There is method in this madness.
For more than four generations, Conard-Pyle produced rosebushes in the open fields of southern Chester County and sold them through its mail-order catalogues.
But in one of many concessions to changing times, Conard-Pyle, and the area's other commercial rosebush producers, looked west. In California and Arizona, they found a longer growing season and less rain: ideal rose-growing conditions.
"As the business grew, we started looking around," said Dick Hutton, who recently retired as chief executive of Conard-Pyle and left his son, Steve, in charge. "In the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley, the soil was especially good, the climate was especially good. It was the cheapest way to expand."
The bicoastal system gives Conard-Pyle the best of both worlds - on one coast, good weather for the plants; on the other, easy access to the Northeast's large markets.
The sagging economy, especially the lag in home construction, has taken a toll on the nursery industry, but Conard-Pyle has managed to expand operations, in part because of its proximity to population centers.
"Many of our competitors are in the Deep South or the Far West," said Dick Hutton. "They just can't offer the service and quality that we can."
Today, Conard-Pyle's trademark Star rosebushes are grown on 80 acres of rented land in California supervised by John Hutton, another son. But they are prepped and sent to market from the West Grove nursery.
The company owns 400 acres in southern Chester County and employs 100 full- time workers for local nursery operations. Only five of those acres are dedicated to cultivating roses. There, the company tests new varieties from the approximately 600 new roses it gets each year from its French breeder.
Most of the land goes to producing other landscape plants, which now make up most of the company's business, another of Conard-Pyle's adaptations to the times.
Currently, Conard-Pyle is embroiled in the sale of about 47 acres of Chester County land to Jennersville Associates, a partnership between Kennetex, a local yarn-dying operation, and a developer. Local residents, upset to see former rose fields go to industrial use, have appealed approval of the sale.
While the rose-growing fields have gone west, much of rosebush-processing remains where it began - in Chester County.
Conard-Pyle, which pioneered U.S. rosebush production by bringing new varieties from France, maintains 40 miles of plastic-covered tunnels in Chester County. In many of those huts, the California-grown bushes are graded, trimmed, potted and stored.
The time under plastic promotes budding, which gives Star roses, Conard- Pyle's trademark, a cosmetic advantage over their Western competitors.
"If you have a JP (Jackson-Perkins, from Oregon) sitting there with no foliage next to a taller plant with shiny leaves and buds, which one are you going to buy?" asked Barbara Gardner, a fan of both growers and advertising director-buyer for Montgomery Nurseries in Chester County. "You're going to buy the Star rose."
About 50 million rosebushes are produced annually in the United States, and 80 percent to 90 percent are grown in California and Arizona.
But bad weather hasn't stopped other rosebush producers based in the Northeast. Like Conard-Pyle, they've simply moved their bush production to California, but kept the prepping and testing part of the business here.
Paramount Nurseries, a 63-year-old company in West Grove, produces and packages 1 million rosebushes annually for chain stores and nurseries. About 80 percent of the bushes are grown in California.
Morristown Nursery, a family-owned operation in New Jersey, buys 500,000 roses from growers in California and Arizona.
Conard-Pyle, however, is the oldest and one of the most respected rose growers in the country. Although its name is synonymous with roses, only about one-third of the company's plant production comes from the fragrant, flowering plants. In 1992, rose sales were $4 million, compared with total company sales of $11.5 million. The private firm does not disclose its profits.
The company, following in the footsteps of its entrepreneurial founder, Robert Pyle, raises a variety of plants used in landscaping - everything from rhododendrons to ornamental grasses.
"We didn't want all our eggs in one basket," said Dick Hutton, whose older brother - and, earlier, his father - had run the company before he stepped in. "We saw the need to diversify."
Even though he said the company didn't plan to leave the area, it is expanding its territory, having purchased land for another nursery in Queen Anne's County, Maryland.
The new nursery is 60 miles south, which gives growers another month in the growing season, and it has an easily accessible underground water supply, a problem in the West Grove area.
While Conard-Pyle expanded its production line, it closed all of its retail centers because it was unable to compete with the growing gardening chains. And it no longer publishes a mail-order gardening catalogue, which had been produced by the company in all its incarnations from 1897 to 1978.
"The first year we concentrated on the nursery trade, not on the broad spectrum of sales, it paid off," Dick Hutton said of the company's new focus on wholesale plants. "It worked."
Driving through southern Chester County, you see fewer fields of roses today than you did 10 years ago, but some remain.
Conard-Pyle is concentrating its rose-breeding efforts on shrub roses, suited to landscaping, and miniature roses, good for patios and indoor use. Interest in and consumption of both kinds of roses are increasing and may slightly shift Conard-Pyle's focus in the future.
While local producers of cut roses have taken a beating from foreign imports, rosebush producers haven't been touched. Government regulations require any imported bushes to be quarantined for two years, making them an impractical commercial product.
Rosebush producers do import rose stock each year as part of their highly competitive breeding programs.
It was Conard-Pyle's French rose breeder, Francis Meilland, who produced the company's most popular rose.
According to the story, as the Germans marched on France in World War II, Meilland sent several rose plants in the last U.S. diplomatic pouch to leave the country.
Conard-Pyle got the plants, and during the war continued to test the roses. In 1944, it was determined that there was one exceptionally beautiful rose.
Two years later, the rose won a prestigious award and was given a name - Peace.