Thousands of acres blaze with color as workers prepare for the upcoming Louisiana Nursery Festival in downtown Forest Hill. It’s as if Nature’s glory is showing off with gardens of beauty. The blooming bounty will take center stage at the 28th Annual Louisiana Nursery Festival, March 15th through 17th. “Everyone here has a love for plants and a love for the business. Forest Hill is the nursery capitol of the state,” says Ann Jeter, festival coordinator and owner of Jeter’s Liners.
There is something special about a hometown festival, and the Louisiana Nursery Festival seems to usher in the spring time. “The main draw of the festival is all the nurseries. People come out to see what’s new and they come to fix up their yards for spring,” Jeter notes, adding that everything from popular “Knock-Out” roses to tulip Magnolias to Shishi Sasanqua to the hot-ticket Cajun hibiscus can be found at the festival. The three-day event is expected to draw more than 10,000 visitors throughout the weekend, but organizers say the festival maintains a “down-home” feel. A small army of volunteers help with the planning of the events throughout the year.
The Nursery Festival is sponsored by the Forest Hill Volunteer Fire Department and the Central Louisiana Nursery Association. About 80 percent of the profits from the festival will go to the fire department, and the remaining 20 percent will benefit the nursery association. There are more than 200 nurseries in Rapides Parish, and most of them are located in the Forest Hill area. Reportedly, the nurseries generate more than $100 million in sales annually, with about $46 million pumped into the local economy.
Mike Salter, the owner of Living Color Nursery in Forest Hill, believes the nursery business is starting to flourish again this year. “The nursery industry has taken a turn for the better, especially concerning the economy,” Salter points out. He grew up working in various nurseries in Forest Hill and opened his own nursery in 1995. Living Colors has grown to three different locations now. The Nursery Festival brings a “sense of community” to the area, Salter believes, and lets visitors take a peep at how a nursery business works. “They get to see first-hand how plants are grown and where they come from,” Salter notes, adding that nursery owners will be willing to share knowledge about the plants with festival attendees.
Bill Thomas, the owner of Thomas’ Nandina Farm, says many of the smaller nurseries in the area specialize in certain varieties of plants. “We specialize in about 10 varieties of hydrangeas and about three varieties of nandinas,” Thomas says, adding that he and his wife, Connie, are willing to pass along several tips on how to take care of the plants.
A majority of the nursery owners have been raised up in the industry, but some, like Debbie Head, the owner of Poole Brothers Nursery, bought into the business later in life. For years, Head worked in the banking business and her husband was a car salesman. Fourteen years ago, they had the opportunity to purchase an established nursery and have never looked back. “We love what we do. It’s not so much a job when you get to do what you love every day,” explains Head, adding that her nursery is a “one-stop shop” for just about every kind of plant you can name.
Initially, their nursery was on a 23-acre plot of land, and now Poole Brothers Nursery is comprised of 250 acres specializing in everything from azaleas to topiary boxwoods to tree roses. “The Nursery Festival is our busiest time. We will take people out in a golf cart to see the plants and they are just in awe,” Head says. “They feel like they are in another country gazing out at 1,000 azalea plants all in the same color. They see how plants are supposed to look – fresh off the bed, and not limp, sitting on asphalt at a box store.”
Elizabeth Welch and Billy Gibson, owners of Eco Nursery, agree. The two will be participating in the Nursery Festival for the first time. “We are thrilled to have acquired the nursery that Stanley Young established 30 years ago. We hope to carry on the tradition he started—service with a smile and beautiful plants with lots of variety. Being just one block from downtown Forest Hill makes it easy to shop with us. We look forward to helping everyone have a great time at the Nursery Festival,” Welch enthuses.
Bryan Bruner, who works at Clyde Holloway’s Nursery, says that Clyde Holloway has been participating in the Nursery Festival since its inception. He adds that it offers visitors to the area an opportunity to view the beauty of nature unfolding with the display of plants, flowers, shrubs and trees. “We are excited about this year’s festival. It is great for the community, and it allows people to see what we have to offer,” Bruner notes.
While the plants are showcased during the Nursery Festival, there will also be more than 260 booths with 137 vendors offering a wide variety of handmade crafts and other wares, along with items for the yard. As visitors meander around the booths, they will be able to sit in porch swings and chairs, sample homemade jellies and jams, and even have a caricature drawn. Hand-crafted birdhouses of all sizes, squirrel feeders, wind chimes, pottery, iron works, garden tools, jewelry, T-shirts, handbags, soaps and lotions will be offered for sale. All types of shrubs and trees will be available for purchase, as well as ground cover and bedding plants. In addition to the booths, equipment displays will line the back of the festival grounds with golf carts, lawnmowers, lawn care tools, tractors and pickup trucks. “The festival is very family-oriented, with something for everyone,” says Jeter.
Besides the plethora of plants, crafts and vendors, the festival features a Queen’s Ball, a parade and a special performance by the Glory Bound Cloggers. In addition, there will be a real diversity in the food vendors offered at the midway. The food booths will feature crawfish, chicken, shrimp, pork, gator on a stick, turkey legs, corn dogs, nachos, blooming onions, hamburgers, Chinese and Mexican cuisine, funnel cakes, snow cones and more! Even dessert is available with cotton candy, candied applies and fried candy bars.
The festival will feature carnival rides complete with a Ferris wheel. Bracelets can be purchased for $18.00 for unlimited rides from 5:00pm to 9:00pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and from 11:00am to 3:00pm on Sunday. Advance ticket sales may be purchased from the Forest Hill Town Hall staff for $15.00 through March 16th.
The festival will officially kick off with the Nursery Festival Ball March 8th at 7:00pm in the Community Center Gym. The 2013 Louisiana Nursery Festival Queen, Bailey Dore, will be presented at the ball. Tickets for the ball are $15.00 per person. Contact Tracie Boniol at (318) 792-2395 for more ticket information.
On March 15th, Friday, the festival itself will open at 8:00am. Vendor booths will be open from 8:00am to 6:00pm each through Saturday 16th. The nursery festival parade will begin on Saturday at 10:00am with Clyde Holloway, owner of Clyde Holloway Nursery and a Louisiana Public Service Commissioner, serving as the grand marshal. At 11:00am, the Glory Bound Cloggers will perform in front of Leebo’s. Sunday, the festival will be open from 10:00am to 4:00pm. Be sure to feed your garden fever this year at the 2013 Louisiana Nursery Festival in Forest Hill!