lo and behold, Ohio Belle. Two nice canes - holding on for dear life. We took cuttings and as I write they are now in the mister.

Not a big thing but a good harbinger of things to come.

Last year at this time we had barely started taking cuttings. The overworked staff of one, Trish, plus me were too busy with shipping to get to them. Michael came on board around this time last year and we really didn’t get started on cuttings until the end of June.

As I write we have already taken close to 20,000 cuttings closing in on 500 different varieties of roses. Some gems we have not offered in quite a while from old garden to brand new.

You see, a nursery hits a point where you get on a kind of cruise control when it comes to propagating. I really feel after almost three years we’re back to that point. Michael is settled in beautifully, Trish is back to her beloved lists of Mother Plants and me? I’m riding this cruise control all the way to Ohio and beyond baby!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sittin in Limbo

We are waiting for the property to sell. And waiting and waiting and waiting. We are at the point where we can’t move forward with our future until it does. You see, I will be using the equity from the sale to prep and set up the new property where our greenhouses, Rosarium and production facilities will go. This is a separate area from the new retail site. We are already over there.

The bank situation left us with little in reserve so we pretty much live and pay our bills off sales of the roses; something the tanking economy has made a bit more difficult to weather. It’s also making the property harder to sell. The equity from the property sale will not only be our means of setting up the new place but also our cash cushion.

Welcome to being a small business in the first part of 2009!

I’ve been told a few times to possibly find an investor – not an idea I’m against. But finding an investor for a rose nursery is harder than the old needle in a haystack cliché. A nursery like ours is a labor of love. While I’m sure investors want to be loved, I doubt a portion of the love that goes into a place like ours is considered a good return. Then again in this day and age it’s probably a better one than most!

I’m not complaining mind you. I’d still rather do what this than anything else in the world. As I always say, “it could be worse. I could have a job”.

So we are going to continue to move forward and spread some serious love into our customer’s gardens. We have it in spades.

Want some?

Know anyone who wants to buy twenty great acres in the upstate with lots of love in it?

Phone lines are open!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Move With A Touch So Light.

"You've got to hold it right feel the distance to the ground
Move with a touch so light until it's rhythm you have found
Then you'll know what I know"

Thus is the chorus of one of my favourite Dougie Maclean songs - The Scythe Song. He sings the tale of learning to work a Scythe from an elder. The subtext to me has always been learn from those who came before you. The second part is about patience. If you try to force or muscle, it won't work. Instead just relax, find it's rhythm and "then you'll know what I know".

I feel the same way when I am lucky enough to "sit at the feet" of some great rose folk and drink in what they say.

One of the greatest days of my rose life was one spent alone with Ralph Moore at his nursery in California. Ralph at 90 plus ran me into the ground roaring through his greenhouses to see what he was up to. But I remember something he said when the conversation turned to how he responded when people asked when he was going to retire.

"I have new seedlings this year that will take at least seven years to evaluate so how can I retire now. I'll have to wait at least seven more years." Not an exact quote but I think you gather the sentiment. Mr. Moore spent a good part of the day showing me how to bud this way or that way and towards the end I begin to find a little of the ryhtym that flew deftly from his fingers.

As I cast my rose history mind's eye back over what the late Jack Harkness called "The Makers of Heavenly Roses", I think how lucky those of us in the rose nursery business are to be the caretakers of the work of the masters. From Beales to Vibert and everyone in between we are the caretakers of centuries of experience, wisdom and gift.

Mr. Moore once told me he wanted to make sure everyone knew what he knew about rose breeding so someone could pick up where he left off instead of starting over again.

It is our responsiblity to use it wisely and carry it on in their name. And to stop and smell the roses along the way.

And thusly rhytms are found, we will know what they know, and if we are lucky carry it forward.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Fresh Wind In The Rose Garden

"I don't want to try growing roses because they are fussy and need a lot of spraying"

Boy, if I had a dime for every time I heard that at a garden show I'd be independently wealthy. For years and years I felt we were swimming against the tide by trying to tell people that Garden Roses were different from Exhibition/Florist Roses and in fact are quite easy to care for.

Fast forward to last weekend. I was at the North Carolina Arboretum speaking at a rose event organized by the Asheville Blue Ridge Rose Society. They do a rose exhibition for the general public every year there. Members bring roses and they are set out in vases on tables, but it is not a rose show with judging etc. Instead the idea is to showcase the diversity of The Rose with blooms cut straight from their garden. They do a great job also with talks and a question and answer table. I did my talk "Roses Are Plants Too" and then stuck around for a few hours to answer questions.

For the first time I can remember, everyone from the general public I spoke to was open to trying Garden Roses and actually knew what they were. Personally I think the rose Knockout has a lot to do with this changing of minds. I suspect the Garden Forums, articles on easier care roses and even TV programs are also driving that effort.

Whatever the cause it was great to spend a beautiful sunny day in the mountains of North Carolina, talking roses and not feeling like the odd man out.

"I'd love to try some other garden roses because they are among the best plants in my garden" is what I hear now. And I love it! And then sell them a rose of course!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A rose "comes-a-calling"

One of the joys of my job is bringing new roses to our customers. Usually this involves travels to Europe, a few dinners, touring endless acres of rose gardens, a few more dinners and then decisions over nice glasses of wine. Tough work but someone has to do it! Sometimes however a great rose finds me right in my own backyard; in my case the nursery. Such was the case with a Kordes rose.

The nursery firm of Wilhelm Kordes & Sonne has been breeding roses a long time and are very good at hardy disease resistant varieties like Brother's Grimm (at left).

Quite a few years ago Germany (Where Kordes resides) began limiting and even banning the use of chemicals by the Ornamental Horticultural Industry. Wilhelm Kordes then banned them from his test fields - a move considered very risky by many but it makes him a hero to me. Keep in mind we are going back fifteen - twenty years, which was the the heyday of the fussy, spray a lot, cut flower Hybrid Tea.

I knew about Kordes Roses for years of course. Great classics like Dortmund that were as easy to grow as any roses I'd ever seen.

It was during a stint in The Netherlands judging the rose trials, that I finally had a chance to see so many of the new ones we didn't seem to have over here. Aprikola, Sterntaler (lower left -called Golden Fairy Tale in the U.S.) and Sangerhausen Jubilaumsrose (upper right -Floral Fairy Tale here) were just a few of the great roses I saw.

After the celebration dinner I approached Wilhelm Kordes, introduced myself as a fan of his roses and a nursery owner and asked if we could carry his roses in the United States. He took my card and much to my delight about a month later I got a letter saying yes, they were interested in licensing us to carry their roses including many of the new ones. They even agreed to send Mother Plants from Germany!

We've slowly been introducing them over the past few years and this season is our big push. One of my new favs is Cubana (lower right). I came upon this little gem last summer when I was wandering through the gardens. Or rather, it came upon me.

Unfortunately due to our financial situation I had not been able to hire the normal summer help to keep the beds weeded so they were pretty overgrown. Trish's sons would periodically go through with a weed-eater to cut the worst down but this particular bed was overdue.

Popping up above the Bermuda grass saying "here I am, pick me, pick me" was the bloom spray of Cubana that you see in the picture. I pulled back the weeds and saw the foliage was lush and dark green all the way to the base of the plant. I grabbed my secaturs, took some propagation material and we introduced it this past spring.

I love finding, testing and introducing new roses to our customers. And it's also a lot of fun when a great rose like Cubana finds me.

I might let the weeds grow up a bit this year as well to see what else comes-a-calling.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Our re-birth has begun

Part of what makes us, well us, in my opinion is that we offer roses hard to fine elsewhere. They may be old, they may be new - but many are unique. Quite a few of the newer ones are roses I found in Europe and brought back to introduce to our U.S. Rose Family. This is not something I take lightly and consider an obligation to them.

As well a great excuse to get over to Europe!

At least that's how it was before the problems began.

Last week we began our first baby step back to the past. We went to a dear friend's house who generously opened her garden to us so we could take cuttings of old and new rose friends to propagate for our customers. Michael, Trish, Myself and some of the Red Clay Day Gang propagated them and they are now in the mister.

Then today I set out upon Kubbie, Jethro's smaller brother, towing the small trailer. Loaded up with burlap for wrapping cuttings, buckets of water for putting the cuttings into, clippers, lists of roses to take cuttings of, my camera and another list of roses to take photos of, I set out on the grand tour of the old property.

I roamed all over the place taking cuttings of this and that - some old, some new. Took photos of roses I haven't visited with in a while, smelled the newly cut grass and just enjoyed the day.

About half way through my sojourn I rounded the corner and there were about 30 varieties of roses bred by the Barni Family in Italy. Beatrice sent them to me about 3 years ago and I have not had a chance to do anything with them since. Beatrice understood why, bless her heart.

They are in full bloom, healthy, clean and lovely. Very few of them are available in the U.S. at this moment. Tomorrow I'm going back to take photos, cuttings and another baby step along the path of our re-birth.

Barni Roses - coming soon to an Ashdown website near you!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

God's Little Flower

We have been involved with a project called The Grayson Rose for last few months. It came about from a tragedy when two friends who are part of Pam's radio station family lost their daughter Grayson before she was born.

Pam approached me with the idea of naming a rose after her and using part of the proceeds for charity to help others with what they had been through. The idea was to couple helping a friend with helping others as well. Matt and Amy Harris embraced the idea and that is how The Grayson Rose came into this world.

I have never had children, nor lost a child so I am not going to say something stupid like I know what they went through. But I do know this; roses have an amazing power to heal that for reasons I don't want to understand just are. This I have known my entire career with them.

I only hope Matt and Amy find some comfort in knowing their daughter lives on in The Grayson Rose. Matt tells me so and I completely believe him. Matt is a very funny guy with a warm heart but he is not a BS artist.

We have sold close to 1000 Grayson Roses, raising close to $7000 to help the March of Dimes work with premature children, so hopefully someone else may be spared what they went through. But above that the messages that come into the nursery as The Grayson Rose is gifted to others tell me that many are finding solace in Matt and Amy's brave decision to go public with this. If indeed a tragedy shared is a problem halved then in this case a tragedy divided by a thousand gives comfort to so many.

Yet Grayson's gift goes beyond even something Matt and Amy don't know. In these economic times all small business are facing challenges. But for us, thanks to The Grayson Rose and the warmth, generosity, love and support of all of Matt and Ramona's listeners, the economic challenges facing Ashdown are far less than one month ago.

We gladly donated 40% of the proceeds of The Grayson Rose to charity. But what God's Little Flower donated back to us is immeasurable.

Thank you Grayson.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ready, Set, Propagate

Man, I love this time of year. Propagation season is about to really get rocking. We've already done some from the existing plants we have in inventory but in another week we move outdoors to roses we have not had in stock this past season

Or, sadly several seasons for that matter. We had so many roses we wanted to propagate and offer to our customers but we just couldn't get to them these past few years. And quite honestly I couldn't focus enough to get us organized to get to them anyway.

Now however, we know where we want to go, Michael starts full time next week and since he is our main propagator I know I'll have a solid person out there running the show.

We have a very ambitious goal this year. 1000 varieties on the website by September 1st. I think we can do it and I've put the word out to the Red Clay Day Gang for help and I know they'll respond.

I certainly measure Ashdown's year by the business stuff like profit and loss, website stats, attrition rate of transplanted roses etc etc. But our identity and to me one of our yardsticks are the roses we offer our customers on the website.

We are privileged to care-take some lovely and special roses. And a responsibility of that privilege is to make them available to customers to keep them in commerce and in as many gardens as possible.

And for purely selfish reason I love seeing all those new babies blooming the in greenhouse. It's like seeing old friends over and over again. Talk about stopping to smell the roses!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Getting Back In Touch With My Inner Rosarian

I have a little secret to share with you. Wanna know the best thing about moving to the new retail location?

The privacy.

No, not at the new retail location but at the old location which is now closed to the public, which means on Wednesday and Thursday while Trish is at the new location I have the entire place to myself.

Wanna know what I did today, this Wednesday? Whatever I darn well wanted to thank you very much! I consolidated the roses in the large greenhouse, propagated for a while, potted up some new cuttings, did some watering, played with the cats and a few other rose chores. Since I now do all my financial stuff only on Monday, then Trish and I ship on Tuesday that means I get two full days on Wednesday and Thursday to myself to...

Get back in touch with my inner rosarian.

You see, I lost that part of myself when I was battling banks and what not. I rarely got the chance to get out into the greenhouses and the roses and well, play with my roses. I call it play because I have a hard time calling it work when I truly love doing it.

At some point we will move and I will be back amongst everyone on Wednesday's and Thursdays but right now while it lasts I'm going keep doing what I want in my roses. And rediscover why I do this in the first place.

Wanna know what I'm going to do tomorrow, Thursday?

Don't know - haven't made it up yet.

And that's my little secret!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Puzzles, Oceans and Keeping On

Have you ever been so exhausted that even thinking about being exhausted hurts both in brain and body? That's the way I feel right now. Today, April 1, was the first official day at our new retail location. Growing plants in a locale that gets April freezes means you cannot move leisurely in March. It means you look at the weather forecast March 31 and if the next 15 days are above freezing you move NOW!!

Top it off with flying up to and speaking and the Yankee District ARS convention this past weekend when I probably should have been setting up tables etc at the new retail location and you end up with a very tired rose person. I could have gotten someone to build tables but a) cash is real tight in this economy b) I like doing carpentry and c) I'm Dutch and we are not known for spending money when we can do it ourselves.

My Mother gave me a great book to read called The Dutch Puzzle. In it the Ambassador to The Netherlands from Spain off and on in the 20th century tries to explain the Dutch People. He does a decent job but how do you explain a people who in the face of not enough land to grow food simply drain the ocean. You can't.

But I do know that is why I keep moving and push. Quit is not in my Dutch DNA and never will be.

But you know what really picks me back up? An Irishman. Van Morrison. I sit here tonight with Astral Weeks on the stereo, Avalon Sunset racked up next and with every track spirits are lifted, dikes are built and oceans drained.

Heck, if my countrypersons can do that, I can move a nursery.

Tot Ziens

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

All Roads Lead To Something.

Boy this has been a week. I started a series of short rose "how to" videos about a week ago and I'm having a blast doing them. I've kept it quiet from my rose world but I spent 15 years touring the U.S., Canada and even the Caribbean first as a comedic juggler/magician, then as a stand-up comic. I even toured Renaissance Fairs in a 1968 VW Camper Van. This whole odyssey ended up on late night TV at ABC as head writer and then comedy segment producer. You might say not only do have I a bit of being a "Ham" in my background but I know how to use it!

I've wanted to write, shoot, produce, edit and host something like this for years but events got in the way and like so many things it went on the back burner. But now that we are moving forward my creative juices got flowing and an outlet needed to be found. Enter the Flip Mino and a down loadable version of Movie Maker Software. This nifty little camera is ready made to put video on the web. Marry it with You Tube and Move Maker Software and we're off.

While at ABC I loved post production work. Taking all those individual segments of scenes and assembling them into a comedic bit was like making a jigsaw puzzle with laughs. And I'm having blast with this too. Not as many laughs but if they make roses less intimidating I'll take it.

What this brings me to is that who knew some 30 years ago when I entered the Dell Arte School of Mime and Comedy and spent two years there learning all kinds of great things it would wind its way to producing rose videos for my nursery. From old Italy to Hollywood to Campobello SC. Not even Robert Frost could write that into "The Road Not Taken"

While you go through life never question why you are on the path you are on. In the end there is a purpose to it all if you just open yourself up to see it. Then suddenly all those jigsaw pieces of your journey merge into one thing. Your Life. I hope it's one less traveled by.

The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

Monday, March 2, 2009

Paul mentioned March being the beginning of our spring. I know that while driving around town the daffodils were popping up and the Forsythia has even started to show color. That however was three whole days ago. On Saturday we (I use the term loosely, as I was pulling orders) began propagation. Paul and Michael were hard at work trimming back the plants in the greenhouse and going to town! I love propagation time. The smell of the soil, the feel of the babies in your fingers as you stick them. It makes one feel almost maternal. At least it does me! I always say a little prayer as I tuck the trays into the tunnel with the misters.

This year is different, it was a cold rainy day here in Landrum. Alex came into the greenhouse and proceeded to find the warmest spot, on the heat mat. No dummy, this boy. He reluctantly gave up his spot to the trays that were filled. But what a sight! All those new cuttings on such a day. It was warmer in the morning and we really felt the spring like temps. It came crashing down around us as the day wore on. By the time we closed up the rain was downright cold and the sky was iron gray. Sigh... So much for spring.

So now it is Monday. Yesterday evening the snow began. Real snow, not just a few flakes. We are surrounded by a sea of white today. The town has shut down and the kids are all out making snowmen and snow angels. I was hit by a snowball around 10:30 last night. Jim came in with snow down his pants. A good time was had by all. So the temps can go back up and we will welcome the sun! Come on spring!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Catch ye breath while ye can

March 1 is coming. That to me is really when our season kicks into high gear. With a little luck, hard work and creative advertising the phone will start ringing more often, the website will see more traffic and the mail will bring orders.

But this year?? How can anyone predict what is going to happen this season. It's not a normal year for anyone out there; not just us. So I tentatively put my forecasts down in MS Excel and now I sit back - and don't wait.

The worst thing to do at anytime is sit around and wait for business to come to you. Instead you have to go get it. After all it's called marketing not entitlement. But how do you do that after two years of weirdness and your finances are stretched thin.

I thank my lucky stars part of my upbringing was about finding a way to make things happen. My Mother says I am the eternal optimist and I take after her late little brother, my Oom Lex. Oom is Dutch for Uncle by the way. I also know she says this with affection as she was very fond of him; as was I. He loved thinking outside of the box. Me, I don't think I ever got in the box in the first place.

The Internet is literally handing small businesses like us incredible ways of reaching people without burning through a lot of cash. Even when I started Ashdown some eight years ago an ad in a decent magazine ran upwards of $1500 and reached maybe 100,000 people who forgot about it two months later. We now have a page on Facebook that costs nothing and could potentially reach 175 million. Well it doesn't cost nothing. Just my time and hey, that's free as far as I'm concerned.

Forums, Blogs, Facebook pages; this list goes on and there reaches a point where you have to focus on what you can (sorry Twitter) but all together these things bring folks to our little nursery and they begin to add up.

What prompted this thought was watching President Obama's speech last night to Congress. While he has programs to jump start the economy he also let us know there is no such thing as a free lunch. We have to do our part too. So off to Facebook to update our free page.

Are you listening Wall Street?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A simple little thing.

Turn on the news these days and it seems all you see are stories about people like Bernie Madoff, R. Allen Stanford and all kinds of other people whose only goal in life seems to be taking what they can from whomever they can. It's enough to make your faith in people disappear like so many billions of dollars investors trusted those thieves with.

Then along comes a small gesture that makes you realize those people splashed on the nightly news are the exception and not the rule.

We had one of those gestures last week. I was working in the office with the door closed because it was cold so I obviously didn't hear the customer drive up. I may have been on the phone when they knocked or simply distracted by something. Trish was out so I was holding the fort on my own.

Towards the end of the day I went outside into the barn and found the note in the picture sitting on the table we use as a desk out there. Just a few simple words:

"Please call me: I took one potted sombreuil and need to pay for it. Thanks"

When Trish came back she called the customer who cheerfully gave her their credit card and paid for the Sombreuil.

A simple, little gesture but how immensely uplifting - particularly in these times.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Happy To Be Me

I am a very lucky person. In my spare time I am a cross stitcher. I belong to a number of different forums and groups. As with rose growing there are all walks of life out there that share my passion. I was reading a post this morning by a woman who is very unhappy and stressed about life. She hates her job, hates her co-workers and counts the hours to the end of the work day. By the time she gets home she has no energy left for herself, her family or her craft. It would be easy to say, well quit your job! Find something new! However, in this economy that is just not likely now is it? So she suffers. Her husband suffers, and her children suffer. It makes me want to cry.

And here I sit. Blogging on company time, listening to Lyle Lovett on my cd player next to my desk. I have a cat in the in-box on my desk and the sun is out. I have a wonderful boss who is also one of my very best friends.

Last Saturday was one of the best days of the year so far. My friends came from near and far to give us a hand. As you know from reading Paul's blog on the subject they worked hard! Saturday is a normal work day for me so while I was answering phones and doing the emails and paperwork they were all out digging, planting and pruning. They did this all out of the goodness of their hearts, and for us. Paul and I saw this daunting task and wondered if we were going to be able to do it. They came in and finished in record time. What would have taken us days took them hours. Plus they brought food! What a life I lead, almost as good as the cats. No one offered to scratch my belly but I'll get over that.

Now you all just sit back and be jealous. I truly have one of the best jobs in the world and certainly the best of friends. I am so happy to be me.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Our First "Red Clay Day"

Last Saturday morning in a slight rain I found myself surrounded by 7 of some of the greatest people I've ever had the pleasure to know. Here's how it happened.

We have close to 3600 rose bushes in the ground. Some have been there for close to seven years now and they are quite happy and firmly rooted where they are thank you very much. They don't want to move but since I have no plans to leave them behind they haven't much say in the matter. There comes a point where you have stop talking to your plants and start barking orders.

There is actually plan in place to move them. We'll accomplish this by cutting them back very short and "dig" them out of the ground with a bare-root rose lifter. This is a simple device pulled by Jethro with a blade going about 12 inches into the ground that severs the deep roots and then a short ramp on the back that heaves the rose out of the ground accomplishing two things. Getting the rose out of the ground with your back intact and further dispelling that "roses are delicate plants" crap.

This works for mature plants but not for small ones. They just get sucked into the rose wake as Jethro and the digger work their way up and down the rows. So this means first the small roses need to be dug up and planted in pots - by hand - one by one by backbreaking one.

And that's how I found myself surrounded by 7 eager volunteers who also happen to be dear members of our rose family this past Saturday. They brought shovels, gloves, clippers and most of all an energy and spirit that cleared the rain from the skies. Did I also mention they also brought a great pot-luck lunch? Including vegetarian chili for yours truly.

We hit the fields and 7 hours, countless bags of soil and pots and a great lunch later some 500 roses had been lifted from the ground and now rested in their pots in one of the cold frames.

I was perhaps more exhausted than any of them but not because I worked harder. But because each passing hour of laughter and rose camaraderie further put the past behind and reminded me why I do this for a living. So while they lifted some 500 roses those Magnificent 7 also lifted two years of weight from my shoulders. I suspect Trish felt the same.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I thought I was just going to work with roses...

I really did think that. We'll set up a rose nursery, grow our plants and ship them to customers. Along the way we'll put in a garden, have customers come visit us and even have time to stop and smell the roses.

What was I thinking I thought to myself this morning as I was pouring over Google Analytics trying to figure out how it worked. For those of you not familiar with Google Analytics just think of it as an Orwellian creature lurking in the background of every Internet site you visit. It tracks everything you do on a website from what website you came from, to where you go on our site, to search terms used, to what you spend; to even how long you are on our site. All this is made available to us, the web-site owner, so we can Analytic ourselves to greater profits and live the capitialist dream. But hey, the Google smiley face is on my Analytic page so how bad can it be?

But in these economic times even your small rose nursery has to be creative to stick around, so hence this morning. Ultimately what I'm looking for is information that lets me know what ad campaigns are working and what ones aren't. We have a few running that cost very little but only if they produce results. So now I can see what ad campaign you came from, where you went and how much you spent - and I will admit that does mean I am using my ad budget more wisely.

So apologies in advance for following you around on our website but since I don't know who are, only what you are doing I can live it. But if you want to do some rose stuff without being followed come browse our rose garden. I don't have time to follow you there!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Now I Am Excited

So this morning I finally went over to the new property. I mean, I have been there before- lots of times. But I was able to look at our new cozy little office and see what Paul has done as far as clearing the back. It will be fun to actually have others to talk to during the weekday. Not that Paul can't carry on a conversation, trust me, the man can talk when he wants to. We are actually going to share an office for the time being. That should be interesting. Thank goodness we have roughly the same taste in music!

The back half of the property is still a little rough. The potential is there. The gardens are going to be so pretty. Plus we have all kinds of places to plant up close to the little buildings. There are even a couple of ponds, one with fish. I just hope we can keep the cats out of that one. I can see Duchesse "fishing" in my minds eye.

I really have to start packing. Anyone who has seen my corner knows what a packrat I am. I have saved every single card our customers have sent me. Not to mention photos! Then add the coffee cups, stuffed bears, books, my massive pen collection, and just your average crap. I am tired just thinking about it. And don't try to tell me that moving is a good time to clean out. I moved across country with some of this junk, you think I can get rid of it now?

More to follow later, my train of though just left the station.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I'm a meet the deadline kind of guy.

I was really getting worried about meeting the deadline for all the good folks who are coming in a few weeks to help us move roses. Worried because the place was not going to be ready for the roses to be moved and also ready for them. And "them" were in some cases driving hours and taking time off from work.

I spent the day up there Monday with John, a great guy who is working with me to get the property ready. We got a lot done but ran into some snags moving a huge pile of old brush that had been stacked when the place was logged a few years ago. This put us back in getting to the other areas where the new planting would go. I know what you are saying right now. Why not start with the planting areas first - and you'd be right.

Except I'm a meet the deadline, visual kind of guy.

I need to see the space before I can really see what goes where and when. And that big pile of brush was in the way of my mind's eye. So it had to go. John worked his tail off and moved mountains of brush in short order until we got to the backside of the pile.

There we encountered piles of rotted branches turning to soil bogged down by the rains that finally broke the drought. It was not going to be moved quickly even with Jethro hustling in after John to smooth areas down so he could come in without losing his kidneys on a Norman Bates roller coast ride.

The next day I went back with Ray who is the clear set of eyes at Ashdown. He's the kind of guy who can see the rose nursery for the trees and pointed out that if we started planting where I wanted we'd lose a lot of property we were renting and also would most likely end up not have buildings and greenhouses where they would best serve the overall picture. So why not wait until we can get in a big ol bulldozer and push the big stuff out of the way. This was not easy for me to admit and took far too much of Ray's time for me to come around.

You see I'm also a meet the deadline, visual kind of, do it now kind of guy.

After Ray talked me down from the trees I knew we had to postpone moving day. So the next morning I timidly emailed the dear Rose Family members organizing it and let them know. Their response?

"And your point is what? We're coming anyway to do what we can and we'll schedule another day for all of us to move the roses."

You see I'm a meet the deadline, visual kind of, do it now and very, very blessed kind of guy.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Jethro and Me

Spent a good day clearing the new property. While the location is killer, the 5 acres we are leasing needs more clearing than I wanted; as you can see from the photo at left. But life is about trade offs and while it's extra work now, in the end we'll be glad we're there.

But at the moment we feel like we are in two places. Probably more for me than the others because so far I'm the only one prepping the new property. You see it's all tractor work right now and so that means I'm working over there on my own.

Which I enjoy, actually. There is a joke at the nursery that if I go climb on a tractor, fire it up and start to do something; leave me alone. It's means either I have something to think out or I just need a some time not talking to anyone. Jethro, our large Kubota, is usually the one I jump on. He's real good about just getting on with job and leaving me be. I swear when someone approaches me he raises his engine noise as if to say, back off; he doesn't want to talk to you.

Tomorrow I'm back over there, but this time with a buddy who has a skid steer with a grappler attachment. That's like a giant set of claws that can rake and pick up logs and all kinds of stuff so we'll see some real progress and not a moment too soon. We have a great group of volunteers coming in two weeks to help move roses and I've got to get the areas where they are going to be planted ready for them. I knew they were coming but the date is sneaking up on me.

Stuff at the old property is starting to be broken down. You can see in the photo at right two of the large cold frames coming apart. Since we've haven't sold the property yet I'm reluctant to take everything apart so we are starting with what we don't need. These two cold frames are huge and with the newer smaller pots we no longer use them so they can come down now.

I also spent a great day this past week throwing away all kinds of stuff that not only I don't need, but I don't even know what it is! I can't believe how much stuff we've gathered. I was looking at bits of metal with no idea what they were or what they were for. If nothing else the move is a good house cleaning!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Sun Is Out!

I admit it. I am a much happier person when the sun is out. I like the heat. Paul and I packed up some roses yesterday and by the time we were done his hands were turning colors again. Mine were actually warm for the first time ever... I think he got some frost-bite from playing with those bareroots.

Another piece of weed cloth found a new home in the dumpster today. I watched as Paul and Jethro made quick work of it. Very odd to look out my window and not see it any more. I don't miss it. It was ugly and the snakes would hide in it.

I have been having great fun today reading all the new rose reviews on our website. If you happen to grow a rose that we sell go and review it- what a great resource for other growers!

Our Facebook group is really taking off. I have been busy adding new and old friends. I can honestly say that I get paid to be online! I will be glad when winter is over and we can get back to the gardens. As a dear friend of mine posted this morning, he will eat 100 goldfish to have spring arrive a month early!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

We Score

I love living in a rural area. With prices going up everywhere things here are still reasonable. In fact downright cheap sometimes.

Case in point. I settled the terms of part of the new land today that we are moving to. It all started when I thought we were going someplace else until I got a phone call. "Paul, it's Rhonda. We heard you were moving the nursery. What do you think about moving in here with us?" Now having been happily ensconced in a relationship for the past 18 years, it's been a long time since I'd had an invite like that from a member of the opposite sex so needless to say my interest perked right up!

"Here" is a small garden center about 3 miles from our current location, about 2.5 from where I thought we'd be going, but best of all about a quarter mile off Hwy 11 & Hwy 14. That is a major intersection with one of those new fangled, fancy, flashing single red lights hung right in the middle of the durn intersection. Yep, a bona-fide four way stop. That meant cars had to slow down and we could start participating in a great local past time called parting the tourists from their cash.

I've known the folks at Motlow Creek Gardens for years and they are great people. Our businesses are complimentary but different, and since they already had existing infrastructure like water, buildings, small greenhouses and most importantly a toilet, I thought this was too good an opportunity to pass up.

There was one hitch. While their property is perfect for sharing retail space there is no way it can hold five greenhouses, all our equipment and not to mention some 3600 rose plants we have in the ground. Jumping on the phone they called the man who owns the land behind them and asked if he would lease me five acres separately from my lease with them. He said sure and so he and I met, talked terms and that is why I love this area.

Five acres, long term lease, $100 per month total for all of it. Betcha can't get that in a city with real stop lights!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Trials, Taxes and Blue Hands

We represent a great French Nursery Firm by the name of Delbard and we've entered some of their roses in the AARS Trials. This means the variety we're entering will be tested for two years in about 30 gardens all over the country. If it wins - jackpot! and like the executives of AIG we're going to Bermuda for our annual meetings. But even if it doesn't we'll learn a lot and start to get Delbard Roses out there.

These roses have to be shipped to the trial gardens bare root, meaning with no soil or anything. And they need to be shipped when the gardens are ready to plant them. That's why I found myself in the middle of a cold damp day, packing wet roses on a Monday afternoon. I'd forgotten how miserable packing bare root roses is in the winter.

The barn was 41 degrees on the kind of cloudy day when you can smell the rain coming. Worse, you can also feel it coming right down into your bones as the cold dampness works its way through layers of your clothes, under you skin then right down through your muscles. Layer that backdrop on top of working in an unheated barn, on a concrete floor, with wet thorny bare root roses and worst of all you can't wear gloves because then you can't tag and tie them. That's why my hands turned the color of Smurf poop. And that's why I really don't mind not offering bare root roses to our customers anymore. In fact I love our potted roses even more now!

But I still rather have blue hands and bare root roses (sounds like the beginning of a country song, doesn't it?) than have to deal with taxes - particularly employee payroll taxes. This maze like thicket of rules, regulations, forms and calculations is enough to give anyone fits. I always say small businesses manage to stick around despite the Federal Government, and if any of you have ever had to deal with this stuff you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Then there' s the amount we pay. I voted for Obama and my first message to him and all those folks up on the Hill is, "if you want to spur employment, cut my employee taxes in half and I can afford to hire that extra person I really need." The US Census Bureau estimates there are some 30 million businesses in this country with less than 10 employees. And I guarantee you each one desperately needs another pair of hands but can't afford it. So cut our payroll taxes so we can afford to hire someone else and bingo - 30 million new jobs!

And I won't have to have blue hands anymore.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


After reading what Paul has written, I wanted to share some of my thoughts. For those of you that have been to our place you know how truly special it is. Most of the land is still trees and pond. Then you have the gardens. Oh the gardens! The main mother block was already there when I arrived. 17 rows of it anyway. Now there are 25. While I don't dig holes I do map the entire planting. I know every single plant up there. Some were from my garden in California! Now add in the new gardens at the front of the property. How many hours of planning and planting. Walking it over and over again- the thrill we felt when some of those plants bloomed for the very first time. It just never fails to amaze me- God's grace right in front of us.

The first time I ever saw the nursery it was just my husband and I. I don't remember where Paul was. I got out of our car and just stood there. Amazed at the green in the middle of summer and the blooms from all those roses! Huge plants too! I was used to the bareroot crops in Wasco. These were stunning. And I got to work there.

I still get to work there. I am blessed to still be around. I am excited for the change but I will always miss this place I call home. I am the only employee who can honestly say she slept in the nursery- not by choice but because it was the only place with heat at the time! Ice storm, a story for another day. I will miss our big red barn and all the crazy critters that can be found wandering. Like the turkeys. The snakes can stay.

So a new day and a new view.


The move begins

While we've known about the move up till this past week it's sort of been something looming on the horizon. This past week changed that for me when we started actually pulling up parts of the nursery, keeping what we want to take with us and throwing away the rest.

Yesterday I pulled up two rows of black weed cloth that we use to set older plants on. They are in the open and not in cold frames so we don't need them right now. They've been there for years, nestled amongst the stand of older trees I left when the property was first cleared some ten years ago. We chose that area because the trees offered protection from winds and hot summer sun on the newly growing roses. There was a feeling of permanence to those areas.

I pulled them up with Jethro's (our larger Kubota tractor) front end loader and dumped them into the large dumpster we've set on the property during this time. As I looked back at the long stretch of now bare earth I suddenly hit me that we were leaving this property and the move was physically beginning.

As the old cliches say with endings come beginnings and we are actually excited about moving forward after the events of the past two years (see sidebar at right). The new space, which we'll talk about more in future, presents wonderful new opportunties that we would not have where we are now. So once we get over moving four 2800 square foot cold frames, one 2800 square foot greenhouse, an office full of stuff, a barn full of even bigger stuff, 3600 rose plants in the ground, some 14,000 in pots plus all the other things we are pretty certain we need but will probably throw away in another year anyway we are in the end quite excited about all of this.

And that's our story and we're sticking to it!