In A Nutshell By Jim Bloomer
It all started with a single cutting... The year 1970 was a very important time in our history. The war in Vietnam was still going, Richard Nixon was running things at the White House, most of us remember Kent State, Oregon State football had a winning season and my parents, Ben and Alice Bloomer started Bloomer's Nursery.
The first couple of seasons were quite peaceful, as they built up their stock. Raspberries, walnuts and even a few plants were sold to make the farm payments. The original greenhouse, with glass panes, was built. Other structures were built to provide protection from sun and winter cold.
In the winter of 1972, things didn't fare too well. A Siberian Express visited the area and totally wiped out all that my folks had built up. I was in Virginia at the time, working for Uncle Sam, so I didn't experience Oregon's cold first hand, but I'm told that it got to well below 0°F at the nursery.
So start over they did, dumping flats of dead cuttings and pots of frozen plants. If this was on a hundred year cycle, then they knew it was smooth sailing from here on out. Cutting, dipping, sticking and potting, fertilizing, trimming and weeding were once again daily tasks. Of course these tasks had to be completed by 3 p.m., as Dad had to go to his "real" job in the truck shop at Weyerhaeuser. Mom was busy too, with one daughter still at home, plus taking on a foster child and working part-time for a local publication. Rhododendrons and azaleas were the plants my folks cherished (although we all know dahlias are a man's plant). The rhody we call 'Benji Yellow' is one that my parents started. It isn't a registered hybrid so you won't find it in any book. The name 'Benji Yellow', if I recall correctly, was thought up by a lady named Jo who worked here in the early years. Dad didn't really like the 'Benji' part, which made it all the more reason to call it that. I'm pretty sure he's gotten used to it by now.
By 1978 things at the nursery were looking pretty good; a much larger variety of plants was being grown, landscapers and retail nurseries were buying on a regular basis, and Mother was honing her skills as a bookkeeper. So, at age 55 Dad retired from Weyerhaeuser and devoted all his time to the nursery. Every year a new structure was built and more areas were cleared for container plants. I used to think he was crazy for expanding each year; of course I never mentioned this. But it's true; you either go ahead or go backwards-it's difficult to stay the same.
By the early '80's, all was not a bed of rhodies. Interest rates were a national concern and the dwindling lumber industry was a more local issue. In May of '82 my career as a Forest Technician for Weyerhaeuser came to a halt. With a mortgage, three children and a wife, I had to find a job fast. So that same week I became a nurseryman apprentice. Boy, did I have a lot to learn! All those funny names, likes and dislikes, care and feeding. And that was just the customers!
The original ten acres was just about filled up. Our neighbor Langan was kind enough to lease about five acres to us. The original eight hoop houses promptly went up, where before there had been a blackberry jungle. Clear and clean and plant was again a yearly happening. Business was going fine, and the plants were healthy. It looked like our economy was going to make a comeback. Then Dad became quite ill in '85. The doctors couldn't pinpoint the problem, but after many tests and a lengthy hospital stay it was determined to be a kidney problem. Mom and Dad retired from the nursery at the end of '85. It's been fifteen years now; they're both very active with hobbies, traveling, friends, family and their cabin in the woods.
My goodness! What had we gotten ourselves into, and not a dahlia on the place. Taking over a business, even a thriving one, is not an easy task. Glenda and I wanted this nursery to succeed, and for sure we didn't always agree on how that would be accomplished. I'm forever thankful for the double-seated pants I wear. Nineteen eighty-six also was the year our owned acreage doubled. Walt Johnson, a neighbor, sold us 10 acres on the west side of the freeway. It is our best soil for growing trees. Our field stock is on a three year rotation; every winter we harvest by hand or machine a few thousand trees and shrubs.
Meanwhile, back at the nursery we built more hoop houses, which are used primarily for winter protection, as well as new propagation houses, with hot water running through pipes to warm the plants' roots. I experimented with different fogging systems, finally going back to the original type mist nozzle with 100 PSI of water pressure.
The day I approached our neighbor, John Langan, about buying the leased land was a tense one indeed. I can still visualize him sitting in his chair, in an under lit, overheated room with long-johns on in July. What I offered and what he wanted didn't match, so he said, "I guess we don't have a deal." I suggested we split the difference and he said, "Fine, it's a deal." I think he knew that I was nervous and maybe was just having fun with me. It couldn't have been my shaking leg or high-pitched voice. John and Elona Langan, both deceased, raised fresh, cut flowers for many years on their property-they even had dahlias. Thanks, John and Elona.
Employees come and employees go, but one that we haven't been able to shake is our Wholesale Manager, Susan Jeppesen. Since 1989, Sue has been a driving force in the shaping of Bloomer's. With her commitment and can-do attitude, she has made my day-to-day chores so much easier.
Speaking of employees, without the dedicated workforce that is here daily, we couldn't make it. Our Assistant Manager Annette, and Amadeo, Angel, Adan, Raul, Fernando, Jesus, Gerasimo, and Brandon: these are the folks who run Wholesale, and they do a fine job. Thanks to all.
The Retail side of things started to happen in 1997 when a house and about 3 acres came up for sale. "Open House", the sign said, and being nosy neighbors, Glenda and I went for a look-see. While she was in looking at the remodeled house with basement and upstairs, I was out looking at the barn, milk-house and other outbuildings. When we met up, I told her this would make a great nursery, and how it would simplify our lives. (I may have stretched that one a bit.) The papers were signed in April. The following February we opened for business. Always on the lookout for something whimsical yet practical, we've put up a windmill in preparation for the inevitable Y2K disaster. Also we happened across a real-life caboose, which is sitting on track at the Retail nursery. You can't miss it. We hope to put it to a good use, yet retain its original character. Jackie Chama, Retail Manager, and Amanda Smith-Hatch, Assistant Manager, run the show at Retail. Bruno, a long-time employee, is invaluable; Errin, our sales associate, is also doing a great job. Thanks again.
I need also to thank my wife and three children. My wife, Glenda, does the bookkeeping for us; her workload doubled when Retail opened up (remember, I told her it would simplify our lives). She really does a great job and she's a super wife, Mom, and Grandma.
Jennifer is our oldest child. She is 24 years old and is currently in Senegal, West Africa, doing a stint in the Peace Corps. Her 2 years will be up in June and we are anxious to have her back home. Rumor has it that she may be a married woman when she returns. We've met Youssou and he is a wonderful young man, bright and witty too. Jennifer worked summers at Bloomer's while attending Willamette University.
Amy is our middle child and the mother of our two grandchildren, Elizabeth and Emily. Amy, her husband Carl, and their girls live in the pink house next to the Retail nursery. Amy also spent some time working at the nursery during the summer while attending college.
Jason is our youngest at 20 years of age. He is the one Glenda and I call when we have computer problems. Jason is currently attending the U. of O., and we're hoping he'll graduate in our lifetime. Jason was a big help to me in setting up the Retail location. It's funny how most of those dirty, back-breaking jobs had to be done when he was here. Thanks again, Lucky.
This pretty much takes us up to date. Maybe if my twisted arm heals, I'll write again, possibly about chasing deer out of the nursery, the flood of '96, the freeze of '89 and '90, or bike riding, British cars, and my dahlia collection. Safety fast, Jim