Green infrastructure, the idea of harnessing the power of nature to create an infrastructural system that manages stormwater, improves air quality and creates wildlife habitat, is gaining traction throughout the U.S. Some areas of the country are ahead of others. While the Northeast U.S. has constructed wetlands, green roofs and bioswales by the score, the Virginia tidewater area near Lancaster Farms is only just starting to take notice.
“It’s gaining momentum,” says Chris Brown, president and general manager of the Suffolk, Va.-based wholesale nursery. “The seed is just starting to open up around here. People are just starting to get involved and say ‘What does this mean?’ That’s what LF is asking. ‘What does this mean, and how can we partner with Hoffman not just from supply but also from the knowledge and commitment they have to green infrastructure?’”
Brown says Hoffman Nursery, and its owner John Hoffman, are the premier experts in green infrastructure in the Southeast. The North Carolina nursery was a natural fit when Lancaster Farms wanted to learn more about the green infrastructure movement, because they already had a good working relationship.
“They make wonderful liners,” Brown says. “We do big numbers with them with ornamental grasses, not even addressing the green infrastructure supply line — just with landscape and garden centers. They are an awesome partner. They listen, and they react to things from the supply line to the product mix.”
Hoffman and his team have been helping Brown and the Lancaster team develop a GI program and educate their customers about the movement. Hoffman is also helping Lancaster Farms choose a plant palette and supplying liners to help build inventory. Brown believes there is room in the GI market for a full range of plant material.
“When we get involved and hear the word ‘shrubs’ or ‘trees,’ that’s what excites us,” Brown says. “We see the woody ornamental side of GI; beyond just grasses, beyond aquatic plants, beyond just understanding stormwater runoff. We see the footprint of trees, shrubs, grasses, and aquatic plants in the total package.”
But as Brown has discovered, green infrastructure is certainly not easy. In any given GI project, you never know what will be the dominant plant in the project. It could be trees, aquatics, ornamental grasses or shrubs.
From a production standpoint, that’s difficult, because a nursery can’t just grow a product on a hope that it’s right for a future project. Brown says growers must understand that with this movement comes a different type of responsibility. He stresses that if a nursery tries to join this market and treat it as a “cookie-cutter” job, they will fail. GI projects have run into problems where the wrong plant for the job was used because the one the architect or designer wanted was not available in the needed quantity.
A partnership between the landscape designers, installers and the nursery is necessary to keep everyone on the same page. That way, the architect is happy because the plant they chose is going to get planted, the installer won’t have to worry about scrambling for backups because the nursery has advance notice and should deliver the plant on time.
“The movement is good,” Brown says. “It’s something that is going to be lucrative, but it comes with a degree of caution. I look at it like a staircase, and Lancaster Farms is about a quarter of the way up the stairs.”