04 March 2013

Thoughts on being a nurseryman, one year in

Roughly a year ago, I took my current position as Nursery Manager at Arrowhead Alpines. It has been quite an experience – a wonderful, exciting, mind-expanding experience. Here are some of the things I've learned:

1. I don't know anything about plants
Or rather, I don't know even a tiny percentage of what I wish I knew. As a home gardener, all I really needed to know was how different plants performed in my garden. Just one climate, one soil type. And from an aesthetic point of view, all I needed to know was if I thought a plant was pretty. In the mail order nursery business, I need to know how a plant grows in the ground, how it grows in a pot, how well is ships, how it can be propagated, and how it will perform anywhere in the contiguous United States. I find myself saying “I don't know” a lot more these days. Will this grow in deep south? Is this hardy in zone 3? I don't know! I've only gardened in zone 5! I'm also learning a huge amount, and wonderfully, often when I have to say “I don't know” to people, they go off, find the answer, and then send me an e-mail sharing what they have learned. Which brings me to the next lesson:

2. Most people are awesome
We've got a lot of great customers. I love checking my e-mail and finding notes from people who are happy with the plants they got or sharing information we can use, offering to give us a bit of something super cool and rare. People recommend us to their friends, write about us on their blogs, want to know how Brigitta is coping with Bob's death, and want to help. It is amazing. I love you people. That being said, however....

3. A few people are CRAZY
There was the guy last spring who drove through the nursery and off past all the buildings into the middle of the back field looking for the main office, who then, when Brigitta chased him down and got him back to the actual nursery, accused us of false advertising because we didn't carry all the plants mentioned in some random article in Fine Gardening magazine that we did not write. O_o Or the folks that order the miniature rock garden plants we specialize in and then complain that they too small (sort of the point, people...) It can be a little maddening. But mostly, I just have to laugh. And luckily, 99% of our customers are, as I said, absolutely wonderful.

4. I still like plants. And gardening.
There is always that fear that when your hobby becomes your job, it will suck the joy out of it. I'm very happy to say that hasn't happened. Quite the contrary, I think I'm even more plant obsessed than I was before, if that is possible.

Those are the things that come to mind... Anything you are wondering about the life of a nursery person? Ask in the comments and I'll try to give you an answer.


Kaveh Maguire said...

Glad you are enjoying it! I feel the same way you do about not knowing anything about plants. I'm in awe of the depth of knowledge that some people have but for everything I learn I forget 10 of the old things I knew!

Retail nursery life was not for me but I am glad you are enjoying yourself.

danger garden said...

I make a habit of eavesdropping on people in nurseries, especially when a staff member has been asked a question. Not everyone is as willing to say "I don't know" as you are. More should though, rather than faking their way through it.

Do you get many people asking for plants by some obscure common name? Or are your customers a little more discerning and know what they're after by it's botanical name?

Mario said...

I started working at a garden center/nursery last April. I share many of your sentiments. These things became most apparent to me by month three- I wrote about the experience in my blog: http://www.hortus5.com/journal/an-education-from-sunup-to-sundown.html

The garden center business is not a plant business, it’s a people business.

People first, plants second.

Nature is incredible.

You can’t ponder a plants relationship to this earth without contemplating your own.

Gardening and plants connect us, ground us, and teach us about continuity.

A big smile can camouflage how dirty your clothes are.

Joseph said...

Danger Garden,
Mostly our customers ask by latin names, but there was one last spring who came asking for a "toothsome" She was sure she'd read about them in Fine Gardening Magazine... eventually we figured out she meant toothwort (cardamine).

Unknown said...

Just started a small perennials nursery last year. I agree with Mario - a garden business is a people business, but that is the real joy of it - making people happy with your plants in their gardens.

Chris said...

Hi Joseph, I'm close to 20 years in the nursery business now, and I'm still learning, and still seeing customers as varied as plants. Just keep smiling through it all, keep your spirits up, and you will get through anything. Even the toughest customers don't know what to do when you are genuine, try your best, keep smiling, and never let them get you down. I think that's all that's kept me going this long :) Good luck!

Matt Mattus said...

Happy one year anniversary, Joseph! Just think about all that you've accomplished in just one year! A new job, a book! Pretty awesome!

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