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Courtland Gardens Corners a Tropical Niche

June 23, 2008  By Garden Centre & Nursery staff

Located on a busy highway outside
of Tillsonburg, Ont., Courtland Gardens and Landscaping Centre is
responsible for spreading a little tropical flair throughout
southwestern Ontario, a niche that’s continuing to grow with customers.

june-2008Located on a busy highway outside of Tillsonburg, Ont., Courtland Gardens and Landscaping Centre is responsible for spreading a little tropical flair throughout southwestern Ontario, a niche that’s continuing to grow with customers.


The garden centre has been operating in the area for 12 years, and opens each year at the beginning of April and runs right up until Christmas. When it first opened in 1996, the business was located in the neighbouring town of Courtland, Ont., but shortly after it changed owners, the centre moved to its current location alongside a busy highway on the outskirts of Tillsonburg. The business has a six-acre garden centre that employs 11 staff members during the peak season, as well as a landscaping and carpentry division, all of which operate in conjunction with each other. “The garden centre is a big front door for the landscape and carpentry division,” says John Veldman, who co-owns the business with Bryan Jelsma and Hank Roos.

At a Glance

Company Name:
Courtland Gardens and Landscaping Centre
Location: Tillsonburg, Ont.
John Veldman, Bryan Jelsma and Hank Roos
Years in Business: 12

The garden centre is stocked with the usual line of gardening products – annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs, evergreens and water gardening products – as well as an assortment of the unusual. Courtland Gardens specializes in palm trees, shipped straight up from Florida. Trevor Swance, horticulture and maintenance manager at Courtland Gardens says the idea actually came from a good customer who’d inquired about getting a palm tree for his private golf course a few years ago. Swance says they’ve since experimented with the trees and have been able to find a few cold, hardy palms that work well with Ontario’s climate. The sizes range from five feet to 25 feet and the prices run from as little as $500 to $3,000. Customers have the option of outright buying the palm or signing onto a three-to-five year contract. By signing on to the contract, the customer gets to enjoy the exotic atmosphere that the palm creates, without the hassle of storing it when the temperature drops.

Courtland Gardens is responsible for putting out the trees, typically on the May long weekend, and picking up the plants from the customer around the Labour Day weekend or later, if weather permits. Courtland Gardens overwinters the palms in a heated barn, lit with natural lighting, with the temperature controlled to just about freezing. The palms are popular with both homeowners and businesses, especially those around Ontario’s Great Lakes. “It’s fairly unique, I think we’re one of the only ones in Ontario who carry them,” says Swance.

Right now, Courtland Gardens distri-butes between 40-50 palm trees each year, although they expect the number to grow as more people see the palms. Because palm trees are such a rare sight, they work as a great advertisement for the centre. “The traffic driving by will stop by and see if they are real or not,” says Swance.

Courtland Gardens staff members (left to right) Krystal Sivyer, Sue Arbour, garden centre manager Robin Lavery, Amber Way and Hanna Bisschop

To complement the unique palms, the garden centre’s new manager Robin Lavery is working to offer customers a variety of unusual plants. “The goal is to get something you can’t find anywhere

else,” says Lavery. Customers can now get orchids, hibiscus, smaller palms and hard-to-find annuals at the centre. She plans to incorporate these new products with the palms to give the feel of “bringing the tropics home to you” with their customers. In addition to the tropical palms and plants, the centre also sells a high volume of Japanese maples. “We’re finding that Japanese maples do quite well for us,” says Swance. They bring in the maples each year from a supplier in British Columbia.

Moving to the technical side of the business, the company recently launched a brand new website in April where customers can go online to view the services as well as pictures of the centre and landscaping projects. Customers can go online to sign up for the centre’s customer loyalty program as well as view weekly specials. There is also a section where gardeners can read about the palm trees and submit their own planting questions. Swance addresses many of these questions each week in a section that appears in the local newspaper. The company does most of its advertising in print and also sponsors a number of sports teams and community events to get the business name out there.

When it comes to challenges, Swance says the centre has worked to overcome the box store effect by providing knowledge and creating a variety of unique plants. Veldman believes that box stores have actually worked to the garden centres’ advantage by giving beginner gardeners a start. “A lot of times people are afraid of the box stores but what they do is create hobbyists.” He says once gardeners get more involved with the hobby, they eventually seek out garden centres for their selection and expertise.

Looking to the future, Veldman says the company hopes to expand the garden centre and build a new glass facility to house the increasing palm business, a niche that’s not likely to stop growing anytime soon.

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