Growing up in Louisiana, Wayne DuPont lived with a mom and two sisters who loved plants. He was surrounded by the houseplants they would grow and grew to love plants as well. After his sisters left home, he took on their roles of resident plant grower, learning the many lessons it takes to successfully propagate and grow plants. His first lesson in household horticulture came along with his first "greenhouse," his sisters' unused doll house. Without enough light, his plants died. Lesson learned.
Around the 8th grade, DuPont's interest in engineering (he's now a pipeline engineer) started to surface, and he once again decided he needed to engineer a greenhouse. A real one. Again, at the age of 13, he learned a valuable lesson: 7' is not enough height to manage temperature in a green house. Plants- fried. Lesson- learned.
For the next few years, DuPont would continue to tinker with house plants and dabble in propagation, the process of creating new plants from seeds, cuttings, bulbs, and other plant parts. When he went off to college, he got ... busy... and kept a couple houseplants but generally left the cultivation hobby behind.
|A variety of tropicals in different stages of growth in the "propagation room."|
In 1990, Wayne DuPont bought an original bungalow at 1015 Arlington in the Houston Heights neighborhood. The house had your usual St Augustine front yard. The back yard was "largely empty, low lying, and flood prone." There were a few trash trees and a long driveway along the south side of the house. With space to use, the itch to work with plants resurfaced. He used the back of the long driveway to build a greenhouse; this time, one that was functional for real cultivation. DuPont started working with tropical plants, suited to the heat and humidity of Houston. He collected different plants and propagated them, soon filling up his greenhouse. And then outgrowing it. He was good at what he was doing, and his hobby had become very successful, a bit more than he needed for himself. DuPont figured he should move some of the plants out so he could continue growing more. He started Zone 9 Tropicals as a way to do this, and maybe make some money to support the habit, plus share wonderful, unique plants with others who enjoy them. DuPont started offering his plants online at Zone9Tropicals.com and quietly hosting "open garden days" 2 weekends a month at his Arlington Street home.
When you walk under the sun-faded Zone 9 banner, it's hard to imagine what you're going to see. A narrow driveway has been transformed in a greenhouse bursting with amazing plants, many taller than an average man. Rows and rows and rows of smaller pots cover shelves. Pots sit on pedestals and the ground. It is hot and damp and vivid green and amazing flowers. As you reach the back side of the greenhouse, you might think that's it. After all, it's amazing enough. A doorway appears and leads to another green house, full of smaller plant rooms, some for shopping, other for propagation, and a dry room for certain varieties of plants that need a slightly different climate. Zone 9's administrator Randy Judd has noticed locals love exploring these nooks. The small rooms have a "certain Heights character," says Judd. While Zone 9 continues to have strong internet sales, local sales have started to surpass online receipts.
Plant lovers benefit from stopping by the greenhouse. Because it's labor intensive to keep plants at an appropriate size for shipping and, because there are additional steps that must be taken to mail a plant, the cost of the process is added to the price of the plant, plus the cost to ship. Locally, shoppers get lower prices and more variety. DuPont is proud of the unique selection of plants he can offer thanks to his independent propagation and growing. Larger, local nurseries and local suppliers make their money selling bedding plants, so it's not in their best interest to sell tropicals. Roughly 75% of what DuPont sells is unique to Zone 9, not for profit but for the sheer pleasure of growing and owning these varieties of plants. DuPont knows that "people care that it's local." They appreciate that the plants are well cared for and "get excited to have the one [plant] they want that they can't find elsewhere."
If you are interested in tropicals or plants different from what you've seen at the bigger nurseries, you can pre-shop on the website, keeping in mind that your local price will be lower. There are also a number of plants that aren't offered on line, i.e. items that can't be kept in small pots or generally wouldn't ship well. A visit during open garden weekends will allow you to browse a greater variety, including tropical fruit trees and spice plants.
As Zone 9 Tropicals has gained a strong, local following, Wayne DuPont has figured out that he wants to do more. His love of plants is bigger than his residential yard on Arlington. DuPont and Judd, the admin, are excited to have purchased six acres in the nearby Independence Heights neighborhood. They are planning multiple greenhouses and much more room. As a full nursery, they'll also be able to be open regular hours.
Until then, you can still visit Zone 9 Tropicals on Arlington Street and see what they have to suit your plant fancy. They are open the 1st and 3rd weekend of month during the growing season; Saturdays 9am -5pm, Sundays 1pm-5pm (although Sundays are packing/shipping days so you might catch them there on off weekends, too).
Zone 9 Tropicals
1015 Arlington (parking on street)