About Ridge Road Nursery

"I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines." - Henry David Thoreau

About 30 years ago, Dr. Eugene Coffman, began collecting plants as a hobby while still practicing internal medicine in Dubuque, Iowa. Gene - as he introduces himself, or "Doc" - as many refer to him, fondly remembers how it all started. "I asked Karl Haltenhoff, a wonderful nurseryman and florist and a patient of mine, to do the landscaping on our new house in Dubuque in 1961. He took me to various nurseries and got me 'hooked' on Viburnums and other choice ornamental trees and shrubs." Gene's wife Roberta (Bobbie) remembers that "We ran out of room to put plants where they wouldn't obscure our view." The rest is history - they were forced to move to the "boonies." Together they spent the next 30 years taking trips to collect the ornamentals they liked from China, Korea, Europe and England and of course the US. The storehouse of gems soon came to be known as Ridge Road Nursery, aptly named by a friend who noted that their place in the boonies was on a road (St. Catherine) atop a ridge overlooking the Mississippi.

The stories that Doc and Bobbie have to share, and there are many, are best relayed in their 2nd floor screened in porch (commonly referred to as their "treehouse"), over a glass of wine surrounded by the birds that sing and flit from Shagbark to Dogwood to Stewartia, to name a few. It is an especially welcome and peaceful place, typically enjoyed (and frequently savored) after an eventful ride in the mule (Kawasaki); beginning innocently with a look at Doc's many "favorites" in the nursery and sometimes extending to the pond or a mile and a half down to the river. Not surprisingly, whatever time is spent it seems to just slip away and is never really "enough" for the plant person. It's easy to get lost at Ridge Road Nursery - in the nature of it all - the place, the plants, the people.

Chris Frommelt was introduced to Doc and Bobbie and the nature of Ridge Road Nursery by a mutual friend in 2003. Having left a career in healthcare systems to pursue her interests in landscape design and have a "different life" Chris returned to her native Dubuque. She recalls her amazement the first time she met Doc and set foot at the nursery. Seeing all sorts of plants that she had read about but couldn't find anywhere she asked Doc if he had an inventory. "Well, I thought about it on a number of occasions" he said. "And what did you come up with?" she asked. "Frustration!!!" They started to laugh and haven't stopped since. Doc and Bobbie were thinking about retiring when they met Chris. The inventory that Chris did in 2003 revealed that Doc and Bobbie had collected over 5,000 trees and shrubs. Chris bought the nursery in 2004. Doc and Bobbie graciously agreed to stay on and help, returning each spring after wintering in AZ where Doc pours over the latest trade information on more interesting and promising plants.

Together, Doc and Chris have continued to grow the nursery while Chris continues to operate her landscape design and installation business. They have continued to focus on uncommon trees and shrubs with an emphasis on Dogwoods, oriental Maples and Hornbeams, Magnolias, newer cultivars of woody ornamentals, and Doc's all-time favorite collection of over 40 varieties of Viburnums. In October of 2009, the Coffman Viburnum Walk at the Iowa Arboretum at Ames Iowa was dedicated to Gene for the contributions to the Arboretum over the years by Ridge Road Nursery. Chris has added some favorite perennials, grasses, ground covers and vines.

The plant material offered at Ridge Road Nursery is either purchased and grown on or propagated on site via softwood cuttings. Plants are grown in typar bags in a specially formulated mix to maximize the production of fibrous roots, enhance drainage and enable the installation of plants in the landscape throughout the growing season. All plant material sold has overwintered on site a minimum of one year or more unless otherwise noted at the time of sale. Prices are based on size and availability. Trees run upwards of $130/caliper inch. Shrubs run upwards of $45 for plants in 5G containers and a typical height of approximately 3'.

To see a complete list of offerings visit our plant list page. Or you can call ahead for an appointment to visit and experience the nature of it all for yourself. Doc says that he and Bobbie are just "two old people out in the woods" who love to have company. We all feel that we're standing under a lucky star. We'd love to have you join us.