Civano Nursery Sprouts ; the Regional Grower Has Partnered with a National Power House

By Acoba, Elena | AZ Daily Star, October 9, 2016 | Go to article overview

Civano Nursery Sprouts ; the Regional Grower Has Partnered with a National Power House


Acoba, Elena, AZ Daily Star


Did you buy a Monrovia-brand lantana, hibiscus, salvia or other perennial from a Tucson independent garden center this year? If so, there's a chance it was a homegrown product, raised just outside of Sahuarita.

Last spring Civano Nursery Inc. sold its first stock as a network partner with Monrovia, a national grower that offers nearly 4,000 varieties of plants and owns five nurseries in the United States.

"A network partner is one that's within a designated market area or territory," explains Jonathan D. Pedersen, Monrovia's vice president of business development. "Where possible we have a local grower that can represent Monrovia."

Network partners supplement Monrovia-grown stock in regions that need more than what Monrovia can supply in a season.

Civano is the only Monrovia network partner in Arizona and one of four in the Southwest area that stretches from Southern California through Texas.

As a network partner, Civano locally grows Southwest-adapted plants and sells them in Monrovia-labeled containers to garden centers in the region.

Pedersen says he is impressed by Civano's operation, which he examined before choosing the company as a network partner.

"My overall impression of Civano is you've got three brothers and a father that are really wanting to grow that company," he says.

CANADA TO TUCSON

The relationship with Monrovia is the latest feather in the cap of the Shipley family, which has turned a small tree salvage business into a major commercial nursery in Southern Arizona.

"They definitely are a large player in Southern Arizona," Cheryl Goar, executive director of the Arizona Nursery Association, describes Civano.

Patriarch Leslie "Les" Shipley retired in 1989 at age 49 after running a successful interior landscaping and nursery business in Nova Scotia. His young sons-Chris, Alex and Nick-did small jobs in the business.

Nick, 41, Civano's nursery manager, particularly remembers mixing soil and perlite for 50 cents a bag.

Les moved the family, including his mother, to Victoria so the boys could attend better schools.

There, neighbor David Butterfield told Les about Tucson property he was going to develop into an environmentally sensitive community called Civano, says Alex, 40, Civano's wholesale manager.

Butterfield asked if Les could salvage the thousands of trees and cacti on the property, Alex recalls. Les said he could.

The entire family, including Chris's wife, moved into eastside Tucson apartments in 1997 to start a tree salvage and landscape business.

Les had never salvaged desert plants, but learned quickly. "We worked with someone who was an expert in Phoenix," says Alex.

In 2000 the family opened the Civano Nursery garden center at the entrance to the development. "It was the intent of the developer to have a business up front," recalls Chris, 44, Civano's president.

The retail center would grow and sell plants, teach sustainability and become headquarters for the wholesale salvage and landscape services.

"Those were the glory days," Alex remembers. The company's clients included golf courses, housing developments and mining operations.

The Shipleys had to roll with changing economic times. They folded the landscape business in 2002 when demand fell off during a recession.

The family found itself at a crossroads when the Great Recession hit in late 2007. The tree salvaging business already was slowing down because there was less Tucson-area land under development.

"We saw that tree salvage would run out," says Chris, "so we thought, 'let's grow trees. …

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