Why, oh why?
The Heronswood business model would have been very difficult to sustain even if Burpee hadn't bought the company. Heronswood rose to fame on a demographic bubble: that is, the Baby Boomers had the time, money, and energy for gardening. For Robert, Dan, and the Heronistas, it was a wonderful ride. The Boomers' demand for new and different plants was enough to cover the costs of growing the business as well as planting extraordinary gardens. But the Boomers' demographic bubble began to deflate as they turned fifty - which is just when Burpee made their heady offer.
Burpee, a seed company, sought to diversify into plants and compete with Park Seed (which owns Wayside Gardens) and White Flower Farm (which owns Shepherd's Garden Seeds). Burpee bought in at the height of Heronswood's success, and it's understandable that they need to harvest profits.
All those extraordinary display gardens, along with the highly skilled workers whom Heronswood had developed, must have built up a scary payroll. The only hope of the gardens' paying their way was to harvest plants to sell. But many of the plants couldn't be marketed nationally due to hardiness limitations. The employees did their best. The Boomers? Well, they stopped gardening like they used to. Perhaps some of the thrill wore off when they received some new variety that, for whatever reason, didn't thrive. Mostly, the Boomers just got older. Even without Burpee, Heronswood would have groaned under the triple burden of increasing garden maintenance costs, a high payroll, and flat sales.
Burpee had to stop the bleeding. It's a shame they couldn't do so less clumsily.
The outcome is no one's fault; it's just the way it is. My appreciation goes out to all the good people who invested so much energy in Heronswood. You should be proud to have taken part in a truly extraordinary enterprise. Thank you, Heronswood people, for bringing us great plants and great gardens, and for putting the Pacific Northwest on the world horticultural map. Good luck to you all. Hopefully, ways will be found to keep good things coming.
At Sundquist Nursery, I've always felt that, compared to Heronswood, we played a fine second violin behind a virtuoso for all times. I've never made any pretense of offering the garden displays or the variety of plants that Heronswood offered. I've always stuck to the principles of providing a stimulating environment and value for the money. Our gardens, which are extensive but not nearly like those at Heronswood, add significant labor costs. I'm saddened, but not at all surprised, that the ride has ended at Heronswood - at least on this coast. Gardens and profits do not go hand in hand, or more nurseries would have gardens. Robert and Dan, through hard work and serendipity, pulled it off. Burpee tried for years to make it work, and couldn't.
Sundquist Nursery can't replace Heronswood as we knew it. But we're still here, and we're an exceedingly nice place to visit. Apart from our traditional favorites, many of our unique plant varieties are treats.
Life will be different, but there will be life after Heronswood. We will help keep good things coming.
Thank you all for your past and future support.