The right match

Developing a relationship with a sustainable supplier will make your life easier.

September 19, 2012
Brian Horn
Design/Build and Hardscape

When asked about finding a trustworthy sustainable supplier, Kurt Bland is very succinct in his response.
“Know the vendor, says the president of Bland Landscaping in Apex, N.C. “I mean that as simply as it sounds. Get to know the vendor. We’ve got vendors we’ve been working with our entire time in business and we know and trust these people.”

Bland says some of them are local, but sometimes they have to go outside the metropolitan area because the species they need has to be housed in an area with a lot of land.

Bland has a purchaser that personally visits every nursery the company buys from and he hand selects a lot of the plant material.

“He is working with these folks intimately, getting to know them,” Bland says of his purchaser. “As an owner I sometimes pay visits to our suppliers. Our suppliers sometimes come and visit us. We see some of our suppliers at tradeshows. So building that relationship is something that takes time because you are going to find that some people do better with some species because their cultural practices are better suited to them. Not everybody grows everything equally well.”

He recommends meeting face-to-face with suppliers as often as you can, and says his buyer is meeting with suppliers they buy from regularly monthly or quarterly and sometimes weekly.

“We have staff members inspect the crop as its being produced just to make sure it is being grown to our expectations by the time we receive,” Bland says.

Trish Beckjord, sales, consultation and market development for native plants and green infrastructure at Midwest Groundcovers in St. Charles, Ill., says the first thing a contractor should do is make sure the native plants they are buying were propagated by a responsible nursery from seed or by division.

“They should also make sure that the seed source for the plants has been collected responsibly and ethically from a wild population within a radius of about 100-150 miles. This is typically the distance limit that is used by restoration ecologists in our region. Otherwise you may get a native plant that, although the same genus and species, has adapted to different conditions and will perform differently in your region.

“For example, a seed source of Panicum virgatum from Kansas will grow more aggressively in Illinois. This also avoids getting a plant that is native in Texas or California but not the Midwest. The idea of ‘native’ has a regional context that is important.”

Beckjord also warns against going with the cheapest supplier.

“There is a lot that goes into growing quality plants and being a responsible grower,” she says. “It should be clear that the supplier is well informed about their product and propagation procedures. They should also be able to demonstrate that they can consistently supply plants that have a well-developed root system for the size pot.

“Ask where they get their material and request a tour of the nursery; it’s a great chance for you to learn and share more with your clients.”