Gulfport — Kathy and Peter Homsey’s Gulfhaven Gardens started with a gift.
“About 15 years ago a friend started giving us daylilies,” says Kathy Homsey. “She also gave us a subscription to the Daylily Journal. That was literally the beginning. We became interested in daylilies and started adding to our garden. At that time I was heavily into vegetable gardening, and had about a three-quarter-acre garden. But over time, the daylilies took over the garden. It got to where we realized we had to do something with all these increased plants. That became Gulfhaven Gardens.”
The Homseys got their business license approximately 10 years ago, and now cultivate an estimated 800 different varieties of daylilies. Approximately 300 different varieties of the flower are available for sale on the Gulfhaven Gardens Web site, www.gulfhavengardens.com. About half of the company’s business comes from Internet sales, with orders coming in from all over the U.S. and Canada.
“Our soil is inspected for nematodes, in order to allow interstate shipping,” Homsey said. “We passed with flying colors. Both my husband and I are certified nursery professionals with the State of Mississippi, and that was not an easy course.”
Thriving in the South
Unlike some flowers like hybrid tea roses that can be difficult to grow in the hot and humid South, daylilies thrive in the region. They are popular because they are easy to care for, and come in a large range of colors and shapes.
“Daylilies do so well here,” said Homsey, whose nursery is located at 15429 CC Camp Road in Gulfport. “The color range is unbelievable. There is something for everybody. There are miniatures, large flowers, doubles, and spider types that have very long, slender flower petals. Their diversity and wide range of colors make them very popular.”
A lot of businesses have found that Web sites don’t automatically translate into healthy sales. At first, Gulfhaven Gardens didn’t get a lot of traffic to the Web site.
“Initially sales from the Web site were slow,” Homsey said. “But people are now finding me through search engines. I advertise in www.gardenweb.com and that helps. Lately I’m getting more visitors from another site that rates nurseries, and we are receiving nothing but positive ratings. The Web site is http://davesgarden.com/. I guess it all goes back to reputation.”
Homsey built and maintains the Gulfhaven Gardens Website, as well as another Web site built and maintained primarily as a public service, www.gulfcoast-gardening.com. That site contains tips on gardening in the Deep South, information about local gardening events and information about garden-related companies in the area.
Homsey said her first Web site was “pretty terrible,” but over the years it has improved. She is a self-taught Webmaster, and now has a shopping cart component to her Web site.
“It isn’t as refined as some sites, but it is something I can manage myself,” Homsey said. “I do all my own photography.”
The Gulf Coast gardening Web site got started after she and her husband went through the Master Gardener program offered by the Mississippi State University Extension Service. The program is based on volunteerism with participants agreeing to repay intensive training by agreeing to do public service.
“We probably devote about 150 hours per year in one way or another speaking to garden clubs or answering questions,” Homsey said. “We turn in our report every year to the Master Gardeners. We are working with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Daylily Society on a daylily bed at the Mary C. O’Keefe Arts & Cultural Center. This is what we like to do. This is our fun.”
The Internet connection for Gulfhaven Gardens has been critical to the company’s success, giving the Homsey’s a marketplace covering the U.S. and Canada rather than just the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And Homsey said www.gulfcoast-gardening.com is also a marketing device valuable to her and other gardening businesses in the area.
“Whenever you type in keywords like ‘gardening on the Gulf Coast’ into a search engine, that site is predominant in the search engines,” Homsey said. “What is happening now is I’m getting businesses that are gardening related like greenhouse businesses or people who design water gardens who join Gulf Coast Gardening because it improves their marketability in the Web site world. We do listings for $35 per year and are also promoted in the Gulf Coast gardening newsletter.
“The businesses are actually what keeps www.gulfcoast-gardening alive, and it in turns serves garden customers by giving them a free e-mail newsletter with garden tips and information about gardening events. This Web site is actually a spinoff working with the Master Gardening program. Someone said, ‘You ought to do a Gulf Coast gardening Web site.’ And I did.”
Homsey inherited her love of gardening from her grandparents. She still has newspaper articles written about their large organic garden in their local newspaper in Missouri.
“The vegetable gardening and my grandmother’s flowers impressed me even as a little girl,” she said.
And the outgrowth of that is now a business that she created herself on a few acres in the country located near Gulfport.
“I keep pretty busy, but it is something one person can do,” she said.
Daylilies are fairly easy to grow regarding insects and disease. There is a fungus disease that has caused concerns. Homsey said they have dealt with the issue by getting rid of highly susceptible plants and cultural practices.
“I don’t want to sell a plant that is regarded ‘very susceptible,’ so just eliminating those varieties from my collection is a sensible way of addressing the problem,” Homsey said. “We have pretty much sent most of those plants to Zone 6 and higher where the fungus won’t over winter and dies out. It hasn’t been a huge problem.”
Daylilies are easy to care for, although they can’t just be planted and forgotten. They need a garden bed that is kept free of grass and weeds. And Homsey said modern cultivars don’t like to be shaded out or have a lot of competition from roots of trees and shrubs. Fertilizing is important to get the most and largest blooms.
Although daylilies are the mainstay, Homsey also has a number of other types of plants for sale.
“I’m a passionate gardener,” Homsey said. “I love everything about gardening. I am one of those people who can always find room for one more plant. I really like perennials and hummingbird plants. I have a really nice collection of plants that do well in this area, and I started offering these plants in the nursery. That is nice because if they will do well for me, they should do well for someone else.”
While she and her husband propagate most of the plants themselves, and Homsey invests in some plants that are patented in order to have something new to offer. But some of the plant starts are coming from what nature has provided at the site of their nursery.
“One of my latest fascinations is with bog plants,” Homsey said. “I’m really realizing the value of what I have and starting to propagate bog plants to offer to home gardeners. I have three bogs and I’m going to try to learn how to propagate these plants.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.