As soon as Mother’s Day is on the horizon, South Sound nursery owners know they’ll be swamped with customers.
Moms like flowers. Especially ones that will last an entire season or more.
At Olympia’s Bark & Garden, gigantic hanging baskets of fuchsias and others filled with “thrillers and spillers” will be flying out the door.
But you’d be wrong to think of Bark & Garden as a one-hit-wonder.
The nursery, on the far west side of town, is more than just annuals. It has the largest and most varied retail selection of plants in the South Sound.
Owner Kern Rexius can’t remember a time when the business wasn’t in his life.
Rexius’s father started selling bark in 1969 at a site near the business’s current location on Harrison Avenue. They moved to their present location in 1980.
Over the years it morphed into a landscaping company and then a nursery. Rexius took over the business from his parents in 2002. The landscaping business was scrapped.
I tried early on to always be a nursery. ... We’ll do some bistro sets and benches, but where we do well is plants.
Ken Rexius, owner of Bark & Garden
Rexius has spent the past 15 years expanding Bark & Garden. All the while he’s bucked the trend that has seen other large nurseries add restaurants, furniture departments and housewares.
“I tried early on to always be a nursery,” Rexius said. “That’s basically how I grew up. I’ve always tried to define my boundaries. We’ll do some bistro sets and benches, but where we do well is plants.”
GARDENS OF DESIRE
Bark & Garden has acres of greenhouses filled with inexpensive geraniums to hard-to-find perennials like all-white leaved hostas.
“We try to carry anything you can imagine,” Rexius said. Some of that is old standbys, while other stock is high end and cutting edge. “There’s a lot of foliage. We try to carry a huge amount of diversity.”
Annuals take up three greenhouses and that’s where customers find Bark & Garden’s trademark fuchsia baskets. Though the nursery doesn’t propagate any plants, they do create the hanging wonders. Each $58.99 basket is filled with several fuchsia plants.
“Nobody else has a fuchsia basket as big as these,” Rexius said. “We actually have people say that they are too big.”
The other big sellers are his summer baskets designed to keep blooming through September. They will eventually trail 5 feet or more.
Rexius keeps current with the latest plants.
“There’s always something up-and-coming,” Rexius said. “Everybody’s got to have it.”
A first visit to Bark & Garden might be overwhelming for even the most practiced gardener.
“It’s so large they don’t know where to look,” Rexius said. “That’s where the customer service comes in.”
Since 2002, his inventory has increased 50 percent and tens of thousands of square feet in retails space has been added, Rexius said.
A new 6,000-square-foot covered plant sale area added in 2014 allows shoppers to browse plants and stay dry underneath a greenhouse roof. It’s part of trend that other local nurseries are embracing.
“People want to shop out of the weather,” Rexius said.
Like flowers, shoppers tend to bloom at a faster rate when the sun comes out.
“You have to feel warm and fuzzy about it,” Rexius said of garden shopping. “You’re not going to want to go to a nursery when it’s pouring down rain and the wind is blowing sideways.”
A 6,000-square-foot retail area added in 2007 carries the usual collection of gardening supplies and accoutrements: seeds, tools, bulbs, fertilizers.
50 The percent increase in inventory at Bark and Garden since 2002
There are many reminders that you’re not shopping at Home Depot. Chief among them is a collection of Sasquatches, giant lizards and other whimsical creatures.
“People take Christmas photos with (Sasquatch). It’s a really big draw,” Rexius said.
There’s no restaurant on the site, but Rexius does carry coffee, tea and yerba mate — as living plants. The tea plants sell as fast as he gets them in.
One greenhouse is devoted to house plants. A large variety of longtime favorites include ferns, cactus, citrus trees, Abutilons and succulents in a rainbow of colors.
The variety of plant material at Bark and Garden is so vast that it attracts photo enthusiasts along with gardeners, Rexius said.
Rexius offered his tips and takes on vegetables, perennials, trees and general landscaping.
“In the last 10 to 15 years, veggies have taken on a whole other realm,” Rexius said. Consumers want organic, non-GMO and ultra-local plants.
“People like the idea of knowing where their food comes from,” he said. “There’s nothing like walking out your back porch to get a tomato or fresh herb.”
Some herbs like rosemary also make good landscaping plants, he noted.
Along with seeds, Rexius has a greenhouse devoted to vegetable starts.
A portion of the nursery’s new structure is devoted to shade-loving perennials. Outdoor areas and other greenhouses offer more.
The honeybush, Melianthus major, has blue-green serrated leaves that smell like peanut butter. “It’s one of my favorites,” Rexius said.
Nearby are bronze-leaved Rodgersias and black-leaved Cimicifuga which sends up all-white perfumed flower spikes in summer.
“We have people come and search out these things,” Rexius said.
While houses have gotten bigger, their planting areas have gotten smaller. That means that big trees have become a thing of the past for most homeowners.
In the past 10 years, Rexius has had to shift his inventory accordingly.
“People want trees that are going to stay manageable, aren’t going to block a view, aren’t going to make a mess,” he said.
But that hasn’t limited what he sells.
“There are a lot of really cool trees out there that don’t get huge. Especially in the conifer world,” he said.
He likes Oxydendrum arboreum (sourwood) and Heptacodium miconioides (seven son tree) for their late season blossoms and fall color.
“People come in all the time and say ‘I have an area where I want a beautiful specimen and it has no water and I don’t want to take care of it. What do you have?’ ” Rexius said.
He doesn’t have anything that fits that bill. But, he can still help people.
He advises customers to start with foundation plants: five or six trees.
“The rest is easy to fill in,” he said as long as you think variety: color, textures and size. Don’t get seduced by what’s in bloom at the moment.
“It’s easy this time of year to come in and buy 50 rhodies because they are all in bloom. Those are great, but in two weeks those are going to go out of bloom.”
Instead, get a variety of plants that bloom and change leaf color at different times of the year.
“That’s the whole goal with the yard: for it to be ever changing,” Rexius said.
If you go
Bark & Garden
Where: 4004 Harrison Ave. NW, Olympia.
Hours: 9 a.m-5 p.m. daily.
More info: 360-352-2955, barkandgarden.com.