Local Nurseries See Spike in Sales

A trip to the local garden supply center or a peep over the neighbors’ fences will show that there’s been an old-fashioned, recession-time resurgence of vegetable gardening.
The recent interest in growing food at home isn’t just your garden-variety fad leading to flash-in-the-pan profits. Seed conglomerates are showing boosts in sales as much as 80 percent so far this year, and Tulsa’s nurseries are some of the few local businesses not bleeding red ink.
“I have some fruit trees and blackberries, and I have some grapes left – that’s about it,” said May McCombs, manager of retail sales in tree and shrubs at Riddle Plant Farm, 3510 Summit Ave. in Sand Springs. “It’s been hot and heavy. Everybody is saying it’s generally because of the economy.”
“You’re seeing a lot of restaurants close, but if you look at the sales reports of the big department stores over the last several quarters, sales of cookware is up. Sales of outdoor grills are up, too. People are cooking more at home,” said Ken Winkelman, residential horticulturist at the Broken Arrow location of Sanders Nursery & Distribution Center, 20705 E. 161st St.
This year, though, food lovers are taking it a step further by tossing their grocery lists and growing what they can outside the kitchen window. Sales of “everything – across the board” are up at Sanders at least 10 percent and are forecast to increase now that the April 15 freeze date has passed. To ring in a landmark season, the nursery recorded the best Saturday-before-Easter sales in its 11-year history.
“We figured this would happen,” Winkelman said. “Every time there’s an article out about gardening right now, we get 100 phone calls looking for the particular plants in the article.”
“Come out here on a Saturday and you’ll see how crazy it is.”
When the economy is down, sales of vegetable garden products and supplies are up, Winkelman said.
“It’s like with the liquor trade – sales are flat right now. They’re not declining, and they’re not increasing. It’s because when the U.S. is prosperous, people drink. When the economy in the U.S. goes bad, people drink.”
At an industry seminar hosted by Sanders last September, the nursery predicted that, according to historic and economic indicators, people would soon be back to growing their own food in a big way.
“People are still trying to get the curb value of their house up, and the best way to do that is landscaping. But, we predicted people would start spending a lot of money on their backyards, too,” Winkelman said.
Gardening may have hit the big time this year, but Southwood Landscape & Nursery Owner Joe Schulte said the trend has been building over the past couple of years.
“The interest has been there, but I think that this year everyone is making that commitment to grow more vegetables,” Schulte said. “I don’t know that people are really moving away from flower gardening – begonias, impatiens, and all of that – I think we’re still doing that. All they’re doing is taking some of the Bermuda grass out and putting in vegetable gardens.”
Sales of anything and everything having to do with vegetable gardening are up 50 percent at Southwood, at 9025 S. Lewis Ave. There’s been an increased interest in garden seed and heirloom variety tomatoes, and flower gardening sales are standing up well against the slump in the economy, too, having not yet shown a decrease.
Rather than chalk it up to the economy, Schulte believes there’s been a paradigm shift. Times are hard, but before the stock market tanked, people were interested in knowing more about where their food came from.
“Once you try growing your own tomatoes, for example, and compare that to what you find in the grocery store that might come from miles and miles away, you’re sold.”
“Garden centers all over the U.S. are experiencing this,” Schulte said. “I have friends from coast to coast who are seeing the same thing. It’s just a change in attitude.
The DIY movement is taking hold even in people’s backyard grills, salad bowls and cupboards, with gardeners interested not just in growing vegetables to eat tonight for dinner, but also for preserving and canning.
“It’s easy to do. Compare that to the canned tomatoes at the grocery store. They pick those green, and the variety is typically hybridized for canning, so the flavor isn’t quite there. The ones that come out of your own garden are picked when they’re ripe and ready to go, and since you’ll have an abundance, you just can them.”
Gardening might be back with a bang, but not with its usual following. Now garden center operators are seeing more young people shopping for supplies, looking to outfit their starter homes with victory gardens.
“The younger demographic is more interested in vegetable gardening than flower gardening,” Schulte said. “The interest isn’t so much in growing plants, but more in entertaining and growing vegetables.”
“People are putting more money into backyard patios backyard landscaping to make it more user-friendly so they can entertain at home,” Winkelman said.
The Generations X and Y headed into garden centers this spring “do not have the background that a lot of the baby boomers did. We’re getting a lot of them in where who have a pretty brown thumb. They are looking for the knowledge and expertise – they want to make sure they do it right so they don’t waste their money,” Winkelman said.
“Customer service is where you’re really going to be able to cut an edge these days, being able to take care of those folks.”
Jazmo’z Celebrates 15 Years on Cherry Street
Jazmo’z Bourbon Street Cafe celebrated its crystal anniversary on Tulsa’s historic Cherry Street this month.
Cherry Street “is a great location, close to downtown and an eclectic area amidst other popular places to be,” said co-owner Ward Harrison.
The menu at Jazmo’z features dishes inspired by Cajun cuisine. Chicken Bon Ton, Seafood Saute, Crab Cakes, Fried Alligator Bites, Gumbos and Bread Pudding are customer favorites.
Originally named Bourbon Street Cafe, owners Ward and Dyana Harrison added the name Jazmo’z in 2005 so the name could be trademarked
The Harrisons opened a New Orleans-influenced restaurant because, “Tulsa needed a good seafood restaurant, and like spicier food, so it was a perfect match,” Ward Harrison said.
The restaurant, at 1542 E. 15th St., employs more than 70. The restaurant offers live entertainment Thursday-Sunday evenings.

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