With its mild winters, easy access to the waters of Lake Michigan and a rich tradition of Dutch immigrants, western Michigan is a prime breeding ground for horticulture businesses.
One such business is the family-owned and operated Spring Meadow Nursery in Grand Haven. Started in 1981, Spring Meadow has grown from a small propagation nursery to one of the largest providers of proprietary plant material in the country.
Rooted In Success
Spring Meadow is truly a family-operated business. Michigan native Dale Deppe serves as CEO, and his wife, Liz, oversees the accounting department. Their son, Jeremy, joined the company in 2004 as general manager, and Jeremy’s wife, Daniella, works part-time as the company’s human resource manager.
The 90-acre nursery offers more than 500 varieties of shrubs, selling starter plants or potted liners to growers and other nurseries across the U.S. and Canada. Spring Meadow has also developed more than 100 patented varieties through its plant breeding program.
“Spring Meadow is on the cutting edge in our industry. We have around 240 patented plant varieties that we own. Our specialty is new plants. We have a breeding department through which we breed our own plants, and we work with plant breeders around the world to introduce their new plants into the U.S. market,” says Tim Wood, marketing and product development manager for Spring Meadow Nursery.
Wood says the company’s success is also tied to the horticulture program at Michigan State University (MSU), where Dale Deppe received his degree. Of Spring Meadow’s 34 part-time and full-time employees, seven graduated from MSU. The company regularly works with the university, providing internships, offering tours and donating plants to horticulture classes.
Marv Wiegand, co-owner of Ray Wiegand’s Nursery in Macomb, traces part of his horticulture roots back to MSU. Wiegand attended the university in the 1960s, where he received his short course horticulture degree before returning home to work in the family business. Wiegand is the second generation to run the business started by his parents in 1941.
“The farm was originally in Warren, but it wasn’t large enough to be a big dairy farm or the typical big crop farm – they only had 40 acres – but they were able to grow a lot of perennials and flowers,” Wiegand says. “And Warren, being a suburb of Detroit, was a great location to sell a lot of plants to people in neighboring suburbs. Our customer base began increasing to include the city’s emerging garden centers.”
Since then, the nursery has grown to include a 15,000-square-foot garden center. This encompasses some 30,000 square feet of heated retail greenhouses and nearly 700 acres of plants for wholesale and retail sales. In addition to seven (out of 12) siblings – three of whom are also part owners – and nine nieces and nephews, the nursery employs more than 200 Michiganders between retail, the garden center, re-wholesale and the family’s farm. Wiegand says the nursery’s gross sales for 2014 topped $15 million.
Since he started working his parents’ farm, Wiegand says he has seen a lot of changes in the business.
“When I was working with my parents, most of the plants were totally grown in the field,” he says. “Now, a lot of the plants are grown in containers. Most of our plants are now watered with drip irrigation. We also do a lot more recycling now – about 10,000 yards each year of red pine bark to grow our container plants in. We reuse our bark products to fertilize our farms, and we compost about 10,000 yards of waste to fertilize our field-grown plants.”