April 16, 2003 | By: Laura Skillman

Lush green plants and brilliantly colored flowers inside Wyatt Farms greenhouses are showing their stuff just in time for spring planting.

The Wyatts, Jerry and son Matt, operate the family business that contains row after row of greenhouses filled with perennials and annuals.  In addition, the family has nursery stock and grows produce for its roadside stand off U.S.68 in the lakes area of western Kentucky.

Thanks to hard work and perseverance, the family has made a successful niche for themselves.

“This is a good example of a family owned and operated business in western Kentucky that started a number of years ago and continues to modify and change its practices to remain viable,” said Lincoln Martin, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources in Marshall County.

Jerry Wyatt, center, talks with UK Extension specialist Bob Anderson, right, and Marshall County Extension agent Lincoln Martin, left.

Bob Anderson, UK greenhouse management specialist, said the greenhouse and garden center business primarily is a spring business where there is an opportunity to grow many different plants.

Matt Wyatt said the business began with a roadside market in the early 1970s and gradually has grown into a full size nursery.

“In the mid 1980s we grew vegetable transplants for their field production and had a little extra space so we grew some bedding plants and it’s kind of evolved from there,” he said. “It’s opened more of our spring selling season whereas the vegetables were more summer oriented.  It’s extended our selling season quite a bit by having a variety of things to potentially sell.”

Wyatt said they determine what to grow through literature they read, through other growers and past experience.

“We usually start thinking about what we are going to grow as soon as the selling season is over, evaluating trends as far as what has sold well and what hasn’t,” he said. “Every year is different and it’s hard to forecast what the public is going to demand. You’ve got items that are going to be in demand and new crops on the horizon that are gaining interest and that have a lot of public awareness to them. We try to be aware of that and definitely add those. You are planning now for next season.”

The Wyatts have more than 200 perennials in their greenhouses and countless annuals. There’s also the vegetables and nursery stock.

The flower business is driven by opportunity shopping with only a few weeks a year to meet customer demand, Anderson said. Gardeners and greenhouses have to think about the consumer to be sure they have the plants customers want when they come to get them.

Tobacco greenhouse can be converted relatively easily, especially if a grower is looking at a small market.  But Anderson warns that it is a capital-intensive industry and planning is key.

“Someone looking to start in business should work for someone else in the business for a year or two,” he said. “Visit others in the business, see what’s being sold, how things are being set up. You have to see it and experience what’s there.”

Matt Wyatt agrees that success in the business hinges on planning.

“Every year is different, what is a hot seller one year may not be the next so you’ve got to be on the lookout and see what the customer’s interest are and how they change,” he said.

His advice to anyone getting into the business is to develop a selling market and learn as much as they can about the growing aspect.

“You’ve got to have a quality product in the first place or nobody is going to purchase it,” he said.

Anderson said he has known the Wyatts for about 15years. Matt Wyatt said UK provides them with answers when they need them and has all kinds of literature that constantly is updated as well as having trial gardens at Lexington and Princeton that allow producers and homeowners to see what grows well in Kentucky.

Extension agent Martin said the Wyatts are pretty advanced but occasionally they hit a snag and need information in a timely manner. Often, that information comes from Anderson because he’s right on top of things and he’s built a relationship with folks around the state.

“I can hook up with him and get him down here and in the process of Dr. Anderson asking some questions, I become better educated as an agent working with these clients so it’s a plus-plus,” he said. “They learn a little bit and I learn a little bit and that’s what the Extension Service is all about.”