This Month in Mid-Atlantic Horticultural News
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Mullan Nursery holiday displays offer ‘wow’ factor
By CAROL KINSLEY
Mullan Nursery Co. Inc. in White Hall, Md., is gearing up for the holiday season. In addition to providing award-winning landscaping and elegant landscape lighting, the firm started decorating homes and businesses for Christmas about 15 years ago. Co-founder Marion Gaines Mullan said, "We design and decorate with outdoor lights, lit garlands and wreaths, including some gorgeous locally sourced natural wreaths. It's a fun change of pace for everyone. People love to have lights in the fall and early winter. It makes them feel happier when the days are so short and dark.”
Mullan’s staff offers an initial visit to the home or business to take measurements, then presents clients with a choice of festive and creative plans for a holiday display designed to “wow” the neighbors and passers-by.
“Our Christmas Décor service makes it easy for our customers: we bring everything we need to decorate, put them up, take them down, store them and take care of any problems that may arise.”
Mullan Nursery uses environmentally conscious low-voltage LED lights, which are highly efficient, using 90 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, produce less heat and last up to 20 times longer.
The nursery has won numerous awards for its holiday lighting designs from Christmas Décor, its holiday lighting parent company.
Mullan Nursery does elegant landscape lighting, too, which, Marion said, "makes great sense to think about at this time of year, when it gets dark so early Soft uplighting as well as downlighting trees is aesthetically pleasing and helps people move about the landscape safely. It adds to a home’s security, as well as its beauty. Folks can spend more time in their yards and enjoy the landscape at night.”
Mullan Nursery has been in the business of creating beautiful gardens for more than 30 years. Marion and her husband, Robert Mullan, founded the company in 1983.
"We were doing some landscaping and decided that we also wanted to be able grow our own beautiful trees for these projects," Marion said. “We found a fantastic property in Baltimore County where we were able to run the business, plant our nursery, and live and raise our kids. We are still there.” The Mullans raised their three daughters on the farm, with all three girls working for the business at some point. One of their twins, Bayley, recently graduated from college and has joined the family business full-time.
“Bayley is very interested in veggie-scaping,” her mother said. “She is great with clients and is currently helping with Christmas sales.”
Early on, the Mullans picked up some high-profile commercial clients, such as M & T Bank Stadium, Gilchrest Hospice and various projects at BWI Airport. Other commercial projects include GMBC, Kennedy Kreiger Institute and Union Memorial Hospital. While they still do commercial work, Marion and Robert both felt their creative muses pulling them toward more inventive projects, working hand in hand with homeowners. “Whether it's commercial or residential, our system starts with creation of the initial design, and goes all the way through to the completed project and then maintenance beyond,” Marion said.
While the company has grown, “at heart I still see us as a small family business,” she continued. “Robert and I are involved every step of the way.”
Marion's creative side runs towards that “special extra” in the garden: "I love doing pots and containers —adding that extra splash of texture and color. And topiary with lots of moss, hardy sedum and succulents," she added. She has installed numerous whimsical topiary dogs, horses, and even a sea monster, in and around Maryland. Robert's expertise is in visualizing the hardscaping and finding solutions for drainage problems. “We specialize in beautiful stone work, paths, walkways, water features, ponds and outdoor kitchen areas,” Marion said.
More recently they have been adding bio-swales and rain gardens. "It's a nice niche for us," she said. "Sometimes it's a drainage necessity made to look beautiful. When there's a lot of rain and water's not leaving the yard, we need to offer solutions. My husband is a genius when it comes to designing solutions for drainage problems. He really makes river rock and native plants attractive to the eye, and to our clients' aesthetics.”
Both Marion and Robert knew they wanted to do landscaping early on in their lives. Robert started landscaping as a teenager and was the driving force in getting them started in business while they were still in their early 20s.
Marion studied agriculture at the University of Arizona and keeps up on the latest in landscaping and horticulture with numerous continuing education courses along the way. In recent years she's taken small farming courses and developed a keen interest in permaculture as well as combining horticulture with edibles at home, in client’s gardens, and in containers. This has been essential to the business as they add more and more kitchen gardens to their client’s landscapes, particularly raised beds with organic produce.
“We've been very involved in introducing raised bed gardening and sustainable gardening to the area, especially with our involvement at the local farm market in Hereford," she added. "Several years ago we helped the property owners in Hereford’s historic business area create a large edible garden. And now a thriving organic farm market for local farmers and artisans has grown out of and around that space. We sell unique plants there and offer workshops on veggie gardens, and topiary and wreath making. It's really brought a lot of people in the northern Baltimore and southern PA community together. It's been a fun new thing for us."
Mullan Nursery has a "great staff," Marion said, "who have been with us a long time. Our key personnel have been with us 10 to 20 years. We see little turnover; because of this we are more able to be efficient and consistent with our work. We pay close attention to detail, and our customers recognize the staff members who come to their house each year and have a great rapport with them. Our senior foremen Bob Fritsche and Rob Humphries are as passionate about creating beautiful landscapes as we are.“
They must be doing something right. In the last year the company has won two Perennial Plant Association merit awards for its landscaping projects.
As their children get older, the Mullans see more opportunity to give back to the industry. Marion now sits on the Maryland Ag Commission for the nursery industry. "It's very exciting!" she said. "We meet once a month in Annapolis and tour farms twice a year. I love the variety of farms, and seeing all of the different methods of doing things. Our farms are definitely in transition. They're diversifying, always trying to come up with new things to keep viable and move with the current trends, same as us. We are fortunate to still be passionate about what we do everyday.”