Digging for “Rusty Gold”
by Anne-Marie Hardie
Originally published 01/01/2015 at GROWERTALKS.
Egge Seed & Nursery in Eugene, Oregon, is far from your standard garden center. It shares its space with a 2,000-acre farm, a large barn and a myriad of farm animals. But that’s not all — interspersed throughout the aisles of hanging baskets and plants are containers of what owner Jennifer Egge fondly terms “rusty gold.” It’s these containers that have garnered a loyal clientele, who drive by larger garden centers in the search for something unique.
Creativity and gardening are in Jennifer’s genes. Her mother made clothing and painted, while her father loved plants. It was an interesting match, shared Jennifer. Her father would bring home plants and her mother would put them together. Jennifer was drawn to the different colors and textures in plants, and at one time, thought that she would become a florist. However, her love for the outdoors drew her to the nursery path and eventually container gardening.
As a freshman in high school in Bend, Oregon, Jennifer worked at her local nursery beginning with watering and then evolving to creating hanging baskets and a variety for containers. Here Jennifer not only fostered her love for plants, but developed a passion for the diversity in succulents (a passion that she would eventually bring to her own garden center).
Years later in Eugene, Jennifer managed a local nursery, brought up her young family and met her husband Chad, a local farmer. The farm was expanding, so Jennifer left her work at the nursery and began working on the farm. Despite the success of the farm, Jennifer missed the gentle interaction and creative outlet that she was accustomed to in the greenhouse. So Chad built Jennifer a hobby greenhouse — a home for her to feed her passion and develop her creativity.
In this small community, word travels fast. Jennifer’s old customers, hearing that there was now a greenhouse on site, began to seek her out for the container gardens that they were missing. Five years later, this hobby greenhouse evolved into a seasonal garden center known for its unique products and “rusty gold.”
“People come out here to see what new junk we have planted, and if they want something special that their neighbor doesn’t have on their porch, they always come here,” said Jennifer. “You’re not going to see row after row of the same hanging basket or the same planter. We are small enough that I can make each hanging basket and each planter different. It is a niche.”
To create these one-of-a-kind containers, Jennifer hunts antiques, old farm items, and junk in the off-season. Galvanized containers remain her favorite pieces to work with, both for their unique look and their longevity. Her creativity has also transferred to the garden center itself, creating an environment where people happily wander through the center and the farm. Striving to set herself apart from the box stores, Jennifer wants to give her customers a place that’s both peaceful and inspiring, where they can bring the family to visit the farm animals or simply take a glance at the unique containers speckled throughout the garden center.
Expanding from the typical annuals and perennials, Jennifer has also introduced succulents to her customers in Eugene. These plants hold a huge appeal, said Jennifer, making wonderful container gardens that are easy, low-maintenance and thrive year round.
“We have an entire greenhouse dedicated to succulents,” said Jennifer. “So if you’re looking for something weird or cool, you can come out here and you can usually find a succulent that you have not seen before.”
Jennifer has planted almost everything from old bottles to a barn silo. She constantly repurposes barn junk, combining the colors and textures that she loves to create an inspiration piece.
“I didn’t grow up on a farm,” said Jennifer. “I started seeing unique things int he barn and walking the field with my dog. I would find things sticking out of the ground that the farms had thrown down years ago. It was pretty amazing and I wondered where these things came from and the story behind them.”
Her favorite planter came from an idea to create a living wedding dress for her daughter’s wedding, which has also resulted in an on-side wedding venue. Jennifer found the container that would eventually become the bodice and an antique store. She then planted it with 500 Million Bells Calibrachoa, 50 gallons of dirt, and two bales of moss. The end result was a beautiful dress that greeted the wedding guests upon their arrival. Today, the “wedding dress lady” continues to be repurposed—the current transformation is a “Christmas lady” for a local business.
Today, Egge Seed and Nursery has expanded to eight greenhouses, offering their customers not only unique plants, but also the expertise of someone who’s been in the business for decades. Although the business was initially wholesale, Jennifer has garnered a strong retail clientele, leaving only two to three wholesale clients. Requests for weddings has also slowly began to trickle in with Egge Seed and Nursery offering the venue, a local florist and Jennifer’s creative container gardens.
One thing that’s helped to draw customers to her business is the local home show, something Jennifer encountered two years ago.
“The first year we did the home show it increased our customer account by 30%,” said Jennifer. “And last year, we had almost 50% more customers than the year before just from the home show.”
Social media has also gathered a following, with customers sharing Jennifer’s designs on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Currently, Egge Seed and Nursery is open from March to July. Eventually, Jennifer would like to extend the season, but for now is focused on the spring and the budding on-side wedding business. Although, the nursery is closed at Christmas, Jennifer does take custom orders to create containers, wreaths and other Christmas items.
Jennifer’s dream is to be able to focus mainly on the nursery, expanding both the budding wedding business and continuing to show the beauty in “rusty gold.” She wants her customers to have a place that they can come, and not only find what they’re looking for, but leave feeling relaxed and inspired.