A new landscape design transforms Selmer Industrial Park

Keeping 8 acres of turf in an industrial park looking good creates a challenge under any condition. That’s the situation Tom Hendrix, CEO of HENCO Furniture Company in Selmer, Tenn., faced when he decided to make some changes. “Growing up on a farm and majoring in agriculture from the University of Tennessee at Martin, I’ve always been concerned about providing for wildlife and protecting our environment,” says Hendrix. “What could the HENCO Company do in our landscape that would make a difference in our area? How could our business provide a peaceful and tranquil setting for customers? Could we help other industrial sites model their landscape after HENCO?”

Tom and his wife, Sherry, visited the Wildseed Farm (www.wildseedfarm.com) in Fredericksburg, Texas, to learn more about wildflowers. Returning home with valuable information, they transformed the turf around the Selmer Industrial Park into a place of beauty.

Red poppies and Baby Blue Eyes are the firstwildflowers to bloom in late-March through April. Clients and customers are welcomed to the HENCOFurniture Company by the American, Tennessee andthe HENCO flags as they enter the industrial park.
Poppies are one of the early spring flowers to bloomin the industrial park. Like other wildflowers, the arebroadcast over 8 acres. Wildflowers provide a natural environment as viewedfrom office space.

In addition to changing the landscape, butterflies, honeybees, hummingbirds and songbirds have moved in. Hummingbirds seek bright-colored flowers with deep throats for gathering nectar, such as the bright red cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and the larkspur (Consolida ajacis). What was once a long expanse of green turf now is interspersed with colorful blooms.

Hendrix worked with Vickie Goodrum, director of lawn management at HENCO, and her son, Houston, to develop an urban plan for the HENCO business. “This is a design including plants that will draw wildlife to a city,” says Goodrum. “A wildflower field is more cost-effective to operate than acres of turf that must be mowed weekly. The initial startup, including site preparation and purchasing seeds, is somewhat expensive, but after this is complete, there is a minimum of labor.” Goodrum is associated with the Coon Creek Science Center in West Tennessee (www.cooncreek.ontheinter.net) and co-owns the Duncan Nursery and Gardens (www.duncannurseryandgardens.com) in Selmer.

“Combining wildlife and flowers makes for an educational oasis for schools and civic groups,” relates Hendrix. “It’s a way of giving back to our community.” The park welcomes groups of children and adults to use these grounds as an open classroom. They’re encouraged to use the paths that meander throughout the gardens, and benches placed at strategic locations allow time for rest and relaxation.

As to advertising, many people come to HENCO just to see this novel project combining turf, wildflowers and wildlife. “We want people to come and enjoy this oasis, and maybe they will need furniture, either now, or in the future. With a furniture business, word-of-mouth advertising brings more customers to our industrial park,” says Hendrix.

Another aspect of turning turf into a wildflower park is the positive response from employees. Hendrix understands the value of developing a good employer relationship with those who work for HENCO. It’s a team effort and providing a pleasant place to work and respecting individual talents has been the foundation of the business. The professional lawn care workers at HENCO say that mowing grass all day gets a little boring, but caring for fields of flowers is rewarding.

Plan ahead

Before planting wildflowers, you need to evaluate the property. Does the site contain clay, loam or acid soil? Have a soil sample tested by your local agricultural center. Does the site receive full sun, part sun or mostly shade? Wildflowers need at least six hours of sun daily for top performance. Does water stand on the acreage after a rain, or is the land on a high and dry plateau? Once you’ve answered these questions, your landscaping crew will be able to match plants to your area and select wildflowers that will thrive. Knowing these conditions and adapting the plants to the geographical area will determine the success, or failure, of your project.

After you’ve made the plans, you can work with industrial park managers to determine where the wildflowers will be viewed. Will the front offices be able to see the flowers? How accessible will the plantings be for clients and customers who drive in? Is the site a safe area for schools that schedule field trips? Can cars drive through the area without exiting the vehicles if needed? Is a paved road through the plantings available for traffic? Determine if the planting will be formal or randomly scattered, as in a meadow.

Tom Hendrix, CEO of HENCO Furniture Company in Slemer, Tenn., sits in the office area overlooking acres of wildflowers.

Site preparation

After the soil has been tested, the site selected and the appropriate seeds chosen for the geographical location, the ground is ready to be prepared. Goodrum says, “This step is crucial to the success of the wildflowers. Keep in mind that seeds broadcast over a large area require a different technique than those grown in rows or beds.”

Several methods can be used to prepare for a field planting. This requires a great deal of time, but once established, the flowers continue for many years by reseeding. This natural ecosystem can take from one to five years to develop and must be nurtured until the it is established.

First, remove any unwanted weeds or grass by hand-pulling in small areas or spot-treating with the herbicide, Roundup. For large areas, spay the entire field with an herbicide. Any invasive weed will compete for nutrients and rob the wildflowers of sun, water and food. Then, plow the field in the spring to destroy existing vegetation. As new weeds and unwanted plants germinate, lightly disc the soil. In fall or early winter, sow the seeds so that they will germinate the following spring.

Another method for preparing a plot for wildflowers uses Roundup in the late spring when fields are greening up. Use the lowest amounts and safest herbicides possible to achieve your goal. After three weeks, spot-treat weeds that are still living. If regulations allow a control burn, do this after the plants turn brown and become dry. Mow over the field and remove thatch that has accumulated. In late October, apply an herbicide to remove any vegetation that has grown over the summer. Then, sow or broadcast seeds in late fall or early winter.

For even distribution over the entire planting field, mix seeds with sand or course sawdust. By using a ratio of eight parts sand to one part seed, a uniformed growth pattern will be achieved by the following spring. Seeds should be lightly tapped into the soil, but not covered. A culti-packer works for large plots. A light covering of straw prevents erosion and aids in seed germination, especially on slopes or hillsides.

Goodrum says that Triple 15 is an effective fertilizer for fields of wildflowers. The HENCO Furniture Company experimented with installing an irrigation system in one section only. With the summer droughts, the lawn care professions saw a big difference in the plants that received water through irrigation than those that relied on insufficient rainfall.

The author writes from Jackson, Tenn.

SIDEBAR

HENCO’s Selection of Wildflower Seeds

The following is HENCO’s plan for the 8 acres that were transformed at Selmer Industrial Park.

Mix the first four varieties together and plant in late fall or early winter. Mix a ratio of one part seeds to eight parts sand for easy distribution. This amount covers the 8-acre industrial plant surrounding the HENCO Furniture Company. As this schedule is planned for Zone 7, adjustments need to be made for other zones.

Each fall, after the black-eyed Susans bloom, the fields are mowed with a bush hog. Roundup is used at least twice. A rototiller and a John Deere tractor till the fields after the grass is dead. Using this method and repeating this process each fall, maximum bloom is ensured.

Photos by Carolyn Ross Tomlin.
A paved path allows visitors to get up close and personal with butterflies and wildlife through the wildflower areas.

Baby Blue Eyes — 20 pounds

The first flowers to bloom in spring, these germinate in late February and blooms appear in middle March and continue through the middle of April. Range in height from 6 to 12 inches.

Corn Poppy — 16 pounds

Second to bloom, germination begins in March and blooms appear in late April, continuing through late May. Flowers grow up to 2.5 feet and produce showy flowers in pink, red and cream.

Rocket Larkspur — 8 pounds

Third to bloom, these germinate in March and blooms appear in May, continuing to late June. Growing up to 4 feet, blooms appear the length of the stalk.

Black-Eyed Susans — 8 pounds

These wildflowers are the last to bloom. Germination doesn’t begin until the soil temperature reaches 70 degrees. Blooms appear in late-June and continue until August. Plants reach 3 feet in height.

Mix these varieties together:

Laura Bush Petunia — 5 ounces

As these seeds are not cold-hardy, plant in late-March or first of April. Germination begins in May and blooms appear by the first of June and continue until frost.

Dahlia Zinnia Mix -1 pound

Seeds are not cold-hardy. Plant in late-March or early April. Germination begins in late-May and blooms appear by first of July. Flowers continue until frost.

During the growing season, control unwanted weeds and grasses by spraying with Post or Post Plus.