Plants in the desert
ShrubBucket uproots the world of horticulture
Based in Ithaca, shrubbucket.com is an online store for plants, pots, fertilizers, and other accessories. “The horticultural industry is sort of far behind many others,” says founder Rick Hedrick. “We’re considered one of the last remaining ‘digital deserts’,” an ironic term to use in a market of flora. ShrubBucket introduces a lush oasis for the industry, delivering plants even fresher than ones you might find at nurseries, says Hedrick. Its model is unique: Working with the three largest wholesalers on the East Coast, ShrubBucket delivers in four to five days. “It ends up being about the freshest plant material you can buy,” he says. “We only hold it for about twelve hours. So it comes from the wholesaler to us, and we deliver it immediately.” ShrubBucket is very proud of its free four-to-five–day delivery guarantee, but “we’re shooting for forty-eight hours,” he tells me.
Other nurseries have failed by taking the traditional horticultural sales model and trying to mold it for ecommerce. “What we did was take the ecommerce model and apply it to horticulture,” he says. “We’ve spent a lot of time and money to make it so that people can narrow down their searches to find exactly what they need.” The search system on ShrubBucket is similar to shopping online at Best Buy or Amazon. ShrubBucket search filters include sun exposure, mature height, flower color, soil moisture, season of interest, and even the types of wildlife the plant attracts. In case that isn’t enough to pinpoint what a customer is looking for, the website features a live chat window that pops up as soon as you enter. Whether you’ve never owned a plant or you’re a horticultural connoisseur, Hedrick or one of two other full-time employees can help you.
Hedrick explains that he wants to accommodate seasoned horticulturalists but also maintain accessibility for first-time buyers. “In horticulture there’s a big intimidation factor about not knowing the right plant for the right place,” he says. Experienced buyers will shop at nurseries while fresher customers tend to shop for plants at stores like Walmart or Home Depot. ShrubBucket is the right place for anyone interested in plants. “People are getting something they weren’t expecting they were getting,” says Hedrick. Needless to say, the site has been a hit. After launching only last year, they’ve gone from servicing Ithaca alone to all of Central New York. “When we tried it just in Ithaca,” says Hedrick, “Our sale goal for the entire year was exceeded in four weeks.”
It took Hedrick years in the horticultural industry before getting to this point, though. He founded and operated the Plantsmen Nursery in Ithaca for fourteen years, achieving international recognition for rare and highly sought-after garden plants. He sold the nursery in 2006 to move on to his next project: serving as the lead horticultural consultant for New Songdo City, a $50 billion planned metropolis for which he was responsible for developing hundreds of acres of parkland. Throughout that project he had difficulty sourcing all of the materials he needed: “There was not enough plant material in all of Korea for this project,” he said. After seeing Songdo City through, Hedrick was painfully aware of the need for a horticultural market designed for the digital age. “We decided to take the bull by the horn and figure out how to solve this problem,” he says.
Before we part, Hedrick tells me that “Rick” is actually a nickname, and that he’s actually Ulysses P. Hedrick, IV, a fourth-generation horticulturalist. “My great-grandfather was a very well-known Cornell horticulturalist who ran the Geneva Experiment station,” he explains. “He was a very prolific figure and he’s considered one of the founders of modern horticulture. I like to think I’m following his legacy, heading a new generation of postmodern horticulture.”
John Ernst is a passionate writer, hiker, and video gamer born and raised in Rochester. He is currently developing his website, nerdofearth.com.