Rich Eyre is a conifer collector turned nurseryman who has turned his passion into his own thriving business, Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery. Rich has been participating in the Chicago Flower & Garden Show for over 25 years and has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to gardening, landscaping and how to enjoy the show.
I interviewed Rich as a part of our 6 Questions feature: a series of one-on-one interviews with people we work with who’ve made us proud. As the marketing and design team behind the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, we get an inside glance at how the show is built and who helps make it work so seamlessly. Part of that success comes from the garden builders who create inspiring and inventive show gardens that always wow visitors. Participating with a featured show garden and seminar, Rich’s work both inside and outside of the Chicago Flower & Garden Show has gotten us excited about spring gardening, and I hope it does the same for you too.
Read on to learn tips for growing rare trees, easy ways to spice up your garden and how to enjoy your visit to the 2013 Chicago Flower & Garden Show.
1. Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery has been a part of the Chicago Flower & Garden Show for the past 20 years. What would you say is the biggest benefit to being involved in the show?
Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery has grown dwarf conifers and unusual ornamental trees for the last 25 years, so the biggest benefit was to display our unique plant material to gardeners from around the Midwest. And as a result, our customer base grew. During the show, I would offer visitors a free 15-minute design for their budget, garden dimensions and sun/shade restrictions. We did this to help inform the gardening public that there were more tree options than just arborvitae, junipers and yews! For instance, the dwarf and garden conifers have fabulous color, interesting texture, shape, great cones and bark.
The biggest personal gain is the hope that I have raised consciousness about world hunger issues. All sales from our vendor booth at the show have benefited Heifer International (www.heifer.org) and Mano a Mano International (www.manoamano.org).
2. Rich, where did your passion for gardening and landscaping begin?
I was raised in a truck farming family. My mother and grandmother worked and I stayed home with my great-grandmother, who was born in 1861. She and I gardened together and she taught me the proper way to handle plants. For example, “don’t expose the tomato plant roots to the air while planting.”
In 1958, I made my first professional landscape at a house my dad built—and the Lannon Stone and Colorado Blue Spruce still remain there today! In 1968, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia at the end of the most dangerous road in the world. In my book locker I found the first book written on dwarf conifers. It was there in Bolivia that I first dreamed about starting a dwarf conifer nursery.
3. Your nursery specializes in growing conifers and rare trees. What guidance would you give to someone looking to start their own collection of unique plants?
Plant what you like. You must bond with the plants! There is a big difference between a garden and a landscape. And Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery helps people create gardens.
Gardeners need to know how much sun an area receives in the summer, what kind of soil they have, what is the drainage situation and what is the growth rate of the desired plant. One common error is to plant too much, too close and too near to the house.
Also, it’s helpful to attend meetings of the plant society of the plants you like. My group is the American Conifer Society (ACS) (www.conifersociety.org). The regional meeting is in Schaumburg, IL, on June 21 and 22, 2013.
4. As the marketing and design team behind the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, part of our job is to come up with new and engaging ideas to promote the show each year. As a returning participant, how do you keep your show garden new and exciting every year?
Since I am a plant geek, I introduce new plants each year for everyone to admire, and I like to feature new garden art. Each year, I create three vignettes in my garden and one is always for shade situations. At the nursery I have 2,500 varieties of conifers, 1,000 varieties of deciduous trees and shrubs and over the last 25 years I‘ve bought over 1,000 perennials. All hosta sales benefit Heifer International at the show and at the nursery all year.
This year we grew 50 varieties of perennials for the display, plus there is a new pondless water feature that has a bubbling boulder. This presents a water feature that limits liability and maintenance issues. The sound of bubbling or falling water can also be very relaxing, and is worth about three psychiatrists!
5. This year your show garden features ‘Jurustic Park’ and Dr. Seuss-inspired vignettes. What else can visitors expect to see at your garden?
We have always aspired to expose the public to unique trees and new gardening ideas that can be incorporated into their gardens. This display features some of the most abstract trees. These specimens are living art that enhance the garden with unusual color, texture and form—expanding the palette by which you can paint the landscape. The garden incorporates conifers with bicolor foliage, species that turn brilliant yellow in winter, extreme weeping specimens, conifers with twisted-looking needles and plants that span a wide color spectrum. These extraordinary trees are perfect forms for the urban landscape, with numerous plants suited for shade, columnar trees for narrow spaces and dwarf forms to fit into tight little spots. Slope has also been used to give interest to the design and to show how an inclined plane increases the viewing lines from inside the house.
Three vignettes highlight funky and formal display pieces that reflect back over the 20 years Rich’s Foxwillow Pines has been at the show. Distinctive animal sculptures crafted by Clyde Wynia of Jurustic Park in Marshfield, WI are made of rusty pieces of farm and industrial machinery. A Dr. Seuss-inspired whimsical village is tucked among some of the most abstract trees. Shona sculptures from Zimbabwe are situated in a forest of shade-tolerant conifers, Japanese maples, hostas and other shade perennials.
6. As a veteran of the show, what advice would you give to first-time attendees trying to make the most of their visit?
First-time attendees should come for inspiration and information. Bring paper and a pen to write down plants that excite you. Then do the research to find out if they grow where your garden is.
You should also learn about plants zones. Chicago is Zone 5 and we can grow plants that also have Zone 4, 3, or 2 (colder zones)—although, our climate has gotten warmer over that last decade. Zone 6, 7, or 8 (warmer zones) plants are somewhat tricky and suffer or perish in the harshest winters or summers. Bring photos of your garden for advice. We staff our gardens with people who have more than 25 years of experience, so they are happy to help with any questions.
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