A popular Cary garden center is sowing the seeds for a bigger, brighter future as it takes over longtime neighbor The Barn Nursery.
After 30 years of steady growth, Whispering Hills Garden & Landscape Center, 8401 S. Illinois Route 31 in Cary, is expanding its operations, giving customers even more opportunities to stretch their green thumbs and beautify their outdoor spaces.
This spring, Whispering Hills owners Al and Michelle Anderson purchased The Barn Nursery, their next-door neighbor and former competitor. The acquisition adds nearly 8 acres to Whispering Hills’ current 15-acre site.
Prior to the sale, the two garden centers co-existed as friendly neighbors, despite competing for customers.
“We always worked well together,” says Michelle. “If we didn’t have something, we’d send customers their way, and vice versa. We’re excited to welcome their customer base as our own.”
When The Barn Nursery’s founder, Tom Kusmerz Sr., decided to fully retire, and his son, Tom Kusmerz Jr. decided to return to his original passion of landscape architecture, the Andersons took an interest in developments. Potential buyers for The Barn Nursery came and went.
The property was up for sale for a few years before the Andersons made an offer.
“Originally, as a joke, my husband said, ‘We should buy it,”’ says Michelle. “We kept an eye on it for a few years, and finally we went to Tom and made a deal.”
In addition to the acreage, Whispering Hills also takes possession of The Barn’s retail space, giving the garden center a unified retail center with an indoor greenhouse and a larger showroom.
“This is great for us,” says Michelle. “Currently our property is split, with offices in one building and our retail in another. Now, we can have everything in one place.”
Another great advantage is the location. The Barn sits right on the corner of Ill. Rt. 31 and Rakow Road, offering excellent exposure to thousands of daily passersby.
“It’s a very highly visible location,” Michelle explains.
Established in 1990, Whispering Hills Garden & Landscape Center began when Al, a landscaper by trade, was frustrated with difficulties in sourcing top-quality local plants and materials. So, he decided to open a center of his own.
“At that time, he was leasing the property; he didn’t even own it,” his wife, Michelle, says. “Then, we initially bought 5 acres, and in 2018 we bought 10 more.”
Now, with the purchase of The Barn, Whispering Hills maintains 22 acres.
The Andersons also made their garden center manager, Sean Ducey, a new partner in the business.
“Sean has been with us over 20 years,” says Michelle. “He started as an intern in college. This has been a long time coming.”
The news comes alongside another exciting development at Whispering Hills. Last spring, the nursery added a tree farm with over 2,000 newly planted trees.
“They’re called whips,” says Michelle, describing the slender plants that don’t yet have branches or offshoots. “They should be ready for sale in about 5 to 10 years.”
The farm offers a wide variety of trees that run the gambit from familiar to unique, including maple, crabapple, oak, cypress, birch, ginkgo, serviceberry and lilac. Anderson is excited at the prospect of having a stock of trees that might be harder to find with looming gaps in the supply chain.
“Trucking and shipping are a challenge these days,” says Michelle. “Growing on our own acreage now is going to be a big help in the future.”
The move into The Barn’s retail building also allows Whispering Hills’ current buildings to be repurposed. This gives the company more room to add merchandise, but also the ability to expand on the myriad of services it already offers, including design services. Whispering Hills offers landscaping design consultations for a small fee, which includes creating a to-scale drawing of the landscaping area by an in-house designer. For full-scale designs, the company works with a certified landscape architect.
Whispering Hills also provides hardscaping service, which comes with design and installation of features like pathways, walls, patios and fountains. In addition to providing an accompaniment to plantings, hardscaping provides a low-maintenance, high-aesthetic way to maintain water efficiency and slow erosion.
While Whispering Hills customers are sure to appreciate the expanded campus, the nursery still offers the option of coming to the customer. Whispering Hills offers both delivery and planting of every tree and shrub in stock, with a landscaping crew that’s equipped to handle full-fledged installations. A properly landscaped home will not only appreciate in market value but will also have a positive environmental impact, from proper drainage to the installation of native flowers, plants and trees that enrich the surrounding environment.
All of these services come together at the Ill. Rt. 31 location, where home gardeners can get a taste of what’s possible in their own backyards, and that includes everything from trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials to bulk mulch, bulk stone and soil products.
More greenhouse space means more tropical plants, for example, which is something the Andersons have been wanting to include for some time.
“We’re definitely planning to do more fine garden collectibles,” says Michelle. “In the past, we haven’t been able to stock things like that because there was nowhere to house them when the weather got cold.”
Plans are in place to offer seasonal inventory during the holiday season, and Christmas tree sales are in the works for when the snow begins to fall.
Already known for holding festivals to celebrate the passing seasons, Whispering Hills’ events calendar will continue to expand, as well.
Whispering Hills officially takes ownership of The Barn Nursery’s land and facilities at the end of May – just in time for the lush greenery of summer and a few surprises in the fall. Expect a grand opening next spring.
“There’s a lot of setup and painting that needs to happen before we move in,” says Michelle. “We figured it would be easier to give ourselves the winter to get all of that accomplished. Then, in spring, we’ll be ready to go.”
Anderson adds that there are long-term plans for new greenhouses, once Whispering Hills is settled in.
After starting their business more than 30 years ago, Al and Michelle Anderson are ready to move into an exciting new chapter.
“This is a culmination of several years of planning and decades of hard work,” says Michelle. “We have an amazing team, and we’re so excited for our customers to experience an even bigger and better Whispering Hills Garden and Landscape Center.”