Log House Plants
by Kelly Gates for Country Folks Grower
Log House Plants has been growing plants for customers in the Pacific Northwest since 1974 when owners Alice Doyle and Greg Lee put up the first greenhouse on their newly-purchased property, a serene plot of land surrounded by the forest in the foothills of the Willamette Valley, near Cottage Grove, OR.
The building was constructed using tempered glass shelving removed from an old department store in Eugene, OR. Since the store was being torn down, they were able to purchase the entire allotment of glass for around $35.
The following spring, the duo stuffed their van with vegetable and annuals starts and began delivering them to a handful of customers throughout the region. According to Alice, the response was tremendous.
“There were very few growers at the time,” she said. “We were encouraged by enthusiastic accounts to ‘follow our bliss’ and to develop new ideas and crops. We pulled off a sequence of special projects through the years and that is where we found our joy.”
One of their first major undertakings was to grow fall and winter vegetable starts for farmers and gardeners who were direct sowing brassicas and greens during July in August. Most already had successful summer sowing programs but wanted to harvest every month of the year if possible.
So, Alice and Greg joined forces with local farmers, Oregon State University and a couple of breeding experts, Steve Solomon and Binda Colebrook, to develop a line of veggie starts that would enable growers to do just that.
Customers were extremely please with the new lines. And, inspired by double-digit volume increases each year, Log House Plants began taking on other projects.
“We were the first grower I knew to color code a project using colored plastic labels to show overwintering, fall or continuous harvest vegetables,” she explained. “People stopped on the street to encourage us saying that our overwintering varieties were magic.”
The varieties included Purple Sprouting broccoli, a vegetable planted anytime from July to September for a late February harvest. Several varieties of Armado Cauliflower were also introduced, each one hybridized with the Dutch “backyard” grower in mind.
The cauliflower transplants were to be planted in late August and harvested every two weeks starting in mid-March. According to Alice, successive harvest of around half an acre at a time is much more convenient for the typical end consumer, a person with a smaller garden and full-time job.
Another major innovation the nursery helped to introduce in 1979 is the 4-inch perennial. It was a major advancement for the industry, but one that took a little getting used to, she said.
“The bloom times were confusing to gardeners who were used to growing annuals. They were confusing to all of us,” Alice stated. “So, we created our Perennial Flower Manual for Ease of Designing for Continuous Color in the Flowerbed. We also developed a colorful labeling system.”
As the company expanded, new offerings were added to its inventory all the time. Some were common varieties that had been around for a while. Others were new hybrids or unique selections brought in from countries around the world.
Lupine ‘New Generation’ is one such plant. It has densely-packed, brilliantly-colored three-foot floral spikes and a sturdy, disease-resistant constitution. The tall flowers require no spiking and its pest-resistance makes it a far cry from the aphid-ridden cultivars of old.
“Four years ago, Lupine ‘New Generation’ received the highest award from the Queen of England, the Vetch award, and more than 13 gold medals from the Royal Horticulture Society over the years,” said Alice.
Because of Log House Plants’ relationship with the original breeders, it was the exclusive grower of Lupine ‘New Generation’ in the U.S. for many years, she added.
The 1980s and on
In the late 1980s, Alice and Greg took on a new endeavor. They started growing for Jackson & Perkins. The company that was so impressed with the selections produced by the nursery that Log House Plant varieties have made its top ten list each year for the past 12 years.
“We were also one of the first commercial growers to grow Stevia rebaudiana, a health-beneficial, non-caloric sugar substitute,” noted Alice.
Stevia has the ability to make foods taste sweeter without the added calories and because the substance comes from the plant’s natural glucosides, even diabetics can consume the sugar substitute.
Creating a breeding program for Stevia was no easy task. Cuttings were not available on a large scale and the only method farmers were using to commercially propagate the plant at the time was using cuttings. The process was simply too difficult and uneconomical.
Alice and Greg believed that if Stevia could be grown from seed, its commercial possibilities would expand substantially. So, they called in an expert and together, began working toward a potential propagation program.
“I asked Dr. Don Roberts, a plant scientist in Albany, to visit our greenhouses and advise me in crafting a plan,” said Alice.
After researching Stevia and looking at its flower parts under a microscope, he informed the nursery that the flowers were generally self-capsulated. In short, it was protecting itself from being fertilized by only opening its ovary for fertilization from noon to one o’clock each day.
The determined breeders spent three weeks using sheep’s hair brushes to help filter pollen through the flowers during the one-hour period of time. They eventually collected a large box of dried flowers and shipped them to Kees Sahin, a highly-experienced seedsman in Holland who agreed to use his customized machinery to try and separate the seeds. His ultimate goal was to breed them with a handful of Stevia seeds sent by another plantsman from Japan.
“After much work, Kees extracted enough seed to start his project breeding the two genetically-separate strains together,” said Alice. “Then, as was his way, he moved the crosses around the world into receptive climates, manipulating light to grow three harvests each year.”
Two years later, Log House and the Japanese grower received a special package in the mail. It was the world’s first Stevia seed with 90 percent germ. The following season, Stevia was being offered to growers around the world.
Alice has many tales like these. She has partnered with growers in countries around the globe to bring new selections to the market. The list of plants introduced by Log House includes primrose ‘Penumbra, Echinacea purpurea ‘Doppelganger’ and a wide array of Believe or Not Vegetables like Zucca ‘di Chioggia,’ and Marina, among many others.
Last year, after 20 years of breeding, Delphinium elatum-dubbed ‘Chocolate’ by the company’s staff-was launched. The selection blooms in various shades of deep brown, cocoa and ivory with veins, picoteed or stipled designs bearing a cherry-pink undertone.
Along with these new varieties, the nursery also continues to grow a huge assortment of herbs, common vegetables, heirloom plants, tropicals and hundreds of other unusual or rare annuals and perennials.
Many selections originate from Alice and Greg’s travels to far-away places as Crete, Pakistan, the Netherlands, Germany and India, keeping Log House Plants’ assortment exciting and new.
“We publish our ‘Garden News’ newsletter to inform our customers of what new plants we will be bringing out next,” said Alice. “There is also a huge library of articles, brochures and other information available on our Web site to help educate people about the plants we grow, especially our food plants.”
In February of 2009, the nursery will launch a creative line of food plants that Alice feels will take vegetables to a new level. Anyone interested in hearing more about the upcoming collection is welcome to visit www.loghouseplants.com.