For the gardeners among us, you may never buy another seed packet from Burpee’s after you read this travesty of a story. Six years ago, Burpee’s bought Dan Hinkley’s Heronswood Nursery. If you’ve never read, heard about or seen Heronswood I feel sorry for you. It was an oasis of the beautiful, rare and exotic plants from around the world which Dan dug up on his trips around the world. Hinkley is one of the great botanical adventurers of our time. He sought out regions of the world whose climate mirrored the Pacific Northwest and hiked into the backcountry to harvest specimens which he grew back home and sold to the public. In this way, he introduced American gardeners to some of the most extraordinary plants they’d ever see. A visit to Heronswood’s site was a feast for the eyes–filled with sumptuous colors and luxuriant forms.
I always loved Hinkley’s catalogues which he published yearly. They were filled with his charming, idiosyncratic prose. They purposely didn’t have any pictures (at least until Burpee got hold of it), just plant names (Latin only) and descriptions. Dan made you work hard. He didn’t give it to you on a silver platter. If you visited Heronswood, which I was privileged to do once before he sold it to Burpee, you wouldn’t find a single plant name in English–only Latin. If you weren’t botanically trained it made for some difficult shopping. But you had to respect the purity of his vision and I did.
Then Dan sold his baby to Burpee’s with the promise that nothing would change. He’d continue to gallivant around the world looking for the most wonderful plants and his partner, Robert Jones would manage the business end. But it didn’t work out for Burpee’s. A nursery which Dan and Robert had managed successfully for years before they sold it to Burpee’s somehow didn’t churn enough cash for the corporate maw. Security guards came early on May 31st and took possession of Heronswood from Dan and Robert. The wonderful Heronswood that we knew and loved is no more (this from the Seattle Times):
For the founders of Heronswood as well as the thousands of gardeners who visited the lush nursery over the years, the news was devastating.
“This has been like dealing with a death in the family,” said Daniel J. Hinkley, who began Heronswood with his partner Robert Jones nearly 20 years ago. “We’re sad because we believed in Heronswood and believed it was more than just a nursery. We were trying to contribute to the horticultural community and the community as a whole.”
…”This is a disaster,” Richard Hartlage, a prominent landscape architect said. “Everyone is just shocked.”
George Ball is a cultural vandal just as surely as those who tore down the old Pennsylvania Station in New York City in 1966 and consigned the stone facade of the McKim Mead and White landmark to the New Jersey Meadowlands (where a preservationist found them years later neck deep in swamp). One could compare this to the burning of the ancient library at Alexandria, the largest then existing library in the world. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating. But don’t believe me, let Dan tell it:
“One thing I want to tell the people at Burpees is that the garden is filled with some extraordinarily rare things, and I hope that whoever acquires it values it.”
Do you think George Ball is listening or gives a shit??
Burpee’s is slime as a company. Their Neanderthal president, George Ball, wrote a heinous Op-Ed column/advertisement (link to my blog post which links, in turn to the column) in the New York Times a few months ago in which he attacked the Native Plant movement as ‘plant elitists.’ If you love plants, gardens and natives as many of us do, reading that column makes your blood boil. And if this post doesn’t turn you off Burpee’s for good, then reading that column will surely do the job.
Ball’s comment in the Seattle PI are unintentionally damning:
“But we’re not closing it, we’re just moving it,” he said.
Right, just moving it to Pennsylvania; or else moving it online. What about the physical Heronswood we all know and love from its Whidbey Island paradise?
Oh and in case you didn’t know, Mr. Ball seems to be under the mistaken impression that gardeners only live on the east coast:
When we purchased this six years ago,” he said, “we were anxious to make it a profitable company that would be fulfilling our ambition to serve a national audience of gardeners, which is predominantly on the East Coast. For six years we worked away at it. But finally we decided the best thing would be that we relocate.”
Makes lots of sense to me. You buy one of the world’s most prominent nurseries located on the WEST COAST when you all along believe the “national audience” for gardening is on the east coast. Is he a lunkhead or just a Vandal or both?
And in this interview from the North Kitsap Herald, Ball appears geographically-challenged reminding me of the subject of a Stephen Colbert interview:
“This will be the best of both worlds,” Ball said. “We’re not moving away from the Pacific Northwest, we’re moving to Pennsylvania.”
And how about clueless:
Ball said he and Burpee worked hard to provide a good severance package for the employees and wishes nothing but the best for them. He also said they didn’t seem too upset by the news….
“I’m still angry,” [Heronswood employee Connie] Lammers said. “I was in shock when I first heard about it. Working there was more than business or a job. The employees were like extended family.”
“The plants we’ve collected from around the world will be tested under conditions more similar to those of our customers,” he said.
You see, there are no Burpee customers on the west coast; or if there are Ball sure doesn’t give a damn about ’em. To which I say let’s give ’em hell and make sure they have no customers not just on the west coast but in other places which don’t care for nursery vandalism (see last paragraph).
Though Dan has a five year non-compete clause with Burpee’s, I hope he’ll begin planning now for a new nursery venture. Dan, don’t let Burpee’s have the last word in this matter. Don’t let Burpee’s commit an act of nursery vandalism by dismantling the treasure that was Heronswood. We need you to act as a counter to the Burpee’s of the gardening world.
Another aspect of Burpee’s corporate philosophy which I detest is that they’re not content to just sell plants. They want to own the plants and their DNA.
I propose that gardeners and native plant lovers organize a national boycott of Burpee’s. What’s more, we should pressure our favorite nursery retailers to join the boycott by refusing to stock Burpee’s products. I know they’re the biggest seed sellers in the world, but who needs ’em. There aren’t other seeds for sale from other companies? Companies which don’t ride roughshod over the botanical heritage of the Pacific Northwest.