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Gardening: Get It in Writing

A new horticultural company will put a dollar value on your green


A company founded last year in Raleigh, N.C., wants to take your botanical bounty and put a dollar sign in front of it. Horticultural Asset Management, Inc. sounds like a company that does taxes for flowers, but it is a conglomeration of interests in finance and landscaping. It's on the Web at www.moneygrowsontrees.com.

"Everyone is familiar with the cost of things inside the home. This is the first time people have tried to establish the cost outside the home," says Tom Hendrickson, president and CEO of H.M.I. He says the company has two goals. The first is to provide insurance on trees and shrubs in a yard, protecting the investment against storms and other blights. The second is to "quantify curb appeal, to educate the real estate market on the cost of replacements."

H.M.I. is the brainchild of Hendrickson and William P. Glynn, business leaders and entrepreneurs, and landscaping veteran David Argay. When they brought in Michael Dirr, a nationally recognized plant authority and a sort of horticultural Indiana Jones, they began the process of assigning a cash value to the manicured yard.

H.M.I.'s focus is on establishing the replacement costs of the trees and shrubs in your yard, or what it would cost to re-create the whole setting. The firm looks at all the aspects of a property's landscaping, from drainage and irrigation systems to the slope of the area to local conditions and how these affect the health and growth rates of the plants in the yard.

The H.M.I. team refers to what they call the Horticultural Scientific Standard to figure out growth rates, a database culled largely from Michael Dirr's research. The process is very technical — they have graphs and algorithms.

The culmination of their investigation is the H.M.I. Horticultural Assessment, which details the replacement costs for your flora and a 10-year projection of the plants' value. The assessment breaks down the cost by plant and by year, and then offers a specialized guide for caring for the various trees and shrubs, keeping animals and diseases at bay, and protecting what is now a real investment for the next decade.

So why would you pay up to $500 for a list of your plants and their values? "Curb appeal means a lot," says Scott Ruth, real estate agent for Long & Foster in Richmond. He says the landscaping of a house is a significant factor in selling it. H.M.I.'s goal is to assign a value credible enough to be attached to the asking price of a house, with the certification to back it up.

It looks great on paper. From one of H.M.I.'s sample Horticultural Assessments, the replacement cost of six Nikko blues hydrangea goes from $972 to $17,753 over the projected decade.

Ruth advises homeowners to begin taking the potential rewards of landscaping seriously early-on: "Sellers should consider it two to three years before they go to sell." Or, if you have the H.M.I. gurus on your side, give it a decade and harvest extra gold.

H.M.I. is currently searching for test markets, and Richmond is being considered. But the company is not limited by location. Hendrickson says it has alliances with horticultural professionals nationwide, giving it the ability to do assessments all around the country.

"What we've pulled together is 100 years of science and significant business capital," Hendrickson says. "This has the potential to be a revolutionary opportunity for the green industry."


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