Successful Operator- September/October 2007

September 30, 2007
Written by Marg Zavaros
When Paul Morris, owner and operator of Acorus Restoration in Walsingham, Ont., took a booth at Toronto’s Flower and Garden show Canada Blooms, he met a wide range of gardeners who wanted to know more about native plants.
Acorus Restoration Native Plant Nursery.  Eco-friendly Nursery a Natural Choice for Consumers

10When Paul Morris, owner and operator of Acorus Restoration in Walsingham, Ont., took a booth at Toronto’s Flower and Garden show Canada Blooms, he met a wide range of gardeners who wanted to know more about native plants. As he distributed over 5,000 Black-Eyed Susan seed packets he learned firsthand that people of all ages are interested in starting a native plant garden.  

Morris established Acorus Restoration: Native Plant Nursery 12 years ago on a 95-acre former tobacco farm. Since then, he hasn’t looked back. “I established this nursery as a focal point for what can be done to give something back to heal the planet,” Morris says.

In the beginning, Acorus Restoration started as a native wetland plant nursery. But the wholesale business grew over the years as Morris added native prairie grasses, wildflowers, trees, shrubs, vines and seeds and eventually a consulting business to Acorus. He grows all his own plants and the seeds he sells are gathered from plants on the farm. The centre’s motto is “plant it and they will come.”

Morris is helping to restore the farmland to its natural origins. When early settlers first arrived in southern Ontario over a century ago, they found the land covered with prairie plants. Today, only pockets of the original prairie are present throughout this area.

The term “prairie” refers to a field consisting of native plants. It includes prairie grasses such as big bluestem, Indian grass, and switch grass, which can grow more than two metres tall. Prairie meadow wildflowers such as dense blazing star, tall sunflower and Culver’s root are among the 200 varieties of wildflowers that flourish when grown with prairie grasses.

Morris says right now prairie species are being used for green roofs and studies are underway to see if prairie species can be converted to make bio-fuels.

Acorus Restoration’s prime market is landscape companies, developers and conservation authorities who buy native plants for golf courses, businesses and conservation tracts. 

“Our big orders come from those who want to plant large areas but if home gardeners drop in we’re happy to spend time with them,” he says. Customers can browse through a half-acre display garden to see which prairie grasses and wildflowers they’d like to buy. “We provide good customer service on the spot or I will offer my services as a consultant. We never turn anyone away who arrives here.”   

Morris says his revenue comes via large contract orders from all over southern Ontario. Consultant jobs and special speaking engagements also help to round out his income.

All of the plants sold at Acorus Restoration are ecologically friendly.  “They tolerate dry conditions and don’t need a constant supply of water. They attract wildlife, birds and butterflies and do not require fertilizers or pesticides. People find they’re highly compatible with rock arrangements for a low maintenance garden and native plants are a good choice because they fit into the busy lifestyle of their owners. Depending on what colour and display is required – there’s a plant for all seasons, ” says Morris. 

In the large field of prairie plants on the Acorus Restoration farm, a controlled burn takes place every spring to discourage unwanted plants like quack grass and dandelions. “In April while the ground’s still wet, we disc around the field to create a burn barrier. The burn cleans up old stocks, heats the soil, stimulates the prairie plants to send out new shoots and it takes nitrogen out of the soil, as the low intensity fire moves over the field very quickly. A permit is required from the municipality for a prescribed burn and we control it very carefully.”       

Recently Morris was the recipient of a grant from the Community Transition Program established by the province to assist those in the tobacco growing counties of Norfolk, Elgin, Oxford and Brant. “The grant will help me improve my nursery in general and create more jobs. I’m in the process of starting a retail outlet here and I hope it will help bring eco-tours to this area.”  

Throughout the year, workshops on the farm are offered free of charge. Self-guided or guided trail tours lead to prairie, woodland, wet meadow, marsh and stream ecological restoration sites.
The nursery opens to the public in April on Earth Day and closes in early October. The workforce consists of three full-time workers for 10 months, three seasonal part-time workers plus a number of students during the summer months.

Acorus Restoration is one of the few native plant nurseries in southwestern Ontario and publicity and promotion of the business takes place through the website, trade shows, catalogues and word of mouth.

“We’re becoming widely known because we sell good quality plants at a reasonable price,” added Morris.  

Paul’s Picks
If you’d like to try a Prairie garden, here’s Paul’s Picks:    
•    Sweet Flag (Acorus americanus), Acorus Restoration’s namesake
•    Black-Eyed Susan
•    Wild Lupine
•    Cardinal-flower
•    Michigan Lily
•    Arrowhead
•    Bottle Gentian
•    Sweetgrass
•    Little Bluestem
•    Indian Grass
•    Butterfly Milkweed
•    Dense Blazing Star
•    Grey-Headed Coneflower
•    Flowering Raspberry
•    Wild Bergamot

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