By M.L. Dehm SCBJ Freelance Writer
MONROE — The nursery business isn’t easy. Over the past few years, many nursery owners have found that the best way to stay ahead of the competition is to diversify. That’s why Pine Creek Nursery in Monroe may soon be called Pine Creek Farms.
Many people drive by the large nursery, landscape supply and gift shop just east of Monroe on U.S. 2. But they often miss the turn for the nursery because they’re distracted by the Reptile Zoo across the highway.
Those who do find their way to the nursery are able to take advantage of the many services and products offered by husband and wife owners Paul and Gwen Sayers.
“We’re not just a nursery where you pick up a plant,” Gwen Sayers said.
They’re offering wreath-making classes in their spacious heated greenhouses. Both live and cut Christmas trees are on site and the gift shop hums with holiday shoppers.
Other times there are classes in container gardening, or local artists teach customers how to make special birdhouses or other projects. Customers can drop off clean wood debris and branches for recycling.
It is what you have to do, Gwen Sayers said, to make up for the seasonality of the business. Most of their nursery customers come in from March to June, again in September to support fall planting. But the couple would like to see more customers year round.
That was part of the vision when they purchased the property about 10 years ago. Paul Sayers already ran a well-established landscaping business, but he is a visionary, Gwen Sayers said, and had far-reaching plans from the start.
In the first year, the nursery consisted of two greenhouses, a small building where they rang up plant sales and a gravel parking lot. Every year, the Sayerses added improvements.
First there was a materials yard with bark, gravel, topsoil, play chips and more. About five years ago, they added the gift shop, which focuses on locally made products and handicrafts. The loft above the gift shop is perfect for hosting small classes and groups.
But soon after the gift shop went in, the recession hit.
“It was a little daunting,” Gwen Sayers said. But the couple’s strong faith helped a lot with the worry. They knew that if it was meant to be it, all would be well and it was.
The wood debris recycling program was added about two years ago. Gwen Sayers said it was their response to government restrictions on outdoor burning by giving people an option to recycle their wood debris.
And now there are new plans pending for spring. Paul Sayers is building a covered pavilion just outside the gift shop. The pavilion, which will feature an outdoor kitchen and fireplace, will be available for gatherings and events.
The other project is a P-patch. Since many of the newer homes in the Monroe area don’t have yards large enough for a garden, kids and pets, P-patches offer space and growing expertise close at hand.
The Sayerses’ P-patch plans are tentative but they hope to have it open in the spring. P-patch users would be able to use the nursery’s garden tools. They’d also be able to buy plants and seeds and fertilizer from the nursery.
The Sayerses may add a chicken yard for education and for fresh eggs.
The couple has many other long range ideas for the nursery. One is to add a larger events area to accommodate weddings, corporate meetings and more. To that end, Paul Sayers has saved space for a small amphitheater and stage. They may even consider adding a winery in the distant future.
For now, the focus is on their core business and the coming projects for 2012. To that end, Pine Creek Nursery will close between Christmas and mid-February so the Sayerses can get a jump on those projects and prepare for what they hope will be a very busy spring.
“We will, during that time, be available by email if anyone needs to get a hold of us,” Gwen Sayers said.
But she hopes that people will stop by ahead of spring and see what they’ve accomplished already.
Pine Creek Nursery is located at 23225 Sofie Road, one mile east of Monroe off U.S. 2. Visit the nursery online at www.pinecreeknursery.com.