Growing the business

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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Murray's Horticultural Services Ltd. branches out into new ventures

The expansive grounds around Murray's Garden Centre in Portugal Cove are still blanketed by snow, but a building at the rear of the property holds hope that spring is not far away.

Trays of seedlings, that have sprung up under artificial lighting within the last month, are gradually growing into hardy ornamental flowers and aromatic herbs.

Left, Michael Murray, president and CEO of Murray's Horticultural Services Ltd., holds a tray of lupin seedlings started indoors under artificial lighting from fluorescent tubes that create a blue hue. Right, Christine Tobin, a horticulturist and grower a

The expansive grounds around Murray's Garden Centre in Portugal Cove are still blanketed by snow, but a building at the rear of the property holds hope that spring is not far away.

Trays of seedlings, that have sprung up under artificial lighting within the last month, are gradually growing into hardy ornamental flowers and aromatic herbs.

Outside, the perennials are starting to emerge.

"We're starting to see some dalias poking up. We're also seeing some crocuses in different places and snowdrops. We're also seeing the emergence of some astilbe in places," Michael Murray, president and CEO of Murray's Horticultural Services Ltd. said in a recent interview

But he cautions it's still a little early for garden enthusiasts to start planting anything outdoors, considering temperatures are still dipping down pretty cold at night.

"We're chomping on the bit now ourselves," Murray said, especially with spring appearing to kick in early this year.

"We will start to open up greenhouses toward the end of this month and then a full complement of plant material will start to ramp up as the season progresses."

The trend of new beginnings and growth is also evident in Murray's business.

It has grown over the years, expanding its gardening and horticultural products and services to include more extensive landscape design.

It offers masonry, tile and woodwork, such as the construction of patios, decks, gazebos and steps, home renovations during the winter such as kitchen and bathroom makeovers and, most recently, the company has branched into new home construction.

Murray's Horticultural Services Ltd. has two divisions - Murray's Garden Centre and Murray's Nursery.

Murray said the garden centre represents the retail side of the business where plant materials, floral arrangements, giftware, and other garden products and services are sold.

The nursery produces new plants in a plug format under the tradename Newfound Plant for export to other parts of Canada and the United States.

Customers can also purchase perennials, annuals, and vegetable and small fruit plants.

Murray said the company has also started growing some native plants such as white spruce and red pine.

In the landscape part of the business, a customer can purchase a landscape design if they want to do their gardening themselves, or the job can be more extensive with Murray's handling the design, planting of the shrubs and flowers, and garden maintenance.

The company can also build walkways, steps, sheds and gazebos and even install hot tubs.

Murray said the company employs two carpenters, is a bonded general contractor and offers a warranty on all of its work.

In its latest endeavour, Murray's is building a home in Mount Pearl, which is already listed on the real estate market for about $350,000.

Murray said the company is building it right up from the ceramic tiles and with a great deal of emphasis on landscape construction, using masonry stone, tile and brick.

"We're covered under new home warranty construction," Murray said.

One of Murray's first projects about 30 years ago was designing and building the Court Garden at what is now the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland.

Murray said his company still maintains that garden today and uses biological controls, rather than pesticides.

The company has numerous other regular clients, including businesses and homeowners.

As a representative for Henderson playground equipment, Murray said it also designs and installs Canadian Standards Association (CSA) approved playground equipment for the city of St. John's and Paradise, as well as land developers.

Murray's will also represent a company called Better Living and launch a new product line this year with a focus on solariums and sunrooms attached to homes and built on decks.

"They're made from tempered glass, glass ceilings, and we're featuring that this year in the home show and landscape show," Murray said.

Another aspect of Murray's business is maintaining flowerbeds in cemeteries for war veterans.

Murray credits "a great staff" with specialized skills for his company's success.

In peak season last year, the company employed more than 65 people, Murray said. It currently has about 20 employees on staff.

While waiting for spring to arrive, Murray said, the do-it-yourself gardener can focus on their treescapes, checking for broken or damaged limbs from snow and ice loads over the winter and then pruning them.

"This is a great time, too, to start planning the garden," he said, "planning the projects and getting ready to order materials and procure materials for projects."

Murray recommends doing scale drawings to make sense of your plans, then getting estimates in place and budgets established so your projects can be worked on when the weather does break.

Site suitability

It's always good to look at the constraints of the site, Murray said, such as exposure to wind and, if the property is close to the coastline, exposure to salt spray.

Other considerations are sun versus shade conditions, drainage, wet and dry areas, Murray said. Then choosing the right plants that meet those constraints is critical.

"The backbone of the landscape, as far as we're concerned, is use native plant materials that help break the wind and create opportunities so that you can start to use ornamental plants in the protected areas," Murray said.

People in Newfoundland always complain about the weather, he said, but while the weather is always questionable and changeable on the island part of the province, the climate is not all that harsh.

Murray said the most limiting factor in the local landscape is exposure to wind.

"We're able to grow a lot of different types of plants that we couldn't grow in Calgary, for example, plants like Japanese maple, rhododendron, hydrangea, just to name a few. These are plants that do well here, but in parts of Western Canada they don't do that well," Murray said.

The other important component of gardening is maintenance of the landscapes, he said, including trimming and pruning.

Growing trend

Murray has noticed a trend among homeowners who regard their backyards and front yards as important space in terms of their own living and entertaining.

Part of it, he said, can be attributed to people cocooning in their homes as a means of stress relief, but it's also likely a reflection of the good weather Newfoundland has seen in recent years.

Homeowners are interested in creating a deck/patio interface with the kitchen, he said, for entertaining at home, and there's also increased interest in gardening, including herb gardens.

A well-landscaped property also fetches a higher price in the marketplace, Murray said.

More information on Murray's Horticultural Services Ltd. and tips for home gardeners can be found on the company's website at

Organizations: Horticultural Services, Garden Centre, Canadian Standards Association Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland

Geographic location: Portugal Cove, Western Canada, United States Mount Pearl St. John's Newfoundland Calgary

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