Michelle Sutton

Story and photos by Michelle Sutton

Mischler’s opened in 1944, making this year the
75th anniversary of this western NY institution.

History & Horticultural Chops
When I listened back to my interview with Mischler’s VP, co-owner, and head grower Mark Yadon, I heard myself saying, “That’s cool!” an embarrassing number of times. The gushing couldn’t be helped because Yadon was showing me so many undeniably cool things at Mischler’s Florist & Greenhouses in Williamsville. 

Case in point: Mischler’s existing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, begun in 1989 by David Mischler, has benefitted from Yadon’s four decades of IPM and biocontrol experience. The growing operation now controls the majority of problem insects with beneficial ones, rather than with spraying. For instance, for five years now, Yadon has grown Mischler’s poinsettias pesticide-free—and is on track toward the goal of zero spraying for all of the greenhouse crops.   

More than 114 types of succulents are propagated for sale at Mischler’s.
Mixed potted foliage plant “bouquet.”

Yadon is a member of the Cornell Project Work Team for Horticulture, a group of experienced growers that travels around NY to advise growers newer to the industry. Dr. Betsy Lamb, who coordinates Cornell’s Ornamentals IPM program, uses Yadon as a mentor to other growers and Mischler’s as a place where folks can come learn how to do effective biocontrol. In 2008 Mischler’s was recognized with an “Excellence in IPM” award from Cornell.

Mischler’s VP, co-owner, and head grower Mark Yadon.

“It’s something I’m really proud of—developing this biocontrol program and then advising others,” he says. “In my work history of growing roses, for example, there was a lot of spraying involved. I’m really happy that I don’t have to do that anymore—now, I joke that all I have to do is sprinkle bugs around.” 

Yadon set out on his plantsman’s path with a botany degree in 1978 from Oregon State University. After college, he became an IPM consultant in Washington State, monitoring apple orchards for insects and diseases to help him make spraying recommendations. When he was ready for a new challenge, he moved to Eugene, Oregon and became involved with the greenhouse industry, growing fresh cut roses, eventually managing production at a 10-acre facility. He went on to manage large rose and cut flower operations in San Diego, South Carolina, New Jersey, and New Hampshire.  

The opportunity to become VP/co-owner with a path to sole ownership at Mischler’s came up in 2002. “I loved the smaller scale of the operation and the possibility of settling in once place. My wife, Sang Hui, and I like Buffalo very much—including the horticultural hotspot it’s become.” 

Evolution of Offerings 
Frank Mischler Sr. opened a full-service floral shop in 1944 in a suburban neighborhood on South Forest Road in Williamsville. In time, it transferred to his sons, Frank Jr. and David (Dave) Mischler. Frank Jr., 66, is still the president of the company and manages the floral shop and delivery. Dave, 82, is semi-retired but still a part of the mix. Maggie Wittmer, ageless, is the head floral designer and has worked with Mischler’s for nearly 32 years.  

In the 1940s, everything was grown in “digger flats,” open flats of annuals that you would have to dig plants from and put in a newspaper “cone” to give to the customer. Frank Mischler thought the digger method was too labor-intensive and messy; he moved to growing plants in terra cotta pots. In addition to florist services, the business specialized in growing annuals for, and planting, cemetery pots; they serviced eight cemeteries in western NY. Frank Mischler alone would spend a week of long days getting cemetery urns planted in time for Decoration Day (now Memorial Day).  

Mischler’s grows white snowball hydrangeas in time for Christmas/holiday gifts.
Floral designer Maggie Wittmer (left) has been with the company for almost 32 years and is pictured here with her coworker, floral designer Mary Fischer.

Over time, the cemetery services receded, but the floral shop continued to thrive, and new services were added. The majority of the greenhouse space was used for in-ground growing of cut flowers to support the florist business until plastic packs and pots became available around 1960. Then it became possible to produce much larger quantities of annuals. In 1985, the business acquired an automatic seeder, which is still in use for spring sowing. 

“We don’t grow annuals in flats anymore; instead, we focus mostly on 4.5-inch pots of specialty annuals,” Yadon says. Within that category, one of Mischler’s signatures is frost-tolerant annuals. “We have a stepwise process for hardening off such annuals, like snapdragons, nemesia, diascia, osteospermum daisies, annual phlox, calibrachoa and petunias, so that they can be planted in early to mid-April,” he says. “They bloom early, go all season, and then resist frost in the fall. Planting frost-tolerant annuals in April is a great value for our customers.” 

An even bigger Mischler’s signature is its 59¢ perennial sale, held every year for a week (or until plants are gone) in the third or fourth week of April. The perennials are grown from seed in the greenhouses and sold in packs of four. “It’s a huge event for us,” Yadon says. “We seed about 4000 flats, and each flat has 48 plants.” Customers can typically get the plant list just after Valentine’s Day; the list includes information about deer resistance, bloom length, sun/shade/drought tolerance, and appeal to butterflies and hummingbirds. 

This will be the 20th year of the popular sale. “It’s an inexpensive way to do mass plantings for curb appeal or to try new plants,” Yadon says. “Most of the perennials bloom the same year, so the impact is immediate. Commercial landscapers and homeowners both love it and come back year after year.” 

As with the frost-tolerant annuals, Yadon carefully hardens the baby perennials off before the sale, and then encourages customers to get them in the ground right away. “I recommend they monitor the newly planted perennials closely for moisture for the first couple of weeks, and then they are on their own,” he says. “I get feedback all the time about how fast these plants take off, and how much people appreciate being able to build a garden over time on limited incomes.”  

Each year, Yadon adds new perennials to the mix; this year, he’s going to add more native plants to the 59¢ perennial sale. “A lot of the perennials currently on the list are native, but they haven’t been grouped together or promoted as such,” he says. “Customers have been asking for more native material, and we are happy to move in that direction. For instance, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ and ‘Indian Summer’ are always on the list—and they’re very popular—but this year I’ll also add a straight-species of a black-eyed Susan native to our larger ecosystem.”

Mark Yadon shows how the cardboard that comes into the business is cut, creased, and stapled to make boxes for customer purchases. In this way, the business recycles nearly all of its cardboard.
A trolley “car” for transporting plants. Still in use, the trolley system in Mischler’s seeding greenhouse dates back to the early days of the business.
Overhead trolley tracks of the trolley system in Mischler’s seeding greenhouse dates back to the early days of the business.

Quest for Curb Appeal 
Rudbeckia ‘Indian Summer’ is a quintessential plant for curb appeal, according to Yadon. “It blooms from the first season and earlier and longer than other black-eyed Susans,” he says. “The delphiniums are also fantastic for curb appeal beginning in July. But in terms of folks who are selling their home and want to make a statement, we recommend bright showy annuals like the SunPatiens series of New Guinea impatiens. They can tolerate quite a bit of sun or even full sun, they grow a nice deep root system, and they really pop with color.”

Another way to create curb appeal is to feature mixed containers in visually key places. Yadon and the staff recommend to customers that they “stay in season” to get the best results. This means using pansies and other frost-tolerant annuals in spring; when they get leggy or beaten up, switching those out and putting in showy summer annuals; then in fall, replacing the summer annuals with mums and ornamental kale. Mischler’s applies this technique to the container planting that they do for customers and for the 55 large (35” diameter) containers they design and plant for Williamsville’s Main Street each year. “Customers will often come in and ask what the plants on Main Street are—sometimes they even bring a piece of a plant with them,” Yadon says. 

In terms of new plants, Yadon says that studying what’s trendy is just the first step. “We have the approach that we set the trends,” he says. “The staff and I discuss what we like and then put displays together to expose customers to new plants, new ways of using plants, and/or new plant combinations.” Trends ebb and flow; however, Yadon finds that miniature plants and succulents are still very popular, as are hardy perennials used in container gardens.


Get Social with Mischler’s Florist & Greenhouses
Twitter: @Mischlers
Facebook:  MischlersFlorist
Instagram: #mischlersfloristI

Michelle Sutton (michellejudysutton.com) is a horticulturist, writer, and editor living in New Paltz, NY. 


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A Tale of Two Nurseries

by cathym on November 25, 2018

Story and photos by Michelle Sutton unless noted

Rawlings Nursery: Hostas & Display Gardens in the North Country

PLANT FAMILY
Generally hardy to Zone 3a, hostas are at home in Zone 4b in Ellisburg, New York, an hour north of Syracuse and just east of Lake Ontario. There, on the former family dairy farm, Kevin Rawlings has grown over a thousand cultivars of hostas and generally offers 200-plus cultivars for sale. The farm’s soil is a desirable pocket of clay loam in a sea of sandy soils created by glacier retreat. The winds off Lake Ontario howl across the farm year round, but the hostas stand up to it well.

Many of Rawlings’ family members were school teachers, including his parents, who ran the dairy farm as a back-up source of income until they retired around 1979. At that point, the family put up a greenhouse and started growing annuals, creating sumptuous display gardens that served as outdoor event grounds for weddings and the like. “At peak we had 12,000 annual plants on display,” Rawlings says. “In one bed alone (140 x 60 feet), we planted 8,000 annuals. It took five of us the whole of Memorial Day Weekend to plant,” he says.

Hosta display garden at Rawlings Nursery.

Spring in the hosta house. Photo courtesy Rawlings Nursery

Kevin Rawlings

Eventually the family had to change gears once again, because sales of annuals by big box stores were driving prices down. Kevin Rawlings had a passion for unusual trees—and has planted quite a few that are maturing on the farm—but he found that hostas were more profitable. “I thought they were fantastic and they had the commercial advantages of transporting well and looking good in a pot,” he says. He sold hostas with his children at the Syracuse Farmers market for 25 years, and says “we meet some wonderful people and made dear friends,” but now he sells only by appointment from the farm in Ellisburg. Some longtime customers make the trek once a year from Rochester and points west to see the latest cultivars.

For many years, hosta cultivars were propagated only by division. When hostas began to be propagated by tissue culture (the accelerated growth of plant cells in an artificial medium in a sterile lab environment), there was an explosion in both quantity of plants produced and in cultivar range. Tissue culture has been a boon for hosta collectors but has been a little less kind to hosta growers, because increased supply has put downward pressure on selling price.

HOSTA FACT V. FICTION
“Do they flower?” is a question Rawlings hears surprisingly often. He responds, “The only way hostas are not going to flower is if they are growing in too dark a spot. All hosta cultivars possess floral meristems (groups of cells that give rise to flowers) inside the terminal bud, but if the plant doesn’t get enough sun, it won’t advance through its seasonal growth to the point of flowering.”

Some folks ask for the white hostas they’ve seen pictures of. “There are several cultivars that come out of the ground white, but they don’t stay white throughout the season, Rawlings says. “They turn green out of necessity so they can perform photosynthesis. Increasing temperatures cue the conversion.” A few customers have asked for a red hosta… which doesn’t exist but in pictures.

People who are newer to growing hostas may ask for “the blue one.” But the “blue” is not immutable; it’s the effect of white wax on green leaves. “I rub the underside of the leaf and show them how the wax comes right off,” Rawlings says. “It’s the base color of the green leaf and the thickness of the white wax that determines how blue or gray the leaves look,” he says.

Yellow hostas aren’t immutably yellow either, Rawlings explains. “They do one of two things, depending on cultivar,” he says. “They can come out of the ground brightly colored and then become chartreuse or dull green afterwards; they green up to protect themselves. Or, they do the opposite and come out green, then fade to chartreuse, then convert to bright yellow as the season progresses.”

Even large-leaved varieties have small leaves when they are young plants. It can take 5, 6, even 7 years for a large-leafed hosta like ‘Sum and Substance’ to come into its full leaf size. Therefore, it can be easy to see a dwarf plant and think that it’s going to mature as a medium or large hosta when in actuality, it’s going to stay small.

MORE ABOUT RAWLINGS
Kevin’s Favorite Hosta 
(Out of 5400 Registered Varieties)
According to the description in the Rawlings Nursery online catalog, ‘Sagae’ (pron. SAH-GAH-ay) grows 32 inches high and 60 inches wide. It forms a vase-shaped mound of large, thick frosty green leaves with gold margins. It’s consistently number one or two on the American Hosta Society popularity list, and it was the 2000 American Hosta Growers Hosta of the Year selection.

Kevin’s favorite hosta cultivar is ‘Sagae’. Photo Courtesy MOBOT Plant Finder

Contact Rawlings Nursery
WEBSITE: rawlingsnursery.com
FACEBOOK: facebook.com/RawlingsNursery
EMAIL: hostaguy@gmail.com
PHONE: (315) 396-9763
ADDRESS*: 12061 Monitor Mill Rd
Ellisburg, NY 13636

*Nursery open by appointment


Marcellus Nursery: 56 Years of Growing in Onondaga County

Ted and Nan Stetler

When I interviewed Ted and Nan Stetler, they were just back from an Alaskan cruise. I assumed they’d be loath to return to work, but Nan says Ted was “bored out of his gourd” on vacation. That can happen when you’ve been working as hard as he and Nan have for so many years, running Marcellus Nursery: it can be challenging to be away from your own business.

Ted, who earned an agriculture degree from SUNY Farmingdale (then known as Long Island Agriculture & Technical Institute) in 1961, started Marcellus Nursery in 1962 with the purchase of 44 acres in the Town of Marcellus, southwest of Syracuse. When the nursery’s garden center moved 12 miles to the Town of Onondaga in 1970, the Stetlers chose to retain the name Marcellus Nursery for name recognition and branding reasons.

Ted and Nan met in 1966, got married in 1967, and started their family in 1975. They have two daughters, Beth and Jill. Nan has been integral to the nursery’s success, as has Rachel Reynolds, the garden center manager of more than 20 years. Nan says, “She’s like a daughter to us.”

Green roof planted with sedums keeps the checkout building cool.

‘Lemony Lace’ elderberry (Sambucus racemosa).

Fabulous sculptures abound.

Marcellus Nursery runs on multiple tracks, with only five full-time folks, Ted included. There’s the 85,000 fieldgrown trees and shrubs, the landscaping business, the potting-up work of the largest selection of perennials in the area, and the retail garden center. There’s the plant propagation work, which Ted does as a means of unwinding at the end of a busy day during the growing season. There are beautiful display gardens for customers to explore, at the center of which is a 53-year-old weeping European beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Pendula’).

Field-growing so much material means that the plants on offer at Marcellus Nursery are acclimated to the often harsh upstate NY winters. Furthermore, most of the field crops are not irrigated. “If they survive and adapt to those conditions, they are going to perform well for local customers,” Nan says. Mercifully and surprisingly, deer have not been a problem in the tree and shrub nursery fields. However, they have been an issue in the production areas of the garden center site, so the Stetlers are upgrading their 5-foot perimeter fence to 8 foot tall.

Customers are invited to wander display gardens.

In addition to growing bread-and-butter plants, Ted likes to try out some “fantasy plants,” as he calls them, each year. “I’ll buy ten of this and ten of that of unusual plants and try them out,” he says. He is trying to interest folks in weeping dwarf spruce and dwarf pines, but he gave up field-growing Japanese maples after several devastating winters wiped out whole rows of trees.

During the growing season, a typical day for Ted goes like this. Paperwork at his desk from 5:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. Then at 8 a.m. he joins his staff and works alongside them until 4:30 p.m. when he goes home to regroup for an hour before going out on client consultations in the evening. Home by 8 or 8:30 p.m., he does plant propagation work to unwind, and he and Nan have dinner at about 10 p.m. It’s a pretty grueling schedule, so Ted is looking for efficiencies everywhere he can— for instance, by using a motorized wheelbarrow on landscaping jobs.

Good advice at the garden center checkout.

As owners of Sycamore Hill Gardens (sycamorehillgardens.com) in Marcellus, George and Karen Hanford have a long association with Ted and Nan Stetler and Marcellus Nursery. George says, “Ted is the father of our gardens. Ted and Nan took us under their wing and introduced us to the world of plant propagation and the joys of designing, maintaining, and sharing a large plant collection. Without their guidance and friendship there would be no Sycamore Hill Gardens, no annual fundraisers for local charities, no national American Conifer Society meeting or local New York State Nursery and Landscape meetings held here in our gardens. We can’t thank Ted and Nan enough for their help and kindness.”

Contact Marcellus Nursery
WEBSITE: marcellusnursery.com
EMAIL: contact@marcellusnursery.com
PHONE: (315) 488-2632

 

Michelle Sutton (michellejudysutton.com) is a horticulturist, editor, and writer.

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Slow and Steady: The Rise of Flower CSAs

by cathym on July 2, 2018

by Michelle Sutton

You’ve probably heard of the Slow Food Movement, and maybe even the Slow Gardening concept coined by horticulturist Felder Rushing. If you buy cut flowers from local growers, you are likely participating in the burgeoning Slow Flowers movement.

The concept of Slow Flowers was popularized by garden writer Debra Prinzing who launched slowflowers.com in 2014 as a means to connect consumers to farmers, florists, and grocery stores who sell locally grown flowers. It was through Prinzing’s website and its grower directory that I found Linda VanApeldoorn of Take Your Pick Flowers in Lansing just outside Ithaca, and Carrie Kling of Windy Acres Horticulture in Royalton, an hour east of Buffalo. Both provide flower CSAs to their customers.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and CSAs are farms that offer subscriptions to their customers for regular (usually weekly) deliveries of produce and/or flowers. Both Linda and Carrie found their way into flower CSAs as a natural outgrowth of their customers’ desire to have regular deliveries of bouquets. Here they are in their own words.

 

Linda VanApeldoorn’s Story

Flower bouquet by Linda VanApeldoorn. Photo by Anna Simonak

I started flower farming and operating a pick-your-own in 2006 soon after I moved in with then-new husband Paul. His home, to my delight, happened to be situated on the only hillside with sandy loam in all of clay-heavy Tompkins County! In 2008 the Lansing Farmers Market opened and I took bouquets to sell. Shortly thereafter, I left my day job, started growing flowers full time, and added doing flowers for weddings and events to my business.

The CSA branch of the business began in 2007 after my chiropractor said, “You know, I’d love to get your flowers but I don’t have time to come out there and pick them. If you bring them to me, I’ll buy them!” I started bringing flowers when I had my weekly appointment with her, and then other people started getting interested.

This year I have 53 flower CSA members. Some pick up their bouquets here at the farm, but we also have drop-off locations in Tompkins County and I do some deliveries to homes, offices, restaurants, and retailers in the Ithaca area. Folks can opt for 10- or 15-week seasons. Each year I add new varieties to the mix. My business motto is “Flowers from Seed to Centerpiece!” … as I start most of the plants from seed in my home under grow lights.

Linda’s wreath for the bride. Photo by Linda VanApeldoorn

I suppose I was part of the Slow Flowers movement before it was named as such. My philosophy is to grow flowers as sustainably as possible. I try to let Nature do her thing as best she can. On the rare occasion I use a pest control product, it has to be certified organic. Buying local is so very important, as most store flowers are grown in South America, treated with chemicals, packed dry, and have such a long journey to your table, the life gets sucked out of them while the carbon footprint mounts. You can see the difference between imported and locally grown flowers, so if you’re going to buy flowers, why not buy real ones? One reason my CSA has been so successful is that people are in such disbelief about how long my flowers last. They pick up their flower CSA delivery and comment that last week’s bouquets are still looking fresh.

I belong to the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers and keep learning from them. They have a great YouTube video about locally grown flowers that I highly recommend (youtu.be/PEXs9UUgqqg). I’ve done seed trials for them over the past few years, so sometimes I get early access to new and unique varieties of cut flowers.

Linda VanAppeldoorn. Photo by Sheri Negrea

A really lovely arrangement came out of the drought summer of 2016, as it was then that I met Glen Robertson from Challenge Workforce Solutions in Ithaca. Challenge finds work for folks with disabilities and other barriers to employment, and Glen runs a program called Ability to Bloom that grows and sells cut flowers. Because the drought compromised flower productivity that summer, Ability to Bloom was having trouble meeting their flower quota, so Glen purchased some from me. We then joined forces; now I hire Challenge crews to work here a couple days a week, and I also go up to their plot to work when they need me.

I started teaching workshops a couple of years ago on flower arranging, how to make flower crowns, drying flowers, and dried flower crafts. There are several upcoming ones listed on my web site, takeyourpickflowers.com.

 

Carrie Kling’s Story

Carrie’s creativity at work. Photo Courtesy Carrie Kling

Windy Acres Horticulture (windyacreshorticulture.com) is a small farm in Royalton, New York. We grow flowers on just under an acre-and-a-half of our 75-acre farm. I began by selling potted plants at a farmer’s market more than eight years ago. Over time I was drawn to the simple beauty of flowers grouped together in a bunch, and to flowers so artistically arranged that they would make your heart stop for a moment while you admire nature’s colors and shapes.

The flower CSA evolved naturally from a desire to market my flowers directly to consumers.  My friend Julie Blackman from Blackman Farms and I would talk about our goal of retiring from our jobs in health care to pursue our dreams of farming. She went on to open a brick-and-mortar store in Snyder called Farmers and Artisans where local and artisan foods and products are sold, and I gave up my medical career to focus on growing specialty cut flowers. It evolved naturally that we would partner and that Julie would provide the distribution for the flower CSA at her store, along with her vegetable and fruit shares.

A Carrie Kling creation centering heirloom chrysanthemums. Photo courtesy Carrie Kling

Putting a name and face on a product is what consumers want and need. We are surrounded by mass marketing which is impersonal and isolating. People want a connection to others and to the land. We have all experienced seeing a mass-marketed bouquet, where each flower looks like the next, a clone of its neighbor in color and form. Lost are the nuances that nature brings to individual flowers and stems. I strive to make each week’s bouquet of our 18-week subscriptions different and unique from the last. In addition to the CSA customers, florists, event planners, and brides are appreciating the benefits of local flowers that are naturally grown at Windy Acres Farm.

I continue to grow and experiment in the field of cut flowers. This year, I am trialing a partnership with another flower farmer to provide flowers for her CSA, thereby increasing her options for artfully designed seasonal bouquets. We’ve started providing floral design classes, usually in the fall. After instruction in basic flower care and design, attendees create their own beautiful arrangement to take home. It is a huge amount of fun.

Carrie Kling with her peony border. Photo courtesy Carrie Kling

Becoming a part of the Slow Flowers movement was something I felt I had to do to support the larger industry. Slow Flowers is about making a conscious choice to educate people on the source of their flowers and to grow flower farms once again in the U.S. Many people don’t know that most of the flowers sold in the U.S. are shipped in boxes from South America, Africa, the Netherlands, and other places.

To survive their long trip as cargo, they have been grown to withstand the rigors of being out of water for at least a week. These flowers have been hybridized to the point of becoming scentless and are sometimes lifeless in appearance. They are fumigated with pesticides to prevent the importing of pests into the U.S. Flower variety and a diverse gene pool is being lost as only varieties that withstand shipping are grown for seed. Workers, mostly women, are exposed to sub-optimum working conditions and dangerous chemicals.

The Fair Trade Agreement of the 1990s that allowed these imports literally put most flower farmers in the U.S. out of business. The Slow Flower movement strives to bring American-grown flowers back. My CSA is a natural outcome of joining the Slow Flowers movement, as is engaging with other flower farmers through the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers.  This group selflessly shares information, resources, and best practices with the goal of helping each member to succeed. There is no limiting sense of competition, but a mutual sense that each member is vested in your success.

The Principles of the Slow Flowers Movement
(from slowflowersjournal.com)

  • To recognize and respect the seasons by celebrating and designing with flowers when they naturally bloom
  • To reduce the transportation footprint of the flowers and foliage consumed in the marketplace by sourcing as locally as possible
  • To support flower farmers small and large by crediting them when possible through proper labeling at the wholesale and consumer level
  • To encourage sustainable and organic farming practices that respect people and the environment
  • To eliminate waste and the use of chemical products in the floral industry

Michelle Sutton (michellejudysutton.com) is a horticulturist, editor, and writer.

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