Slow economy leads gardeners to fruit trees, nursery owner says
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 10:09 AM
By KELSEY THALHOFER
As far as Jim Gilbert of Northwoods Nursery can tell, when the going gets tough, the tough get fruit trees.
Large tree and wholesale nurseries suffered in the 2008 housing market collapse, when new construction came to a halt and gardeners' purse strings tightened.
Gilbert, who specializes in Northwest-adapted exotic fruit trees, was one of few growers whose sales remained steady through the recession; he attributes this phenomenon to gardeners' rejuvenated desire to feed themselves from their backyard.
"When economies get tight, people start thinking about growing their own food again," Gilbert said. Gilbert, who co-owns wholesale Northwoods Nursery and One Green World -- a retail and mail-order nursery -- in Molalla, Ore., has had a passion for fruiting plants since he entered the nursery business over 20 years ago.
"We didn't grow the plants because they were a fad," Gilbert said. "I wouldn't grow anything else."
At the Farwest Show Aug. 23, Gilbert led a seminar on marketing unique fruiting plants. He told his audience his customers are really in the market for fruit they can grow and enjoy.
"When people buy a plant, they're really buying a promise," Gilbert said.
He looks for hardy, disease-resistant plants that can almost guarantee tasty fruit. The best way to please customers, Gilbert said, is to sell them a plant that does what they want it to do, and give them the information they need to grow it.
"People have lost a lot of the knowledge about how to grow things," Gilbert said. "Now we're having to start all over again."
To help gardeners, Gilbert provides a customized picture tag for every plant, with specific growing instructions and pollination information. He also posts videos with step-by-step planting instructions on his companies' websites.
One of his stars at the Farwest Show was the Columnar Apple tree, an upright tree that can grow 10-12 feet tall and be kept in a small pot. Gilbert called the tree "the easiest to grow fruit tree" because of its hardiness and its tasty fruit.
He highlighted several fruiting plants at his seminar, including varieties of almond, fig and citrus plants.
Lorraine Gardner, who co-owns Northwoods Nursery and One Green World with Gilbert, said the increased interest in fruiting plants comes not only from a bruised economy, but also from a new generation of growers in search of healthful and local food.
Particularly in Portland, Ore., Gardner said, she's seeing a greater awareness of food and an excitement about creating jams and canned products straight from the garden.
She likened the interests of the new generation to those of their grandparents, who had been taught how to grow food by older generations. Gardner echoed Gilbert, saying that the responsibility of teaching these new gardeners how to grow their own food has now landed on nurseries and garden centers.
"We've sort of broken the chain," Gardner said of many in the Baby Boomer generation, who didn't put emphasis on growing their own food. "We've forgotten how to do that."