By Elizabeth Keys
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Hairy Balls, Yellow Lobster Claw, Blue Star Creeper . . . sounds like the makings of a horrific science fiction show but as unique plants, they are alive and well at Bustani Plant Farm.
In search of the earth’s best plants, Steve and Ruth Owens have carved out a niche for their independent specialty nursery at 1313 E. 44th St., supplying something different as they “save seeds to save a culture.”
“We’re just farm kids — and we’re living our long-time dream,” Steve Owens said as he explained the business of his plant nursery featuring uncommon, hard to find perennials, vines, natives and tropical color plants.
Steve and his wife met after both came to Stillwater to attend Oklahoma State University. After graduating, the couple worked for OSU for many years with Steve hosting the popular “Oklahoma Gardening” public television show and Ruth working in accounting.
A lifelong horticulturist, Steve was inspired to garden by his father and grandfather. His passion is shared in his book “Best Garden Plants for Oklahoma” which is co-authored by Laura Peters.
The Owens built their first little greenhouse in 2004 with both leaving their jobs in 2007 to devote full attention to the new venture of providing “not your garden-variety selection of plants to the public.”
They decided to name their nursery “Bustani” to reflect their global interest in botany and horticulture. The name Bustani, pronounced “Boo-stah-nee” means “garden” in Swahili, a language spoken in Africa. Bustani Plant Farm grows both native and exotic — and hardy and tropical plants. They carry a few more vines than the average specialty nursery as this is a plant group which interests the couple.
The first place the Owens searched and brought plants back from overseas was after a trip to Kenya. Part of their criteria in “growing something different” is the plant must perform well, too.
“Being unique is great — but can it live in Oklahoma?” Steve questions on all his hunts which includes trials for any plants afterward in the nursery to see if the specimen is up to the weather battles waged in the area.
From a trip to Argentina, the Owens brought back 60 species. The plants are being evaluated but one plant, Nierembergia or Cupflower, has already proven itself in Oklahoma’s heat with flowers three to four times the size of a normal Cupflower.
Not only do they search globally for unique plants, the Owens preserve native plants or plants which have thrived in Oklahoma for generations with seed cultivation. An heirloom Shasta Daisy which has been growing in Oklahoma gardens for more than 60 years is a product they promote.
“We’re always looking for the best performing plants for Oklahoma and the surrounding region,” he said. “We often travel to countries with similar climates. However, we also strive to propagate and make available the plants that are native to this area. We have a passion for Oklahoma’s native plants that is equal to the botanical delights we find in other parts of the world.”
Each year, the Owens explore Oklahoma searching for indigenous plants to test for garden performance and best methods of propagation to be able to offer a few new native species that other nurseries have not produced before.
“Most nurseries get their stock from huge growers and sell the exact same plants,” Owens said. “You won’t find that here. We don’t buy and sell — we grow all our own plants — and we stock unique and rare specimens, too.”
“This involves growing our own stock plants for cuttings and for collecting seed. Our seedlings are started and watered with rain water collected through the structures of our greenhouse roofs,” he said. “Growing our own plants ensures we have complete control in producing a top quality plant for your garden.”
His reputation has grown outside Oklahoma as he is supplying and delivering plants to the top national botanical gardens on the East Coast at Chanticleer in Philadelphia, Pa., The United States Botanic Gardens and the gardens at The Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. Owens said several other botanic gardens in the northeast appreciate his plants’ robustness with a southern size and strength they can’t match with other growers. Bustani Plant Farm has a growing clientele from out of town because the nursery has plants that can’t be found anywhere else. Some of their more popular items are flowering tropical vines, butterfly plants and hardy lantana.
Customers can look at their website or catalog and order plants to be picked up at the nursery. Their spring season is over and the retail operation is closed.
“It’s too hot to plant during the summer,” Owens said. “When it’s time to plant, we’re open.”
They will re-open in the fall for retail sales at the nursery. Many interesting plants are available on site and are not listed in the catalog.
“What’s great about coming out in the fall is seeing the display gardens,” Owens said.
Customers can walk through the Bustani Plant Farm display gardens to see how plants have fared over the summer and imagine how they will look in their own landscape.
Bustani Plant Farm re-opens Sept. 5-28 with hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.