Cultivate'18 Nursery and Landscape Tour recap

Cultivate'18 Nursery and Landscape Tour recap

Attendees visited a 2,000 acre wholesale nursery and a landscape company that prides itself on being a one-stop shop.


While many exhibitors were rolling into town and setting up their booths, some Cultivate’18 attendees boarded a bus for the Nursery and Landscape Tour. The tour took place Saturday, July 14, from 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. Participants joined their industry colleagues to tour two stops along the nursery supply chain.

The add-on cost of this tour was $125, which included lunch.

A. Brown & Sons Nursery

The first stop on the tour was A. Brown & Sons Nursery, a wholesale nursery which sprawls across 2,000 acres in Montgomery County and the Miami Valley area.

The nursery started as 10 acres of vegetable production, when it was founded in 1959 by Anthony (Tony) and Helen Brown, along with their six children John, Harry, Barbara, Ken, Vernon and Mike. Anthony had emigrated from Germany to the U.S. in 1929 and Helen was the daughter of German immigrants.

The nursery really took off in 1971 when Kenny and Vernon Brown returned from serving in the Vietnam War. The nursery is named after their father, Anthony, and has grown immensely in its 56 years of existence. Currently, seven of Anthony’s grandchildren work in the business. The third and fourth generation of Browns are currently involved in the nursery. Ken’s son, Dean, has taken over the role of nursery manager, and his daughter, Kenda, handles payables and receivables. John has three children involved in the nursery, as well: Corey (container manager), Robyn (container manager assistant) and David (dock manager).

When the recession hit in 2008, many area farmers went under. Ken Brown, the president of Brown’s Nursery, saw an opportunity and acquired many smaller farms during the recession, adding to its production space. The Brown family has purchased much of the surrounding farmland and converted it to nursery use. The operation has swollen to 52 farms, many of which are named after the farmer who originally worked the land. Instead of numbered fields, names like Milligan Farm or Marshall Farm are common.

The nursery doesn’t advertise, doesn’t do anything in the way of marketing, but ships nursery stock to 25 states and Canada. The trucks that ship Brown trees to west to Colorado, east to New York, north to Minnesota and south to Tennessee, bear no markings identifying their home nursery. That’s the way Brown’s has always done business, and the nursery has no plans to change anytime soon.

A. Brown & Sons Nursery grows the tried-and-true crops that landscapers want. David Listerman, our tour guide, said that 40,000 deciduous trees and 150,000 Buxus and Taxus are planted per year at A. Brown.

The nursery’s strong boxwood program is one of the keys to its success. Concerns about boxwood blight haven’t touched Brown’s – the nursery grows 35,000 to 40,000 buxus cuttings each year. It’s all homegrown. While most bareroot trees grown at the nursery arrive as liners from the west coast, almost all of Brown’s shrubs are propagated in-house. Approximately 210,000 Taxus, Buxus, Thuja and Sea Green juniper cuttings are stuck annually for in-house production.

Growing a on a large scale, Brown’s can supply many of the national wholesalers, as was as the landscape contractor market. A retail garden center is open to the public Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Peabody Landscape Group, Inc.

Next, the tour visited Peabody Landscape Group, Inc. in central Ohio. The company was founded in 1982 and has grown throughout the area to provide landscape design-build and environmental site management services.

Peabody Landscape Group, Inc.’s president, David Peabody, has 31 years of experience in landscape architecture, construction and site management. The company takes on a wide range of jobs, from installing a mass planting on commercial sites to building new brick patios or attending perennial gardens at residential locations.

The “group” includes six different services, each with separate brands: AquaLawn Irrigation Services, Estate Gardener Services, Healthy Lawn Turfcare, Horticare Tree and Plant Specialists, Illumiscapes Architectural and Accent Lighting and Relaxed Outdoor Living.

Attendees learned about how a landscaper like Peabody sources and purchases plants, estimates costs for jobs, and how they track and measure plant purchases. Jason Bornhorst, our guide and senior designer at Peabody, described how the landscape design/build side of the supply chain handles the process.

 The company has placed an emphasis on connecting with the younger generation to develop a future workforce. One of the group’s landscape designers was instrumental in pitching the idea of an inclusive student landscape competition to the Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association. ONLA loved the idea – the state association formed a committee for the event and recruited help from contractors across the state. By 2016, the association hosted its first event, which it dubbed the Ohio High School Landscape Olympics. Tour attendees learned how Peabody partnered with Willoway Nurseries to manage the plant installation test at OHLO 2016 and 2017, the final event in the competition, and the only one in which the student teams compete directly against each other at the same time.