Ross Strasko – Creek Hill Nursery
The Must Have Perennials supply chain includes breeders, licensees, growers, and retailers. Our industry partners work together to deliver the best garden perennials to garden consumers! One of the most important links in this chain is our licensee network. These growers and propagators ensure our varieties make it to retail store shelves in fine form. We choose them for, among other things, their track record of reliability and quality.
One of our licensees, Creek Hill Nursery, is based in Leola, PA. Creek Hill has built a reputation for embracing diversity, innovation, value and sustainability in their products and practices. A perennial liner producer, Creek Hill provides starter plants in trays of 21, 50 and 72. Most of the perennials they grow are typically hardy to Zone 7. They have been committed to providing value and quality to their customers for over 30 years.
Ron Strasko founded Creek Hill Nursery in 1990, after spending 15 years at Green Leaf Plants. Creek Hill has grown to five growing locations in Lancaster County, PA, with eight acres of young perennial liner production.
Ron’s son, Ross Strasko, took over as the president of Creek Hill Nursery in early 2022. We spoke with Ross about some of the exciting things happening at Creek Hill, and how they differentiate themselves from other perennial growers.
Creek Hill is very much a “family business” when it comes to how you view your team. How does this enhance your culture, and do you think it gives you an edge on your competition?
We do have a familial feeling with our staff, and I think it sets a tone that makes a more pleasant and productive work environment for employees and admin. I started my career in the industry as a grower here at Creek Hill and I think how you’d want an employer to treat you or your family is really the starting point of our employment philosophy here. The more you take care of your employees: the more loyalty you’re rewarded with by your team. Labor is tough and competitive right now. However, our team continues to grow and overcome any challenges that have cropped up and I’m very proud of them.
What was your path to horticulture and what do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of the business?
When I started, I didn’t actually intend to get involved in the industry! I just kind of kind of fell into it and then fell in love with it about 9 years ago. I started out as a grower and quickly realized I loved working with plants, and as time went on, I learned all about running a business as I worked in the office and dealt directly with our customers. It’s rewarding to be hands-on and have a part in all aspects of the business, whether it be general manager-type duties or picking the orders that are going out to our customers. I think that keeps me in touch with our crops and connected with our customers.
How does Creek Hill differentiate itself from other growers?
The varieties we choose to grow set us apart from much of our competition. We curate what we believe are the best perennials from suppliers big and small, rather than taking on entire product lists. We work with tougher-to-grow plants (even though they may be less cost-effective) if they’re a great product, and we often encounter less competition that way. From a production standpoint, for the past 12 years we’ve put a heavy focus on sustainability. This includes things like minimizing our spray regimen, scouting, utilizing Integrated Pest Management techniques, and compost “tea” application. We feel good about this approach because it’s improved employee safety, production efficacy, and environmental impacts. We’re always looking for better ways to do things.
How do you solve customers’ problems and meet their needs?
We focus on educating our customers as much as possible, which tends to make them more successful in the long run. It also makes things more interesting for us. We like to introduce them to genera they may not have much familiarity with, which is knowledge they can then pass on to their customers. Horticulture is constantly changing, and we’ve found that taking the time to share our knowledge makes for more successful and loyal customers.
What are some of the challenges you’ve dealt with over the past two years?
Since Covid happened, labor availability has been one of the biggest issues we’ve dealt with. As it happens, a lot of local restaurant workers were displaced during the pandemic and they made a great fit for Creek Hill. The perennial sales season timing was affected, which had a big impact on all of our scheduling. Covid forced us to become more flexible than we’d been before. Being forced to be more introspective and flexible was difficult but actually a blessing because it added perspective to how we do things and shook us out of becoming too comfortable. Like everyone else, we’ve also been dealing with supply chain issues which has led to us working much more closely with our suppliers than we did before. So, there were certainly challenges posed by the past few years, but we found some silver linings along the way.
Which Must Have Perennials varieties have you had success with?
One thing I appreciate about Must Have Perennials is your broad and eclectic mix of varieties. Our customers have responded well to the Westcountry Lupines. They are superior lupines in general, easier in production, and they tolerate heat and perform better than seed varieties. Lychnis ‘Petit Henri’ and ‘Petite Jenny’ are very impressive and we’re seeing a lot of demand for them. Buddleja ‘Butterfly Gold’ is a beautiful new variety and Polemonium ‘Brise d’Anjou’ is a favorite, people love it.
What are your hopes for the future of the industry?
I think it would be great if the green industry became more green than it currently is. The use of plastics and peat really isn’t sustainable, and I’m glad to see many people are doing work to create better options. I hope greener practices become more widespread in the near future. We, as an industry, are in the business of creating natural beauty. What better way to help our industry thrive than by investing in practices that help us become more connected with our ecosystem and our planet as a whole? This would be a great way to give back to our customers, our communities, and our environment.
Please visit Creek Hill Nursery’s website to see their current liner availability.