VNLA meets the future at 2014 Summer Tour


The Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association came to Southwest Virginia in mid-August to learn about the future of horticulture and ran head on into it on a Floyd County hillside.
Jim Snyder told his luncheon guests in Riner, Va., Aug. 15 that the business he and his wife have owned for 30 years, Riverbend Nursery LLC, has been sold.  His announcement produced absolute silence as VNLA members, many of whom are customers, processed his news.
Snyder went on to explain that they have taken on 11 investors in the business.  The capital generated from this action will enable the wholesale nursery to expand during future months.  A lot of emphasis is expected on their LiveRoof plants. He said nothing will change in the operation of Riverbend and he will continue in his role as head of the business.
The bus tour on the third day of VNLA activities, which were centered at Virginia Tech and Blacksburg, ended at Riverbend where visitors had the opportunity to visit the greenhouses and work areas and take self-guided tours or visit with staff members as they moved over the 50 acres in production on the 90-acre site.
The business produces about three million container plants annually, employing as many as 100 people in peak seasons and maintaining a year round staff of 65 people.
“The Future of Horticulture!” was the theme of the VNLA Field Day, Summer Tour and LEAN Seminar, which attracted members of the industry from across the state.  Jeff Miller, executive director, reported 123 people representing 71 companies signed up for the field day; 45 for the LEAN Management Seminar; and 55 for the Summer Tour.
Dr. Doug Tallamy of the University of Delaware discussed “Creating Living Landscapes” in his keynote addresses and explained ways lawns can be developed to share the planet with other living creatures.  He said the mowed green lawns of today have developed as status symbols and indicated that they are unproductive as part of the environment.
Clean farming techniques and 45.6 million acres of manicured lawns have contributed to the decline of insects and the plants that feed them, he noted.  He said he saw three monarch butterflies last year, two more than the year before.  All three were on the Highline in New York City, an overhead bridge that has been converted to a greenway and become a destination in the city.  If it can be done in Manhattan, it can be done other places, he contended.
He noted that there are now only 3.6 percent of the number of Monarchs that existed in 1976.
Tallamy contended that caterpillars are needed, as are the plants they feed on, to maintain a balance of native plants and insects.
Non-native species, mostly Asian, are part of the problem, he reported.  They are not productive in keeping the balance of nature and many are invasive.  He urged the use of native plants for landscaping instead.
In this he was joined by members of the Virginia Native Plants Marketing Partnership.  They were on hand to explain the use of native plants and what is being done to encourage the use of them in landscapes across the state.
For many attending the event, tours of the Hahn Horticulture Garden at Virginia Tech were a highlight of the conference.  A box lunch at noon was served under a big white tent in front of the Peggy Lee Hahn Pavilion in the gardens.  Guided tours were offered in the six-acre garden before and after lunch. 
The garden is used as a classroom for horticulture students, a study area, a retreat, a venue for weddings and other events, and a place to enjoy the beauty of nature.  It is constantly expanding and changing as students, volunteers and benefactors work together to improve it.
Friday’s tour included stops at three private gardens where visitors were treated to some Blacksburg residents’ own retreats.  Elissa Steeves, LaLone and Kim Knight and Dr. Jerzy Nowak and Stefanie Hofer opened their gardens to VNLA members.
The three-day event opened Aug. 13 with Sarah Vanek talking about “Team Habits for Working Smarter not Harder: A Workshop on Lean Management for the Green Industry.”
Vanek, an Extension associate for nursery crop production at the University of Kentucky, followed a model created by Toyota Motor Corporation in discussing ways to improve management in the green industry.