Landscape firms cut losses in sinking real estate market

Dean Richardson's 10-acre nursery, Tropical Treescapes in South Miami-Dade County, used to supply flowering trees and palms for home landscapes. Now his trees are languishing while, with Gina Melin, he's growing vegetables in a shade house and selling to chefs as well as the Coral Gables Farmers' Market.

''We sold all the lettuce, beets and carambolas. We almost sold out of Swiss chard and pak choi,'' he said after his first venture to the Gables Saturday morning event. ``The only thing that didn't do well is radishes.''

Growers of landscape trees and shrubs in South Florida saw their business plunge with the crash of the housing market. To stay afloat, many have turned to new crops, planted less, plundered their retirement fund or even threw crops away.

In the Redland, Sylvia Gordon, whose nurseries provide plants for her company Landscape by Sylvia, has developed a line of herbs and heirloom vegetables.

''The concept was to sell to landscapers who could install the plants in high-end homes where they like fresh vegetables and herbs,'' she said. 'I sell them as `landscape ready' -- a finished tomato plant with fruit already on it, or herbs ready to cut. I go through brokers who have those kinds of clientele.''

Her traditional landscape plants, such as begonias and iris, are ``very, very slow.''

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