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Published May 2006

Nursery sees growth
in ‘big trees’ business
Photo courtesy of Big Trees Inc.
In April 2000, workers from Big Trees of Snohomish dug out this 30-foot-tall Japanese maple with its 45-foot-wide canopy and moved it to a safe location to preserve it while Providence Everett Medical Center constructed its new Pavilion for Women & Children on the tree’s former site.

By John Wolcott
SCBJ Editor

Big Trees Inc. in Snohomish is a rarity in the nursery business in the Northwest, noted for its broad selection of large, established trees.

Even more rare is its specialty — the delicate art of rescuing, saving and moving huge trees.

For years, owners Ross and Nancy Latham have been perfecting the delicate art and setting their sights on commercial business, particularly contractors and landscapers who focus on high-end residential markets and corporate ventures.

In December, for example, Big Trees planted three large sequoias and other large trees at the new Home Depot site in Lacey. Before that, the Lathams planted a huge Japanese maple in the courtyard of the new Alderwood Village in Lynnwood, placed Japanese maples in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood and settled a giant sculptured black pine into the yard of a Mercer Island residence.

Locally, Big Trees moved a 30-foot-tall, 40-year-old Japanese maple from its decades-long resting place in a courtyard at Providence Everett Medical Center’s Pacific Campus to a safe spot 240 feet away, making room for the building of the medical center’s Pavilion for Women & Children.

It took a crew of workmen and their heavy equipment an entire day to accomplish the move without harming the treasured specimen. Two years later, once the Pavilion was built, the tree with the 45-foot-wide canopy was moved to its present location where it provides shade and beauty for pavilion staff and visitors. Saving the tree added $9,000 to the project costs, but replacing it with a similar one — if one could be found — would have cost an estimated $30,000, Big Trees staff estimated.

Another big move was planting a Japanese maple in the courtyard in the new Alderwood Village at the mall in Lynnwood. It’s a major signature piece of the landscaping designed into the mall’s expansion.

The growth in the “big trees” business is dependent on many things, Ross Latham said, including emotions and aesthetics as much as the real estate marketplace.

“People are realizing the sentimental value of trees. Today, for instance, people often want to take their family memorial tree to a new residence when they move. Also, removing large trees from established home lots during remodeling or expansion projects and then moving the trees back is gaining a lot of support from both neighbors and homeowners. And, it’s good PR for the contractor, too, because the finished project looks so much better,” he said.

He has found that trees mean a lot to most people, particularly in Western Washington where residents are so used to the tree-abundant beauty of the Evergreen state, he said.

“Trees are what people sit under in the summer. They make you feel good when you come home. They’re calming, attractive and great for privacy and making a home look complete,” he said.

Like many nurseries, the Lathams deal with smaller trees, too, providing privacy screening and beautifying landscaping for homes or businesses. Those trees, in the 6- to 15-foot-tall range, provide the majority of Big Trees’ stock of 120,000 trees of more than 300 varieties. But, the ones that grab the most attention are mature trees that cost hundreds or even tens of thousands of dollars and arrive at a site on a flatbed truck-trailer or on the back of one of the Lathams’ specially equipped transplanting trucks.

“We’ve spent years learning how to grow, transport and transplant big trees for commercial, residential and government clients,” he said. “It’s a real specialty.”

Now certified by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties as a Built Green business, Big Trees also has worked extensively with the Snohomish County Groundwater Management department and the Stillaguamish-Snohomish Fish Enhancement Task Force on salmon stream recovery and other environmentally sensitive projects.

Big Trees, with growing fields in Marysville, Granite Falls, Monroe and other Western Washington areas, employs 15 to 22 people, depending on seasonal demand, including arborists, certified landscapers and site logistics experts.

For more information, visit www.bigtreesupply.com on the Internet or call 866-313-2333.

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