If you ever visit Magnolia, and find co-owner Chris Hunter in a somewhat petulant mood, don’t take it personally. It just means the north wind has been blowing. Sited as we are on the outskirts of Chico, the nursery frequently takes the brunt of the incoming weather, and in particular, the monotonous weeks of driving wind that often attend Spring and Summer in the Northstate. But despite the fact that our grounds are not enclosed like most franchise garden centers, our plants are far less susceptible to ill-humors than their human caretakers under these harsh conditions. Why this exceptional resilience? Well, that stems from the way we do business.
When you pick up a vibrant, healthy plant at Magnolia, know that it was a long line of research and cooperation that delivered it to you. The process begins with selecting wholesale vendors who uphold the highest standards of plant propagation, care, and quality control. Specifically, we choose to support growers who use rich soils, high in organic material, nutrients and beneficial biota; growers who refuse to sell diseased, undernourished or undersized plants, or those which have not yet developed a mature root system. In exchange, we actually pay for our orders up-front. Commercial garden stores are able to undercut privatized competition by contracting with wholesalers that agree to not receive compensation until the item sells. This pressures the grower to sacrifice quality for volume, in order to offset the high loss to income ratio. It also is a disincentive to the retailer to reject inferior stock; if it dies before it is purchased, they lose nothing, allowing them to maintain an artificially low overhead. We choose to develop a personal, mutually-beneficial relationship with our growers instead, and to pass the advantage of access to high quality products on to our patrons.
The next step is to carefully select the cultivars of plants grown by these vendors which will thrive in our Mediterranean climate, and still be hardy to the frosts of winter. Our employees spend hours pouring over availability lists, looking for standout traits like disease resistance, drought tolerance, wind resilience or fruit quality before placing an order. Even the ordering process itself requires a great deal of forethought. When sourcing from vendors located in coastal areas, we make sure that the plants will arrive in plenty of time to acclimate to our more arid zone before the heat of summer arrives. This presents not only a logistic challenge, but it has cost us sales on more than one occasion. For instance, when a customer requests a specimen that is only available from a wholesaler in the Bay Area in July, we will be forced to defer that order until Autumn because we take our responsibility to serve the customer by providing the best product possible seriously. Once the plants do arrive on our grounds, we place them in a display zone in the nursery that mimics their appropriate growing conditions in a landscape, so that you receive a specimen that is vigorous and holistically-adapted to flourish in your yard.
Because of the diligent care that goes into the plants in our inventory, from shoot to mature specimen, we have no reservations about encouraging customers to plant throughout Summer, provided that a few sound horticultural practices are adhered to. Your new landscape addition should never be placed in a location where it will receive greater sun exposure than it was on our grounds. While many species are able to acclimate to marginal exposures over time, hold off on experimentation until the Fall. Soil preparation, while always important, is absolutely critical to setting your plant up for success during the warm season. Humus-rich blends, such as our Greenall Soil Booster or E.B.Stone Organic Rose Grow Planting Mix, will retain nutrients, hold moisture, and encourage healthy drainage and aeration. To suppress weed competition, keep the root zone cooler and minimize evaporative water loss on the surface, mulching around the base of your new plant is essential. Our favorite product for this is Greenall Fir Mulch; light and non-splintery, it will also break down slowly to enrich the soil. Lastly, automatic irrigation appropriate to the installation is key to ensuring that your landscape investment pays off.
Now that’s why quality pays off.