The following is a reproduction of the article which appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"Tarrant Business", September 5 - 10, 1995, about Weston Gardens.
Advertising fall flowers for sale or a new shipment of trees is a common marketing ploy used by most nurseries and garden centers.
At Weston Gardens in Bloom, however, such obvious merchandising goes against the business philosophy espoused by owners Sue and Randy Weston. Dedicated environmentalists, their goal is to elevate the image of gardening.
“Our ads never emphasize products per se,” says Sue Weston, who says she thinks of landscaping as outdoor decorating. “We always promote the outdoor experience of gardening. We want people to listen to the birds, see the butterflies and enjoy their surroundings. That’s why we’re in business.”
Taking time to smell the roses is something the Westons cultivate in their lives. Texas Tech University graduates, they put the brakes on fast-paced, lucrative corporate careers 11 years ago after stress became a way of life. Randy Weston’s job as manager for a major accounting firm kept him away from home, and Sue Weston, a certified public accountant, felt chained indoors each spring until the April 15 tax deadline.
“It was burnout,” Randy Weston says, explaining why they traded briefcases for wheelbarrows. “We began to question what we were really doing with our lives and what our legacy was going to be.”
They found answers in their rural backgrounds. Both were raised on farms in the Panhandle, and, Randy Weston Says, “Once you introduce children at an early age to the outdoors and nature, it never leaves the senses. You can’t get the ‘ag’ out of your system.”
Farming wasn’t an option, and ranching “is impossible unless you’re huge,” so the Westons chose another option: selling trees.
“Our friends in the corporate world thought we went off the deep end, but at the same time, they were envious,” says Randy Weston, a statistician who pored over charts and graphs while researching the landscaping business.
But careful planning didn’t prepare them for a downturn in the Texas economy.
“There’s nothing like starting a business in the middle of a depression,” recalls Randy Weston, who watched the real estate and financial markets plummet in 1984. “Our neighborhood bank went under, and the others didn’t want to grant a loan on perishable inventory. We really had to stretch to keep things going.”
The Westons also faced a mental challenge. During the nursery’s first five years, they kept a psychological escape hatch open. If their investment failed, they still had their business backgrounds to fall back on.
“We finally shut that door and made a commitment to make things work here,” Sue Weston says.
The extra effort paid off.
Not blessed with the best business location (the nursery is in rural Fort Worth between Everman and Kennedale), the owners developed a niche in the local market. Instead of bedding flats full of annuals and common shrubs, Weston Gardens in Bloom carries long-lasting perennials, native plants and hard-to-find antique roses. The inventory is showcased in neatly labeled demonstration gardens established across the street from the original nursery.
The Westons consider their 1988 purchase of the sprawling 10-acre garden site a lucky break. They had no idea that land bordering their nursery was part of the Leon Bandy Estate until the current owner offered it for sale.
A Fort Worth architect, Bandy built his home into a garden showplace in the 1930s and 1940s complete with antique rose beds, a lily pond, wedding court and a stone ship used for outdoor dances. Years of neglect killed off most of the lush tropical plants, ferns and native grasses, but enough of the yard’s splendor remained to make the Westons feel that they had found the key to a secret garden.
“The beauty of this property is that there are so many different environments,” Randy Weston says, standing under a wisteria-draped arbor built by Bandy in 1933. “You can illustrate all the different facets of gardening here.”
Over the past seven years, the Westons have carefully reclaimed and preserved the historic grounds, adding new gardens and architectural elements important to modern landscaping.
During peak spring weekends, more than 500 people come out to visit the “living showroom.”
“Show a customer how a plant blooms and grows, and it will sell itself,” Randy Weston says.
Sale of plants and perennials now surpasses landscaping contracts as the nursery’s largest moneymaker. To keep up with demand, the Westons have started propagating their own rose bushes from cuttings.
They also offer free brochures and educational seminars on topics from heat-tolerant flowers to shrubs that attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
“To get people to try new things, you have to educate them, and that takes time and money,” says Randy Weston, who coordinates the seminars when he is not overseeing landscaping jobs or new product development.
It also takes tremendous dedication, something both Westons possess. Their family, which includes 3-year-old Jackson, hasn’t taken a real vacation in 11 years.
“We don’t see that letting up for five years,” adds Sue Weston, who lives nearby and manages the nursery’s day-to-day operations. “We have good people working for us, but we’re growing and we have to stay on top of things. When it comes to watering in the summer, even an hour or two can be fatal to your inventory.”
The 17-acre spread requires constant care, and the Westons acknowledge that in some ways, they’ve traded one set of job-related problems for another. Visitors to Weston Gardens often peruse the scenic walkways to reduce stress.
“When we look around, all we see is stress,” Randy Weston says, smiling at the irony. “There are weeds, gardens that need watering and work that needs to be done.”
But when pressures created by summer drought build, the Westons open a sure-fire relief valve.
“All it takes is one drive downtown to convince us that we made the right decision,” Randy Weston says.
Joan Kurkowski-Gillen is a Saginaw free-lance writer.
By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
September 5 – 10, 1995
© Copyright 2015 Weston Gardens in Bloom, Inc.