What you probably haven’t ever considered when your jaw hits the ground at the sight of those beautiful colors is the process it takes to fill The Greenbrier’s 11,000 acres with all of these plants. That’s the job of Director of Grounds Curtis Webb, who gave me an inside look at the planning it takes to fill the more than 200 beds throughout the property.
It’s a process that has changed a great deal since Webb moved to the Grounds department in 2011, when most of the planning was done entirely by hand and outside vendors came in to get the plants in the ground.
This summer, the entire process was done almost entirely in house. Over the winter, Webb and his team worked tirelessly to get every bed on the property into his computer on a new piece of software called PRO Landscape. Webb converted photos, drawings and old sketches into computerized diagrams that show the size, shape and location of every bed. The crew even went a step further, inputting information about the sun exposure that a particular bed receives, valuable data when it comes to picking plants for a particular spot.
Once the beds were all inputted and named — by location, such as North Lawn 1 or Springhouse 2 — it was time to get to work on the design.
The PRO Landscape software allows Webb to create different designs that fit particular beds, and he can see both the color and the texture of a particular bed right on his screen. His inspiration comes from all over the country.
“My wife gets into it with me,” Webb explained. “When we go somewhere, I’m checking the landscape out — the plant combinations and what they did. I have a folder that is nothing but phone photos of properties I’ve visited.”
Webb relies heavily on past experience, selecting plants that he knows will work in a particular spot, and he tries to come up with a new look every year.
Once the visual fits his eye on the computer, it’s time to order the plants. For that, Webb turns to Bob’s Market and Greenhouses. One of the top 100 growers in the United States, Bob’s Market is located a short drive from The Greenbrier in Mason, W.Va.
Bob’s Market purchases seeds or plugs from manufacturers like Proven Winners (more on that company later) and grows them to meet a client’s specifications. For Webb, the plants must arrive on property in at least 60 percent color, so visitors will always see that pop.
Webb usually makes his order for the summer in late January, and after maturing under Bob’s Market’s green thumb, the plants arrive ready to be placed into the beds sometime after the final front date the second week in May.
This year, Webb and his crew pushed the plant date back a little further in an effort to ensure that the plants were still in prime condition for the PGA TOUR’s annual stop at The Greenbrier, A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier. A date change moved the golf tournament from early-July to early-September, and Webb and his team adjusted their timelines accordingly.
“We’re trying to pick plants that have more of a longevity to carry into the year,” said Webb. “There has been less pressure this year. We’ve been able to slow down our pace a little, and that puts less stress on the plant.”
Still, even with the adjusted timeline, Webb and his crew of 6-8 manage to get all of the summer plants in the ground in a span of about four weeks.
That crew of 6-8 doesn’t include the work on the golf courses, where John Burns and his crew work to plant around 25,000 plants to showcase for the thousands of golfers who walk the fairways each summer. Read more about his story here.
In total, more than 90,000 plants are showcased throughout the property.
One set of beds that requires some special attention is located at the North Entrance to the hotel. The North Garden is one of seven in the United States designated as a Proven Winners Signature Garden, a title it first obtained in 2016.
The Proven Winners Signature Garden designation is a prestigious certification representing a partnership between Proven Winners and elite, exclusive, high profile properties across the country.
The goal of this partnership is to develop a mutually beneficial collaboration involving the property’s staff horticulturists (or the landscape maintenance professional), the landscape architect or designer, and local nurseries or growers supplying Proven Winners plants, all working together to develop a landscape and garden presentation featuring Proven Winners prominently on the property.
In addition to providing a stunning showcase of Proven Winners plants, a Proven Winners Signature Garden promotes the location for visitors and guests, garden clubs, trade groups, and landscape professionals — providing a showcase display garden for all involved.
“Proven Winners plants are unbelievable,” said Webb. “The difference in how they grow is amazing.
“It’s almost like a billboard,” Webb continued of the garden. “So many people walk through their every day, and we have a brochure available
to tell them about every plant they see.”
In planting this particular garden, Webb works with members of the Proven Winners team, such as Zeke Cooper, to come up with the ultimate design and find Proven Winners plants to fill the beds. See a video of the process here.
The relationship goes far beyond the North Garden. Proven Winners uses The Greenbrier to test some of its trial plants, before they are offered to the public, and the company has also worked with Webb’s team to enhance many of the hiking trails around the property with native plants that add to the experience.
Anytime Webb needs assistance, Proven Winners is there.
“They help me in a lot of ways,” he said. “The partnership is very valuable to us.”
The summer planting is just one of several throughout the year.
The next will come this fall, when red, yellow and orange mums replace the summer flowers that currently fill the beds.
The plan is to start that fall planting as soon as A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier concludes, though Webb and his team will continue to monitor that timeline closely.
“We had some mums planted that will be ready early if necessary,” he explained. “We want to be ready just in case something fails.”