Nelson Water Gardens & Nursery near Houston is restructuring to focus more on selling nursery stock.
COURTESY OF NELSON WATER GARDENS & NURSERY

Last year, Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area with record-setting rainfall and powerful winds. In its aftermath, garden centers and other businesses were left tending to the damage. While some experienced more severe damage that included torn up greenhouses and roofing, other centers had more luck, with minimal wear and tear.

Rolf Nelson
COURTESY OF NELSON WATER GARDENS & NURSERY

In a previous story about garden centers involved in hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Nelson Water Gardens & Nursery near Houston dodged major flooding, but the surrounding neighborhoods weren’t so lucky. Continuous rain flooded the roads and shut down the nursery, halting recovery and business.

Now, the retailer has mostly recovered from the hurricane, but it has not been entirely able to catch a break from bad weather. We spoke to the store’s president, Rolf Nelson, for an update on his store’s recovery and what changes he’s implementing.

Q: After Hurricane Harvey hit, some retailers suffered some major damages. How did your store fare?
A: We did not have a lot of damage ourselves. We had a little water in my office, and a little water came through the room in our showroom, and we had to do some minor repair work. But compared to [other affected businesses], it was really nothing. The big effect of Harvey was just nobody coming [into the store].

Q: How did the business manage in the aftermath of the storm?
A: We just didn’t do business for six weeks to speak of. We were very fortunate in our case … I was trying to get our staff back together and give them a lay of the land of what was going to happen going through the fall. We just started a conversation with somebody who turned out being a high-end builder, and we hit it off, and we ended up doing demo work for him for the better part of six or seven weeks, which was our [only] income stream. We really had no landscaping going on at the time for our design-build [department]. [These jobs] kept us alive, basically.

Before the tornado struck Nelson Water Gardens & Nursery (left); After a tornado brought down the store’s main retail greenhouse (right).
COURTESY OF NELSON WATER GARDENS & NURSERY

Q: Were there any other weather incidents you dealt with this year?
A: The last Sunday of February, we had a microburst tornado come through the place. And our retail greenhouses that anchored the middle of our sales area got twisted to the ground. Amazingly, this thing bounced down, got caught underneath our greenhouse, went back up in the sky, and from what we understood from another customer, came down and hit their garage about a quarter mile away, but not their house. Then it went back up and didn’t damage anything else … for something like that, the amount of damage was very minimal.

Q: How has this spring season gone so far?
A: It was an unusually cold winter for this area, as I think it was for the rest of the country, although typically we start to see a resurgence of business in March that really just didn’t happen. We just didn’t have the weather in our favor.

Q: Despite the unfortunate weather you’ve experienced, I understand you’re making some renovation and re-branding efforts. What are some of the changes you are making?
A: We changed our fence line. We had a solid fence, and we wanted to open things up, and we were moving more heavily into shrubs and small trees, which we have not done much of in the past. We’re emphasizing our name more as Nelson Nursery. It’s still officially Nelson Water Gardens & Nursery, but we’re really emphasizing the nursery in how we present ourselves to people now. And with the open fence line and iron fence, it’s our billboard. People are able to look in and see all the plants, and it definitely has helped with the number of people from the immediate area stopping in.

Q: What were some of the challenges with implementing these changes?
A: [The tornado damage] was [bad timing]. So, we had to work very rapidly to just get rid of all the damage and set something up and be ready for business. We were cleaned up in a week’s time and ready for the next weekend.

Q: How have people responded to the store renovation?
A: People do seem to like it. We’re getting a lot of positive comments with the new look. We figured [it would be] at least a two-year build on the fact that we started doing more shrubs and small trees, that that wasn’t going to instantaneously make a huge impact. We’ve done pretty well overall in terms of getting people in and realizing we have some extras. 

Samantha is an editorial intern for GIE Media’s Horticulture Group.