Get Growing with Mickey Rathbun: An expert plantsman takes the reins at Sugarloaf Gardens

Get Rising with Mickey Rathbun: An professional plantsman takes the reins at Sugarloaf Gardens

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After 35 years within the nursery enterprise, together with as supervisor of Hadley Backyard Heart and later at Wanczyk Nursery, Dan Ziomek is extra passionate than ever about vegetation. Final 12 months, when Kyle Snow of Snow and Sons Landscaping requested Ziomek if he’d be keen on creating and managing a plant nursery on an 8-acre website in Sunderland, he accepted instantly.


For somebody with Ziomek’s data and expertise, it’s a dream job.

Snow’s imaginative and prescient was to launch a brand new nursery that will be open to the general public whereas additionally serving because the central provide warehouse for his enterprise, which has shoppers all through Hampshire and Franklin counties.


“As an alternative of going far and wide to select up vegetation, Snow’s individuals come right here, we load up their vans and off they go,” mentioned Ziomek, including that Snow’s has round 130 workers on the street day-after-day. “It saves them a number of time, and naturally, time is cash.”

After months of planning and onerous work, Sugarloaf Gardens opened for enterprise final March on the location of the previous Sugarloaf Nurseries, which closed 5 years in the past. Certainly one of Ziomek’s favourite issues about his new job is the chance to experiment with totally different preparations and layouts.


“This was a completely clear slate once we began final 12 months,” he mentioned. The beneficiant house permits for large, straight paths all through the nursery. He defined that at Hadley Backyard Heart, the place he labored for 32 years, the constricted house meant that the format was the identical 12 months after 12 months.


“It’s enjoyable for me to do that, to put it out from scratch,” he mentioned. “It’s fascinating despite the fact that I’ve accomplished it for therefore a few years.”

Ziomek, who grew up in Amherst, mentioned he’s been round vegetation all his life. He spent a number of time working at his uncle’s farm and small nursery enterprise in North Amherst. He obtained a level in nursery administration from SUNY Cobleskill and went on to get a bacheleor’s diploma in plant and soil science at UMass Amherst.


In 1988, he grew to become the supervisor of Hadley Backyard Heart, the place he labored for 32 years. When itwas taken over by Gardener’s Provide, he moved up the street to Wanczyk Nursery, the place he labored for a 12 months and a half earlier than going into enterprise for himself.

Ziomek has approached his new place at Sugarloaf Gardens with monumental dedication and enthusiasm.


“Our aim is to offer nice high quality and a fantastic choice,” he mentioned. “With my experience I can do this. That’s why Kyle wished me. Snow’s is a really well-known and revered enterprise. In the event that they do a job, they do it proper. They don’t pinch pennies, they usually ensure that every part they do appears to be like good.”

To make sure the prime quality of the nursery’s plant inventory, Ziomek offers solely with dependable sources who present professional care for his or her vegetation.


“If timber and shrubs are began properly and pruned correctly they’re extra more likely to thrive,” he mentioned, pointing to a row of sturdy, well-balanced redbud timber. Ziomek has established a dependable community of suppliers, from western New York to North Carolina. “I belief that they’re promoting me an excellent tree,” he mentioned.

As soon as the vegetation arrive on the nursery, Ziomek and his group be sure that they’re properly cared for. An automated sprinkler system waters the shrubs and the timber have drip irrigation. Perennials are watered with a hose. The vegetation are sheared again often or pruned to form them and fertilizer is utilized periodically to assist themstay wholesome and vigorous.

Along with fastidiously sustaining the vegetation, Ziomek mentioned it’s equally necessary to take care of good private relationships together with his salespeople and his proprietor.


“I rely on them to inform me if one thing doesn’t look proper,” he mentioned. “It actually helps you in the long term. This enterprise isn’t Amazon. Crops are totally different. It’s not like ordering a pair of sneakers.”

Buyer satisfaction is paramount to Ziomek. When an individual is available in searching for vegetation, he begins by asking about their rising situations.


Have they got solar or shade? Is the world moist or dry? Is the soil sandy or clay? Subsequent, he asks what types of vegetation they’re keen on. For fledgling gardeners, he recommends vegetation which might be simple to develop, akin to panicle hydrangeas, spirea, weigela, daylilies, sedums, catmint and salvias.


“It’s necessary to offer prospects with what’s going to work for them,” Ziomek mentioned. “I don’t assume it’s proper to promote a wagon load of vegetation simply to do away with them. Each scenario is totally different — it is advisable get the correct plant into the correct place.”

Sugarloaf Gardens’ intensive acreage permits Ziomek to inventory a big selection of vegetation, together with many pollinator-friendly varieties and native shrubs and perennials.


As we toured the nursery, Ziomek famous sure vegetation that he thinks are underappreciated, together with the Seven Sons Tree (Heptacodiummiconioides). It is a small tree whose enticing exfoliating bark, late-summer white flowers and shiny pink seedpods present year-round curiosity. “It’s a neat plant that not many individuals find out about,” he mentioned.

Ziomek and Snow have formidable plans for Sugarloaf Nursery. In September, Ziomek will host a collection of instructional applications for the general public. Matters will embody easy methods to plant a tree, together with an indication; placing the garden to mattress for the winter; and vegetation that entice birds.

The enterprise additionally intends to construct a greenhouse subsequent 12 months in order that it may develop and promote natural greens, fruits and flowers. The operation’s five-year plan requires a retail retailer that will likely be open year-round.


Ziomek additionally needs to have a store on website providing chicken feeders and birdwatching tools to the rising variety of birding fanatics within the space. As many Valley residents know, birds are Ziomek’s different lifelong ardour. He recurrently leads birdwatching journeys, each regionally and out of state, and guides a nighttime “Owl Prowl” to profit the Hitchcock Heart for the Surroundings in Amherst.

“We’re not a flash-in-the-pan operation,” Ziomek mentioned. “We’re in it for the lengthy haul. We’d prefer to make this place a vacation spot spot.”

Sugarloaf Gardens at present has six workers, all of whom are skilled and educated about vegetation. Ziomek refers to his co-manager, Olyvia Houston, as “the brains of the operation,” explaining that she handles all the pc work, together with the purpose of sale system, which permits for an on the spot examine on stock.

“I do know my vegetation and easy methods to assist prospects,” he mentioned, “however computer systems baffle me,” he acknowledges.

Though the nursery is well-staffed in the mean time, he’s at all times searching for well-qualified workers. “I’d prefer to take a time off subsequent spring,” he mentioned, smiling.

Mickey Rathbun, an Amherst-based lawyer turned journalist, has written the “Get Rising” column since 2016.


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