MONCKS CORNER -- J. Guy picked up trash in the gravel parking lot of his sprawling nursery business Wednesday, just a few feet away from where auctioneers started selling off his livelihood one plant at a time.
"It's very saddening," said Guy, president of Carolina Nurseries. "We are disrupting hundreds and hundreds of people's lives."
Auctioneers began liquidating the inventory of the nearly century-old company shortly after 9 a.m. after the owners were unable to secure new financing to satisfy a loan that was due.
Guy gathered his staff before the auction began to let them know that a last-minute deal to find a new lender had fallen through.
"I told them we had struck out on refinancing," Guy said. "The deal we thought we had in hand reconsidered."
The nursery employs 335 people. They will be laid off gradually as the plant stock is carted away over the next 90 days, he said.
About 60 people connected with nurseries from across the country assembled on picnic tables set up inside a cleared-out greenhouse to bid on boxwoods, hydrangeas, butterfly bushes and the first wagon loads of more than 5 million ornamentals at the 686-acre facility on U.S. Highway 52.
Plant by plant, in lots of one to 1,000 or more, auctioneers with Reimold Horticultural Auctioning sold off the nursery's stock.
First up were 100 royal burgundy barberry plants.
Rich Juhasz of New Hanover Gardens Wholesale Nursery in Pennsylvania took them home with a winning bid of $2.50 each. They normally sell for $10 to $12.50 on the wholesale trade, Guy said.
The deals were much the same for the other plants pulled in front of bidders on flatbed trailers.
Red oleander went for $1.50, not the $9 the nursery usually sells it for.
Butterfly bushes sold for as little as 50 cents, Japanese plum yews for 35 cents.
Boxwoods that normally bring $12 sold for as little as $1.50.
Juhasz said he was looking for anything that looks nice to take back to his 19-acre nursery near Allentown, Pa.
He hoped to take home crape myrtles, leyland cypress and knockout roses.
"I'll buy several truckloads if we get a good price," Juhasz said.
Vernon Blois of Halifax, Nova Scotia, said he came down for the bargains, too.
"I'm looking for heartier plants because it's a colder area," he said.
He had his eye on junipers, hostas, roses, boxwoods, hydrangeas and holly bushes.
"If the pricing is right, we will buy several tractor-trailer loads," he said.
Kenneth Lowe of L&H Enterprises of Lowgap, N.C., looked for deals as well to take home to his 500-acre plant farm, but he warned that the industry may see more nurseries go under if the economy continues its lackluster pace.
"We are now in survival mode," said Lowe, who said he attended a similar sale in Alabama last month.
"If it's like this for the next two or three years, there will be a lot of these auctioned off. This place will hurt the market because they will dump so many plants all at once," Lowe said.
Guy said it hurts to see the 99-year-old nursery lose the products that kept it in business.
He's unsure what will happen to the land, which is tied up in another loan that hasn't been called in yet.
"They are being patient, but there's no way to keep the land without the operation going," he said.
Guy crossed his fingers that a final e-mail he sent as a "Hail Mary" would produce new funding, but he also realizes that the nursery is near the end of its life.
"I'll miss the people and the plants and walking through the nursery with my wife and dogs when it's closed and it's quiet," he said.
"I'll really miss it."
Reach Warren Wise at 937-5524 or email@example.com.