Nursery & landscape tour preview

Supplement - Cultivate ‘18

The bus tour will visit A. Brown & Sons Nursery, a 2,000 acre wholesale operation, and Peabody Landscape Group.

June 5, 2018

The Nursery Production Tour has been renamed the Nursery and Landscape Tour (Saturday, July 14, 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m.), and it offers participants more than a visit and a chance to look around. Join industry colleagues as you tour two stops along the nursery supply chain.

The add-on cost of this tour is $125. It includes transportation, lunch, and stops at two tour locations. Space is limited, and early registration is strongly recommended. To register, please refer to the registration form or

A. Brown & Sons Nursery

The first stop on the tour is 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-generation of Browns is going strong.

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.

“He was buying farms when everyone else was getting rid of land,” says Kevin Ganger, biologist for A. Brown & Sons Nursery. “And every acre is bought and paid for.”

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.

Ganger says the nursery decides what to plant on the newly acquired farms based on the soil type.

Ganger says the Brown family’s secret to success is quality product. The nursery doesn’t advertise, doesn’t do anything in the way of marketing. 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.

“Most of our business comes from word-of-mouth,” he says. “Someone buys a tree and tells a friend.”

A. Brown & Sons Nursery grows the tried-and-true crops that landscapers want. Ganger says the fact that the nursery sells large specimens, up to 5-inch B&B trees, means that the nursery needs to think long and hard about adding new varieties to its product line. There are some trees that won’t sell for 10 years. While he’d love to grow items like blue beech, many customers don’t want that long of a return on their investment. Hardiness is another major consideration.

“If it isn’t zoned for this area, we’re not going to grow it,” Ganger says.

Another key to the nursery’s success is its strong boxwood program. 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.

Ganger anticipates plenty of questions about the nursery’s boxwood program during the tour, as well as his irrigation and soil testing systems.

Matt McClellan

Peabody Landscape Group, Inc.

This tour will also visit Peabody Landscape Group, Inc. in central Ohio. The company was founded in started 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.

The company has placed an emphasis on connecting with the younger generation to develop a future workforce. Patrick Lynch, senior designer at Peabody, and his twin brother Mike Lynch, account representative at Environmental Management in Columbus, both saw benefits in getting involved with FFA’s nursery and landscape-based Career Development Events, which is a testing program for high school students considering a career in landscaping.

A few years ago, Patrick and Mike had the idea to develop a more interactive landscaping competition for students.

“A teacher told me his students could never pass the test to attend CDE,” Patrick says. “So, I said, ‘What if we create an event where all high schools throughout Ohio, no matter what, can come? We could have test problems and industry representatives. Would you come?’ And he said, ‘In a heartbeat, my students would love it.’”

With that, the Lynch brothers pitched their idea for a more inclusive student landscaping 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.

Partnerships can help with these test problems, too. Patrick says Peabody Landscape teamed with Willoway Nursery to manage the plant installation test at OHLO 2017. In addition, he says some landscaping companies and local colleges donated money to provide ONLA with funds for food, tents and tables to use.

At OHLO, students compete in a variety of events like truck and trailer operation, skid-steer operation, sales presentation, irrigation, landscape maintenance and plant installation to name a few.

OHLO was such a hit among teachers and students in 2016 that ONLA decided to bring it back again in November 2017. This past fall, 250 students from 20 schools participated.

Megan Smalley, associate editor for Lawn & Landscape, contributed to this article.