Outback Nursery is ‘all about family’

The Willems family's labour of love has evolved into Outback Nursery, one of the Comox Valley's leading growers of plants, shrubs and trees.

ANNETTE URBON

ANNETTE URBON

The Comox Valley Farmers’ Institute is proud to profile Comox Valley

farmers and showcase the value of local agriculture. This is the

second in a series of such profiles.

Eleven years ago, when the Willems family began clearing six heavily

treed acres on Headquarters Road, the work was hard, the money was

scarce and the days stretched from dawn to dusk.

 

Despite the challenges, the Willems’ labour of love quickly evolved

into Outback Nursery, today one of Comox Valley’s leading growers of

plants, shrubs and trees. Though the family now has customers across

Vancouver Island and as far away as Saskatoon, it wasn’t always that

way.

 

“We were a big secret for a long time,” says Michelle Willems, who

married into the family business in 2009. “But all of a sudden people

are coming in because their friend or neighbour told them about us.

We’ve developed a bit of a reputation for our knowledgeable staff and

our unique selection of plants.”

 

Though no one will hazard a guess at exactly how many species Outback

Nursery grows, they boast more than 50 varieties of Japanese maple

alone, and just as many grafted conifers.

 

Grafted trees, especially Japanese maples, have become Outback

Nursery’s specialty. Roger Willems, his sister Annette and her son

Cody have all become adept at the delicate art of grafting, fusing the

shoot of one plant to a hardy rootstock in order to instill more

desirable qualities in the resulting plant.

 

“It’s a bit like science fiction,” says Michelle.

 

Quantity of plants and quality of techniques notwithstanding, a key

ingredient of the family’s success, says Michelle, has been their

continual re-investment of profits.  One of their largest and most

recent investments, an industrial potting machine imported from

Holland, has enabled the family to plant 800 one-gallon pots per hour

on its slowest setting.

 

“It’s a vast improvement from the days when Dad and I potted by hand,”

says Annette. “I think this was my brother’s best idea yet!”

 

Strip away the modern technology and botanical “science fiction,”

however, and you’re left with a hardworking family that simply loves

to work the land.

 

“We’re farmers,” says Michelle.  “We’re not growing potatoes or corn,

but we’re working in dirt to grow things bigger and better. At the end

of the day, we’ve created jobs for ourselves doing something we love.”

 

“Like many farming operations, we’re all about family,” adds Roger.

“We owe everything to our parents. It was their hard work that

supported us and it was their land on which we started the nursery.

Without them we’d be nothing.

 

“We’re caretakers of the planet’s botanical assets,” he adds in a rare

profound moment. “On a local level, we keep money circulating within

the community.  Local people buy from us, we buy equipment from local

companies and they employ local people. It all snowballs.”

 

Outback Nursery is located at 6016 Headquarters Road. For more

information, call 250-703-0723.

 

— Comox Valley Farmers’ Institute

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