Welcome to the Jungle
For nearly 40 years, my mother nurtured a dwarf orange tree that she had grown from a mail-order seedling. When she and my father moved to a condo about 20 years ago, the orange tree went with them. It continued to flourish there until she just couldn’t keep it anymore. She found a new, more spacious home for it with a friend, and we hear that it’s still doing well.
As I’m touring the lush greenhouses of Logee’s Tropical Plants in Danielson, I tell my guide—and Logee’s co-owner—Laurelynn Martin about my mother’s modest success. Before the end of the tour, I have a meiwa kumquat seedling in my hands, which is very reminiscent of the old orange tree. “Tell your mom that she doesn’t need to keep repotting this one as it grows—it’ll do just fine in smaller containers,” says Martin, who, along with longtime business partner (and ex-husband) Byron E. Martin, has written Growing Tasty Tropical Plants (Storey Publishing, 2010).
Actually, it’s Byron’s great-grandfather, William D. Logee, who started the business as a cut-flower shop in 1892 and then expanded into tropical container plants, which is now the primary focus. Some of the first greenhouses built are still standing, including the Long House and the Big House, both of which have numerous decades-old specimens that have long ago broken through their containers and taken root in the dirt floors. One wall of the Long House and the entire ceiling of the retail area are covered by the leafy green tendrils of a single giant ficus, and with a small fountain bubbling nearby, it feels more like a grotto than a greenhouse.
As we wind through the labyrinthine “aisles,” the moist air, tangle of gorgeous plants, abundance of fruit-filled boughs and blooming flowers reaching from floor to ceiling at every turn make it seem like a jungle excursion, minus the exotic animals. “People like to come here in February and just wander around,” says Martin of the seven lush greenhouses, which are open to the public year-round. “It’s a great cure for that seasonal affective disorder.” As she says this, it’s snowing outside, yet the sun is warm on my face. Nice.
Much of Logee’s initial focus was on begonias, and when William Logee’s son, Ernest (a founding member of the Begonia Society), took over the helm in the early 20th century, Logee’s began to create hybridized specimens, a process that continues today. In a small, sterile lab above the retail space, begonias and other specialty plants are hybridized and propagated from leaf shoots in culture dishes—about 20,000 plants are grown this way each year.
In the Lemon Tree House, the iconic 111-year-old Ponderosa lemon tree—brought to Logee’s in 1900 by horse and buggy and then planted here—continues to thrive, its gnarled branches bowed with ripe “American Wonder” lemons (which can get up to five pounds each!). As we pass, Martin picks one and hands it to me. “Take that home and try it—you’ll love it!” she says.
About 600 varieties of tropical plants are available through Logee’s catalogs or website at any given time; sales from them comprise about 80 percent of the company’s business, with Logee’s shipping over 150,000 plants a year. Four of the 25 or so full-time employees (staff size varies with the season and still includes Logee-Martin family members in key positions) are dedicated to the task of handling phone and online orders, which continue to grow with the increased interest in fruit plants that can easily be grown at home.
To help support those orders, Logee’s recently cut the ribbon on a new 19,000-square-foot state-of-the-art greenhouse. Funded partially through federal grants (for sustainability and green practices, as the new building will help save 70 percent on fuel costs) and state monies (an agricultural viability grant to expand the business), it features retractable ceiling curtains to control light and temperature, heated tables to keep plants warm and an automated watering system so that plants are kept properly wet. Delivery trucks can also back directly into the building, essential in ensuring that plants are not accidentally exposed even briefly to inclement conditions.
As it turns out, shipping live plants can be a tricky process, especially during the colder months. (Logee’s busiest stretch is from January through June.) Once a plant is ordered and picked from inventory, weather along the travel route must be taken into account. Most delivery trucks and planes don’t offer conditions optimal for transporting tropical vegetation—if it’s too cold at a destination, a delivery may even be delayed. Logee’s also thoroughly wraps plants to keep in moisture, and ships them in boxes insulated with Styrofoam and warmed with heating packs.
Martin, whose plant knowledge seems endless, keeps assuring me that many of the 1,500 varieties of plants growing here—95 percent of which are tropical—are “easy to grow,” including the aforementioned kumquat for my mother. I appreciate her confidence; that’s what happens when your family tree has been yielding fruit for 119 years.
For more information, call (888) 330-8038 or visit logees.com.Welcome to the Jungle