Made in the 501: A business in bloom

Cahill said, “(Crape myrtles are) the center of southern landscaping.”

Hunt noted, “One reason landscapers like them so much (is) they can live in harsh conditions.”

Cahill continued, “Crape myrtles have been around forever, but what hasn’t been around forever are the miniatures. That’s what we’re starting to specialize in.

They can be put in hanging baskets. They’re good for ground cover and accents in landscaping beds.”

In 2005, Cahill and two other partners founded Petit Jean Foothills Nursery.

“It started as a hobby and grew from there,” he said.

Lewis and Beckman joined Cahill in 2007. Hunt and Beckman are both professors at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton. Hunt is the head of the science department, and Beckman teaches management and economics. Cahill is in finance.

The nursery has 85 different varieties of crape myrtles, including tall trees (20 feet or taller), medium trees (10 to 20 feet tall), dwarf varieties (5 to 10 feet tall), and miniatures (6 inches to 4 feet tall).

The partners believe the miniatures will be popular with consumers, and so they have been trying to develop new miniature varieties.
Beckman said, “One problem people have is they like a color and pick it, not realizing how big it will get, and they have to keep trimming it back. With miniatures, they can be fairly confident it won’t get over 3 to 4 feet.”

He said variety is important so that consumers can get what they really want. One customer moved away from a home she had lived in all her life, where she had a large Biloxi crape myrtle. She searched everywhere in Texas for one like it but finally found one on the Internet at Petit Jean Foothills Nursery.

The owners have access to 200 acres for expansion.

Hunt said, “We’ve been expanding a little every year. We all have full-time jobs. Between the three of us, we get as much done as we can.”

The company ships liners, plants cut from larger crape myrtles to be grown, to nurseries all over the country. They can ship plants anywhere in the continental U.S. in three days, Beckman said. They ship liners to New Jersey, Oregon, Wisconsin, Texas, Virginia and Florida. Some liners are also potted and sold to the public.

The farm also has some international business. Hunt said a nursery in Belgium contacted them through the Internet. He learned much about the country’s regulations on shipping plants in order to start doing business with the nursery in Belgium, which is trying to start a farm of its own, he said.

Beckman said, “Florida is probably the crape myrtle capitol, and we send a lot to Florida.”

Cahill joked, “When we get done, we’re going to be the crape myrtle capitol.”