Nursery blooms anew
If the new owners of Happy Frog Nursery had to come up with a slogan for their business venture it would probably be, “We’re making a good thing even better!”
Since the recent sale of the nurseries in Grass Valley and Auburn by the Colburn family, owners Chuck Simoncini and Scott and
Lorri Spencer have been in constant motion to, in Simoncini’s words, “Bring the nursery to the next level.”
When it comes to plant knowledge, Chuck and Scott acknowledge they’ve got a lot to learn, bowing to Lorri’s expertise and the skills of the new staff.
“Lorri’s a gardener,” Scott smiles. “In fact it’s what we both enjoy doing when we get home from work. She loves plants and has been managing the business side of our company for years, so she brings a lot to the mix.”
A general building contractor who’s lived here 15 years (he built Simoncini’s new home as well as the Grass Valley Skateboard Park), Scott and his crew will have plenty of construction work to do in the months leading up to the “Grand Opening” this fall.
For one thing, the current showroom area will be more than doubled in size, offering more gardening products and “deckscaping” ideas with container plants.
Another major improvement will be the establishment of a garden design center at the back of the Grass Valley nursery, in what was the Colburn’s home. That will also allow customer access to the back of the 7-acre site and (thankfully) more parking area.
“We’ve taken a page from some of the major nurseries we’ve visited around the country, like Bucks County Gardens in Pennsylvania,”
Simoncini says, “and think this will be an important addition to the operation. We’ve already hired a garden designer who worked for
Bushnell’s Nursery in Granite Bay, and think this will provide a badly-needed service for the area. In addition to establishing classroom facilities, our plans are to install demonstration gardens around the house so we can show people the possibilities of installing various types of landscapes.”
But wait, there’s more!
Drawing upon 30 years of experience in a Bay Area business software company, Simoncini plans to have the nurseries on the cutting edge of technology.
All the plants in the inventory will be bar-coded, for example, and entered into the computer for instant inventory.
“What that means” he smiles, “is that if a customer calls and asks, for example, if we have six lace cap hydrangeas, we won’t have to put them on hold while we run out to check the inventory. It’s in the computer. In that same vein, our garden designer can check what materials we have on hand with a few keystrokes and
earmark the plants he wants for a project so they aren’t sold out from under him. Once the system is up and running, every plant we sell will have a print out of care instructions on the sales invoice.
“And, we’ll have the complete inventory on our Web page so that anyone with access to the Internet can check on plant availability before driving here.”
The bio-filter that Perry Colburn invented for ponds won’t be available at the nurseries, since Colburn plans on launching a separate marketing venture from New Zealand, but Scott notes there will be a complete line of Aquascape products available and a continued strong emphasis on water gardening.
“We’re hoping to hold do-it-yourself classes on pond building in our design center,” he nods, “and we’re already getting inquiries about tours from garden clubs. That makes us very happy because we want to interact with the community.”
The same goes for the Auburn outlet on Atwood Road, where Mike Ralli (who has worked for the past year with the Colburns) is the new manager.
Microbiologist Wally Kronland will be available at both outlets to deal with disease diagnosis and troubleshooting and Dia Ambrosia, with a wealth of nursery experience, will be greeting customers at the Grass Valley store on a daily basis.
Admittedly, the Colburns are a tough act to follow. Over the years they’ve built a reputation for quality plant materials and gardening know-how to gain a faithful following in both communities.
“We know that,” Simoncini says, “and we want to build on that relationship. I’ve told all our employees that we’re poised on the verge of greatness.”
The most unforgettable blueberries I’ve ever tasted were in enormous pancakes served at a restaurant called “The Perch” on a knoll outside Denali National Park in Alaska. You can’t beat ambiance like that. The next best were in pancakes created by my wife here in Grass Valley, plucked fresh from our own plants.
If the idea of planting blueberries in our climate sounds outlandish to you, take comfort in the fact that I was astonished, too, that they’d grow here. But Dan Davis of Mountain View Landscaping in Auburn (886-0983) set me straight with a gift of two plants: “I’d keep them in their containers unless you want to dig a large hole and fill it with peat moss. And be sure to keep them moist.”
We have them in a side garden area that gets morning sun and filtered afternoon shade, enjoying the same environment as camellias and azaleas.
If you’d like to know more about their culture, get into the Internet and pull up the University of California’s Small Farm Center publication on “Blueberries” or call the Nevada County UC Master Gardeners hotline (273-0919) for free information.
Dick Tracy is an award-winning garden writer and photographer, a trained master gardener and former president of the Foothills Horticulture Society. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.
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