Many garden centers have decades – even centuries – of history and experience to their names, but not every business can claim to have kickstarted ornamental growing in its region. Sheridan Nurseries, which was conceived as one of the very first nurseries in Canada, holds that distinction. President and CEO Karl Stensson explains the business’ focus on bringing quality plants and growing success to the customer:
Q: How long has Sheridan Nurseries been growing ornamentals in the Toronto region? How long has it been retailing?
A: Sheridan was started by a husband and wife team of landscape architects, Howard and Laurie Dunington-Grubb, who emigrated from England in 1911. They realized there was nobody growing ornamental plants in Canada, so started the nursery. They advertised for a nursery manager in England and my grandfather Herman Stensson answered the ad, emigrated with his wife and 4 sons and started the farms in 1913. Sheridan actually had a landscape department and constructed many of the famous gardens in the Toronto area, along with many of the wealthy estates. When the nursery started producing enough plants, they opened the first store in the mid 1920’s.
Q: I understand Sheridan Nurseries takes part in the Handpicked for You program. How did that involvement begin? How did the trialing and growing go this year?
A: Sheridan Nurseries is one of the founding members of the SynRG group. The collaboration between ourselves and the other founding members (Overdevest Nurseries, Prides Corner Farms, Saunders Brothers and Willoway) began in 2015. Our goal is to create a solid collaboration between breeders, growers and, most importantly, garden center retailers, resulting in bringing the best new plants to the consumer with reliable garden performance in their specific region.
In the last two years, we have spent a great deal of time and energy in trialing the many new varieties that have been made available to us. This is a long-term process but it yields the desired results we are looking for. The plants will initially begin as a typical production plant, where we monitor things such as rooting, the ability for it to fill the pot, length of time to flower and how it may look on the retail bench. All of this information is documented and tracked through a software called Trial Tracker. Through Trial Tracker, all members of the SynRG group can share their results with one another. It is at this point where we really begin to see how a particular plant performs within different regions. Once a new plant has passed this stage of the trial, it is further evaluated in a garden setting. It is planted outside and allowed to grow on its own accord. It receives minimal maintenance throughout the year and also receives no winter protection. The following spring, we evaluate again and make a decision to introduce it to one of our test garden centers to really see how it will perform at retail. Once all of these steps receive a passing grade, the plant will receive the Handpicked for You certification.
The trials thus far have provided us with a number of plants we are quite excited about. Many of these were shipped to our test garden centers throughout 2017 and will be evaluated this fall with the retailer’s input. If they come through this part of the testing successfully, the Handpicked for You certification will be placed on the plant. Some of these trial plants included the Never Ending series of Daylilies, the KISMET series of Echinacea and the Bambini series of Phlox.
Q: Last year, you mentioned that land expenses in the Toronto area can make it difficult to expand the business with new locations, and improving upon existing properties is a more realistic focus. How did that objective progress in spring 2017?
A: About 5 years ago we sold our largest site as it was simply too good a deal to pass up. We have been fortunate to lease that site back and instead of being off it in 2 years we have managed to lease it for 5 years. At the same time, after an exhaustive search, we did manage to find 5 acres north of the current location by 10 kilometers where we are building a new store. To be honest though the purchase price of the site was reasonable however the development costs have been horrendous and I am not sure how anyone could justify starting from scratch without the backing we had from the other property. Government fees have become unaffordable.
Q: Is there anything else happening at Sheridan Nurseries you want to mention? Any final thoughts on being a part of the Top 100 IGCs in North America?
A: We have built a great team to run our stores. We are a very self-sufficient group with all marketing, sales, purchasing in house. We work extremely hard to promote our brand to the staff so that they properly represent us to our guests. Our Brand is well recognized, our quality is outstanding and our two year warranty to our retail guests instills confidence in what they buy. The consumer has LOTS of choices and in fact is many times confused by horticulture. Our tag line in our commercials says it all — “We make gardening easy!”