A GARDEN OASIS
Family-owned and operated, Family Tree Nursery encourages a passion for plants. passion for plants.
In the early days of the pandemic, there were upticks in trends that included loaves of crusty sourdough bread fresh from the oven, in-person meetings that switched to video conferences, and the urge to garden and cultivate. The desire to put plants into the earth coincided with the usual spring pastime, leading nurseries such as Family Tree Landscape and Nursery to see regular customers as well as new patrons seeking to learn home gardening.
Ron Nelson opened the Family Tree Nursery in Overland Park more than 50 years ago, and, through the years, the family business has grown, adding a production facility, a store in Liberty, and eventually the location in Shawnee in 1981. Ron’s son Eric is the current owner, and his grandsons, Jonah and Jesse, plan to eventually take over the family legacy.
Customer service and quality are paramount at Family Tree, and Jesse Nelson says even before the pandemic, the staff knew the importance of keeping the stores immaculately clean. Of the increased interest in gardening, he says, “Many people were stuck in their homes, and they weren’t traveling that summer. So a lot of people spent more time working to beautify their patios, yards, and homes. Many wanted houseplants to enhance the background during Zoom calls. Spring is already our busiest season of the year, but we definitely saw an increase in fresh interest in gardening.”
A Passion for Plants
With two production facilities in Kansas City, Kansas, Family Tree grows all of its annuals, perennials, hanging baskets, tubs, and arrangements, providing a unique product selection for customers.
“You can’t buy Family Tree products anywhere else in town other than our stores,” Jesse Nelson says. “We’re committed to high-quality plants and passionate about our plants, so we spend a lot of time and energy around the genetics that we grow and to making sure they’re the best available on the market. That way, when the customer puts them into the ground, they’re going to be successful. That’s really our end goal; we want the customer to be successful.”
Although the family is in the horticulture industry, he emphasizes that they’re truly in the hospitality business. Every customer is seen as a guest, and staff members work to determine how they can best make the customer’s experience exceptional.
A Sensory Experience
Wandering around the Family Tree store delights the senses as guests linger over a fragrant herb or take in the brilliant colors of annuals such as pansies. It felt like a natural progression to dedicate a space in the greenhouse where guests can linger even longer—a chance to enjoy a cup of coffee and sit for a while in the sunshine, amid flowers and the occasional bird or butterfly.
Even before the pandemic, Nelson says the greenhouse seating space was well received.
“There were a lot of people who said, ‘I work from home. Why would I work from home when I can sit out here and work in a greenhouse? This is a way better environment.’ I’ve had college professors out there teaching virtually in the greenhouse. One of the biggest comments I hear in the wintertime when everybody’s cooped up and they’re not getting enough vitamin D is, ‘Wow, my seasonal depression is cured.’ They sit out there for a day and they’re just revived. And that’s been one of the biggest blessings for us is how well this space is being received and how much it means to people.”
The greenhouse seating offered the perfect opportunity to open a café for guests to enjoy a hot tea or coffee while working or relaxing in the greenhouse seating area. Keeping the family business theme, Jesse says it was natural to work with their brother Bo Nelson, who founded Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters, a local batch roaster that started in the Crossroads.
With an established brand, Bo Nelson was leaving his space in the Crossroads in 2018. The nursery, which was remodeled in 2012 to include space for a café, had yet to find the ideal partner. The timing was perfect for developing Café Equinox.
Jesse Nelson says his father suggested the name. “Cafe Equinox is my dad’s idea for the name because it’s really between the autumnal equinox in mid-September and the vernal equinox in mid-March, when we have the space to allocate for seating in the greenhouse, as well as that’s when everything is dead and dormant outside, and you can come into the greenhouse and it’s an oasis.”
Originally, the plans were for café seating in the greenhouse during the nursery’s off-season only. What they found instead is that people come year-round, even in the middle of summer, to sit in the greenhouse, meet with friends, do business, or study.
This prompted the need for expansion. “It went over so well that we were at the point where we needed to make the proper investment into the café space so Café Equinox could fully express [itself and its] brand.”
The renovated Café Equinox serves Thou Mayest coffee drinks alongside local pastries from the Heirloom Bakery and Hearth, as well as from Mud Pie Vegan Bakery & Coffee, all for guests to enjoy in the tropical setting. Guests who visit once renovations are complete will find a café that occupies three times the space it did previously. There’s an L-shaped bar to sit at, or guests can take their coffee to the greenhouse. The plans are to open the newly renovated café by the end of April.
Space in the greenhouse is limited during peak growing season, but there is a space allocated for year-round seating. Jesse Nelson says they give the greenhouse seating as much space as possible, then as summer progresses and more space opens up, the seating area increases in the fall and will scale down again in the spring.
An Education in Gardening
Educating the public is part of the Family Tree mission so that guests can learn ways to enjoy the nursery’s products. Staff members provide helpful tips and advice for the best products to ensure the life of the plants. In the spring, a container gardening hands-on workshop fills quickly, and guests leave with a beautiful potted plant.
Online, Family Tree has an educational video series on topics from growing succulents to planting a garden.
House materials for the novice gardener such as a nursery catalog, a grass guide, perennial catalog, guides for fruit, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers, and other materials can also be found online. Plans include a release of a tropical catalog to be picked up in the store around the first of May.
In addition to the expansion of Café Equinox and the year-round seating, the parking lot has gained about 50 additional parking spots, making a better flow for traffic, especially during the spring rush of enthusiastic gardeners.
Café Equinox (reopens late April)
Family Tree Nursery
7036 Nieman Road
Shawnee, KS 66203
Hours vary by season with the café closing an hour or two before the nursery closes.
Hours for the nursery: (from April through May or June) Monday–Saturday: 9 a.m.–7 p.m. Sunday: 10:30 a.m.–6 p.m.
July through March, the retail store closes an hour earlier.