From the mom-and-pop nurseries that grow specialty plants to the large, diversified operations that have customers throughout the world, the greenhouse, nursery and floriculture industry has made Alabama a beautiful place in more ways than one.
While the state is bursting with colors from the various camellias, ornamental shrubs and countless perennials, it is also reaping quite a bonanza from the industry’s economic impact. The greenhouse, nursery and floriculture industry is Alabama’s fourth-largest agriculture sector, according to figures from a February 2013 report produced by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Alabama Agribusiness Council.
The industry accounted for $561.6 million in statewide output and created 6,988 jobs in 2010, according to the report. Its value-added impact ranked third behind poultry and egg production and commercial logging.
“We’re one of those bright spots in Alabama agriculture,” says James Harwell, director of the Alabama Nursery & Landscape Association. “We’re probably the fastest-growing commodity group in the state.”
Harwell says several factors contribute to the industry’s success, and one is quite simple.
“When gas prices go up, people tend to stay home and do more landscaping in their yard. I’ve seen a survey that says the value of a home can increase by 8 to 10 percent with good landscaping.”
Southern Growers Nursery & Greenhouses has been doing its part for the industry since the late 1950s, not long after James L. Thompson opened a retail florist in Montgomery. The company, now known as CCC Associates, built its first greenhouse in 1958 and later added nurseries.
“We are a wholesale nursery, which grows woody ornamental shrubs and perennials, and we have a greenhouse operation, all here on the same 280- acre complex,” says Bill Cook, vice president of agriculture operations for CCC Associates. “In the greenhouse division, we grow seasonal color and bedding plants and holiday plants, as well as hanging plants – anything that requires protection and heat during the winter.”
CCC Associates, which is now owned by Thompson’s son and daughter, has other divisions in the industry: Southern Homes & Gardens Landscaping; Cassco, a nursery growers supply division; Caffco, which sells a complete line of floral and home décor items throughout the world; and two Southern Homes & Gardens retail outlets in Montgomery.
Southern Growers has at least 100 species of plants, Cook says.
“That’s kind of the nature of our operation. We grow a lot of different varieties of blooming plants and shrubs to cater to the type customers that we service.”
CCC Associates has around 100 employees, 35 to 40 in the nursery division.
Green Nurseries in Fairhope specializes in certain plants. A wholesale nursery, it grows Camellia sasanqua, Camellia japonica, winter-interest plants and choice plants considered rare.
“We ship to around nine to 12 states,” says Bobby Green, whose father started the business in 1932. “If you drew a line between Washington, D.C., through Memphis and to Houston, we sell to any state below that.”
“For a wholesale nursery, we’re quite a small mom-and-pop,” Green says, “and the way we can expand on that is by doing what a lot of ornamental growers do, forming partnerships with marketing and distribution companies.”