Growing With Ecology In Mind

Steve Castorani of North Creek Nurseries

North Creek Nurseries, based in Landenberg, Pa., is making a name for itself providing sustainably grown plants for ecological installations, including working with LEED-certified engineers and landscapers. We talked to the operation’s owner, Steve Castorani, about how this market impacts his business, and how you can take advantage of the growing ecological trend.

GG: When did North Creek Nurseries begin growing native plants and plants for ecological applications?

Castorani: We founded our nursery with an emphasis on ecological plantings. One of our bylines is, “Where horticulture meets ecology,” and we’ve stayed true to that value statement. We use it as a barometer when we introduce plants to determine how sustainable they are and what their life span is in the market. Our mission is to propagate and market plants that develop a relationship between people and sustainable outdoor environments, so we look for plants that will thrive and last for many years.

We also sell into the horticultural market, which has given us a continuous business. We are continually working to build and understand the ecological market. It’s a project-to-project business.

GG: What tools does North Creek use to educate customers about the use of ecological plants and their applications?

Castorani: We built a learning laboratory on site at our Landenberg, Pa., location. It includes living examples of rain gardens, bioswales and other applications, constructed in anticipation of building projects. We invite engineers and landscape architects (LA) in and give presentations on these living landscapes. They offer proof that the plants become the backbone of the landscape.

Claudia West is our salesperson and resident LA, who provides a great deal of education and works daily with contractors and engineers. She consults on projects throughout the country and has a great understanding and a different perspective, as a plant person who grew up in the nursery business in Germany.

GG: What criteria has North Creek Nurseries met to grow plants for LEED-certified customers?

Castorani: Twenty-five years ago, one of our first ecology efforts was a reclamation project to revegetate Richmond National Battlefield Park in Virginia. We were working with Andropogon Associates, a landscape architecture firm. More recently, when we started looking at a LEED project, it required us to be Sustainable SITES compliant, which is an initiative developed by landscapers to meet specific sustainability requirements. In this case, the requirement was coming through Andropogon Associates — the same firm, just 25 years later. The firm told us, “If you want to do this project, you must do due diligence to meet the criteria.” 

We were being driven by specific market conditions and although we were moving that way anyway, now we had a fire under us to really scrutinize our operation. 

Our general manager, Tim McGinty, was instrumental in this effort and really took the lead on meeting the criteria, along with Lauren McIlwain in our marketing department. To meet SITES criteria, we were required to reduce waste and electrical and water use, and remove peat from our growing media. We also needed to reduce pesticide use, so we implemented tighter controls on the Landenberg farm and made it all bioactive, using biological controls and predatory insects.

These controls have been very successful in controlling vectors for disease, and have provided better control than we had before with chemicals. As a propagation nursery selling to the horticulture market, we have had to sell clean products, so making this change has been nerve-wracking. But we believe in the process.

We couldn’t have done it without our IPM coordinator, Matt Bouboulis, and Suzanne Wainwright-Evans, who was our consultant in converting over to biological controls. She really understands the industry and what we’ve gone through, and was an instrumental support person. We have good people working here who have really made this effort click.

GG: What are the opportunities for growing plants for ecological applications, like the LEED landscape market?

Castorani: Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Portland, Chicago — every large municipality is reevaluating its stormwater runoff system and looking for solutions.

Riparian buffers, rain gardens, green roofs — all of these applications really require perennials, native plants, trees and shrubs to mitigate runoff and keep it from going into storm sewers.

GG: What is the profit margin for ecologically produced plants, compared to traditional perennials?

Castorani: The price points are relatively the same. There is a lot of price competition because we are not dealing with cultivars and most plants are seed crops, which are easier to produce. They are not patented and not exclusive. So we may not sell higher dollar plants, but may sell a lot more product. For instance, we might be doing a large municipal project that requires hundreds or thousands of plants.

GG: What should growers know about producing plants for this market?

Castorani: Growers wanting to look into this market really have to learn about and understand it first. You have to evaluate your own business and decide if you want to get into this area. It’s a challenge and you really have to understand the marketplace, market yourself to a different audience, develop relationships and speak a different language. Growers can’t just go to OFA Short Course for this — you have to network in the right environment and meet the right landscape contractors driving the business. If you’re already selling to landscape contractors, it’s easier because you can quiz them about what kinds of projects are coming up.

Typically, the customer mix includes engineers and LAs for municipal projects. You may be working with an LA and an engineer to help them understand the plants to employ in the process of building this system. Ultimately, the landscape contractor is often the one coming to us with a plant list, asking if we can grow it. Obviously, plants don’t sit on a shelf, so we have to talk about how long it takes to grow. Then you get into local and indigenous species and it can be relatively complicated.

GG: What are the benefits to you, as a business owner, to focusing on ecology?

Castorani: Being in the ecological market early has established North Creek Nurseries as a leader. This market is challenging and we are always learning something, which keeps business fresh and interesting.

I like what I do and what I talk about. I like that there is money to be made and that there are opportunities for my employees. This is a really positive market and I’m helping to make an impact to beautify the world by increasing and helping to restore landscapes. We work with major centers and preserves — the Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, the Cincinnati Zoo — promoting ecology and restoration. There is a lot of joy in seeing the before and after, and I feel we’re really making an impact. 

Leave a Reply

More From Grow Initiative...

February 2, 2016

19 Strategies To Strengthen The Horticulture Industry

In Greenhouse Grower’s annual State Of The Industry Survey, we asked how your operation is living the GROW initiative’s five pillars: cultivate new customers, demand quality, drive consumer success, invest in the industry, and sharpen business management. Here is what you had to say.

Read More
John Daley Featured

January 25, 2016

How To Retain Motivated Young Growers At Your Greenhouse Operation

Wholesale grower John R. Daley says engaging young growers and making them a viable part of your operation is the best way to ensure you keep young talent for the long term.

Read More
State of the industry 2016

January 21, 2016

Green Industry Is Set For Continued Growth In 2016

Economist Charlie Hall says the outlook for the green industry is promising despite the havoc wreaked on plant sales by the downturn in housing.

Read More
Latest Stories

February 2, 2016

19 Strategies To Strengthen The Horticulture Industry

In Greenhouse Grower’s annual State Of The Industry Survey, we asked how your operation is living the GROW initiative’s five pillars: cultivate new customers, demand quality, drive consumer success, invest in the industry, and sharpen business management. Here is what you had to say.

Read More
John Daley Featured

January 25, 2016

How To Retain Motivated Young Growers At Your Greenhous…

Wholesale grower John R. Daley says engaging young growers and making them a viable part of your operation is the best way to ensure you keep young talent for the long term.

Read More
Janeen Wright

January 18, 2016

Five Thought-Provoking Ideas From GROW Summit 2015

Here are five ideas from Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 GROW Summit ranging from big-picture ideas to smaller initiatives that can help move the industry forward.

Read More
SAF CAD

January 18, 2016

Sign Up Now To Attend SAF Congressional Action Days In …

Congressional Action Days is a great chance for Society of American Florists members to meet their state’s lawmakers and discuss the most critical issues they are facing.

Read More
Dr Allan Armitage

January 15, 2016

Allan Armitage: Why The Deck Has Becomes The New Hot Sp…

Armitage says decks and small spaces allow younger generations to enjoy all the benefits of a garden without the work.

Read More
Laura Drotleff

January 6, 2016

Most Popular New Year’s Resolution For 2016 Favor…

It’s splashed all over social media: 2016 is going to be a great year! And what’s fueling that sentiment? It’s an overwhelming need for Americans to enjoy life more. In fact, we’re so passionate about this that it’s the most popular New Year’s Resolution for 2016, followed by living a healthier lifestyle. Here are the top 6 resolutions for 2016, as reported by Time.com, according to a Google Consumer Survey by GoBankingRates. Enjoy life to the fullest Live a healthier lifestyle Lose weight Save more, spend less Spend more time with family and friends Pay down debt Among different age groups, Millennials (18 to 34) are setting more resolutions than any other group, and they’re the most concerned with spending more time with loved ones, and the most concerned with spending less and saving money. Younger Gen Xers (35 to 44) are focused more on living healthier in 2016, while […]

Read More
2015 GROW Summit_discussion shot

January 5, 2016

GROW Summit 2015 Explores Attracting The Next Generati…

Sustainable business practices and recruiting young growers were just two of the issues growers and suppliers brainstormed on at GROW Summit 2015.

Read More
Garrett Owen Feature Image

January 1, 2016

Richard T. Meister Scholarship Winner Eager To Give Bac…

Garrett Owen, recipient of the Richard T. Meister Scholarship, says his career goal is to become a floriculture Extension specialist.

Read More
Bee On Flower

December 29, 2015

Scotts Miracle-Gro To Fund 50 Pollinator Gardens In 201…

In an effort to help combat the loss of pollinator habitats in recent years, the Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. announced plans in mid-December for a year-long effort to improve consumer education about pollinators and promote the creation of backyard and urban habitats where they can thrive. The “Pollinator Promise” will fund the establishment of at least 50 pollinator gardens throughout the U.S. in 2016, as part of the company’s GRO1000 community gardening initiative. The GRO1000 initiative, now in its sixth year, partners with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Pollinator Stewardship Council, The Franklin Park Conservatory, and others, to promote the availability of additional grants for gardens and green spaces throughout the country. “The importance of pollinators is unquestionable and it is easier than most people think to create a habitat where they can thrive,” says Jim King, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Scotts Miracle-Gro. “The Pollinator Promise is […]

Read More
Joseph Shinoda feature

December 20, 2015

Chance To Apply For Shinoda Foundation Scholarships Com…

The Shinoda Foundation, named in honor of California floral industry pioneer Joseph Shinoda, will begin accepting applications for its 2016-2017 scholarships in mid January.

Read More
David Clark, Marvin Miller, market research manager for Ball Horticultural Company, Anna Ball, Kendall Stacey, and Sandra Wilson, chair of the UFIFAS Department of Environmental Horticulture

December 14, 2015

University Of Florida Horticulture Professor Attracts N…

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Professor David Clark recently donated his 40,000th plant to an undergraduate psychology student.

Read More
Pollinator-Conference-NC State

December 9, 2015

Pollinator Gardens Are On The Rise, Provide Opportuniti…

Thanks to the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, enacted in June 2015 by the National Pollinator Garden Network, scores of new pollinator gardens to be planted over the next year and beyond will provide growers with ample opportunities to produce, promote and sell plants that are ideal for pollinator forage and health. And with research underway within the industry, we’ll soon have more knowledge about which plants are the most beneficial and attractive to pollinators. At Bayer’s Bee Care Center, the level of consumer engagement and interest in planting pollinator gardens is very high, Bayer’s Sarah Myers says. Bayer now has 73 local and industry partners and counting in its “Feed A Bee Campaign,” launched in March. Educating consumers about what they can plant to attract bees, and the impact they can have with even the smallest amount of space, is highly important, Myers says. It’s worth explaining to them that […]

Read More
foodscaping at epcot - Foodscaping Goes Big At Disney

December 9, 2015

Foodscaping Challenges Conventional Ideas About Landsca…

Conventional ideas about what a landscape should look like are being challenged left and right, from young homeowners like Sarah Baker of Baker’s Acres, who are standing up for their right not to mow their lawns, to Brie Arthur’s passion to start a movement to incorporate food with flowers throughout suburban and urban landscapes nationwide. As younger generations step up as consumers and industry leaders, these changes are likely to continue, and the horticulture industry, which has the most to gain, would be remiss not to embrace and influence them. Well known for her personal foodscape, which she has promoted across social media, and her annual tomato-tasting fundraising event benefiting the nearby J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, N.C., Brie Arthur has also been working with schools and her local Homeowner Association (HOA) to challenge the traditional idea of the landscape to one that incorporates the growing of food with mainstream, […]

Read More
Brie Arthur

December 9, 2015

Foodscapes: A New Direction For Landscaping And The Ind…

Professionally designed and maintained foodscapes are my hope for the future of American landscapes. As the global population rises locally, cultivated food systems will be developed to help reduce the food miles crisis. The sun, soil and irrigation systems of common landscaped spaces such as suburban developments, corporate campuses, retirement homes and public schools can be harnessed to produce supplemental, affordable food for communities. Foodscapes Unite Beauty With Practicality I began my first foodscape 10 years ago when I purchased a home in the suburbs of Raleigh, N.C. Money was tight, and I couldn’t afford the lumber to build raised beds and fill them with yards of purchased compost. Determined to grow food, I used the foundation landscape that already existed to cultivate seasonal, edible plants. What I discovered was a harmonious marriage of aesthetic and practical qualities. I was hooked on growing food within finely designed spaces. Now, a […]

Read More
Giving Tuesday

November 24, 2015

Giving Tuesday On December 1 Is An Opportunity For The …

Organizations such as American Floral Endowment and others are encouraging industry members to participate in the generous spirit of the holiday season.

Read More
Random Acts Of Flowers

November 24, 2015

Random Acts Of Flowers Partners With FTD And Pro Flower…

The organization, which recycles and repurposes flowers with a volunteer team that delivers bouquets to health care facilities across the country, made its 100,000th delivery to a health care facility in Chicago.

Read More
Kate Santos Operations Director Dummen Orange

November 18, 2015

Kate Santos Presents New Opportunities For The Horticul…

Dr. Kate Santos is a scientist, an artist, an advocate, a traveler, a dreamer, a visionary and a go-getter. Well-known for her work managing Dümmen Orange as Operations Director, Santos has taken on a new role as co-founder of Luxflora, an organization for women in horticulture.

Read More
Bell Nursery reaches out by supporting projects that help children connect with plants

November 12, 2015

Bell Nursery Is An Advocate For Outreach In Its Communi…

In a heavily regulated society, growing relationships is just as important to our industry as growing beautiful flowers. In environmentally sensitive states like Maryland, outreach has become mandatory, says Bell Nursery’s Gary Mangum.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]