By Shannon Larson
Tucked away on a back country road in Aurora, Oregon is the home of one of the largest hydrangea retail businesses in the country. Amethyst Hill Nursery/Hydrangeas Plus is one of three well-known operations in the U.S. to specialize in growing hydrangeas for both wholesale and retail purposes and has played an important role in the scientific study of these plants as well, partnering with universities and research institutions across the country.
The 12-acre farm was purchased in 1999 by Kristin VanHoose and her husband David. Looking for a way out of the corporate world and a way into the country, the VanHooses moved to Oregon from Washington to start a new life and a new family. They purchased the farm which was already home to an established hydrangea nursery that grew over 70 varieties of hydrangeas. Now, just eleven years later, the farm is home to around 250 varieties and also includes some landscaping plants such as broad leaf and evergreen trees. The farm itself is a maze of greenhouses, housing blooms of all colors and sizes.
The VanHooses began marketing their product and soon found their business was growing exponentially along with the growth of hydrangeas country-wide. Amethyst Hill Nursery, the wholesale portion of the business, began selling products to local grocery stores and retail outlets around the state, but it was their mail-order business known as Hydrangeas Plus that really brought the VanHoose’s product national recognition. Now, after years of promoting their product in catalogues, the VanHoose’s have discovered the worlds of social media and social networking and are promoting their hydrangeas on both YouTube and Facebook (see Hydrangeas Plus Facebook page).
Hydrangeas Plus now ships Oregon products all around the U.S. and has begun to ship plants to other parts of North America. The catalogue features a wide aray of hydrangeas in all colors and sizes and is constantly being updated to include more varieties of hydrangeas that are available for shipment. The catalogue andwebsite also provide tips on how to care for and maintain these water-needy plants. With the addition of a Facebook page, hydrangea growers around the country also have the opportunity to ask questions about caring for the plants and can get responses quickly and accurately from both the VanHooses and other gardeners.
Along with providing customers quality products and information about the care of hydrangeas, the VanHooses have partnered with universities and researchers across the country including the United States Department of Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Service in order to better understand this plant. They house test plants for researchers where they document how the plant grows, when it blooms, what kind of pests it attracts and what these pests do to the plants, along with many other important facts that help in the study and preservation of hydrangeas. This research helps not only the scientists but allows growers the chance to learn more about how to breed these plants and create blooms that will last.
Amethyst Hill Nursery, although usually closed to the public, does offer a spring sale in March as well as an overstock sale sometime in April or May. In June the VanHooses hope to finish their display garden which will greet visitors upon entering the property and will showcase some of their finest blooms.
Amethyst Hill Nursery/Hydrangeas Plus continues to maintain a strong role in Oregon agriculture. The small farm’s motto “We grow with care and it shows…” not only represents the quality of their products to consumers across North America but the quality of Oregon agricultural products in general.