Hurricanes, Hort Couture, Horology and a Hackathon

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Friday, September 08, 2017

Chris Beytes Subscribe
Acres Online
Prepping for Irma
More from Harvey
Hort Couture, after Raker
- Jim's own storm
PAS shortens its Spring Trials
OnlyRoses—I like!
Mossy, flowery watches
11 new employees coming
Finally ...

Hurricane Irma (including two event cancellations)

Wow. Three weeks in a row with the hurricane coverage. That’s a first for Acres Online. I was a long-time Florida resident (1968-1993), but I can’t call myself a hurricane veteran, because during that 25-year stretch the state was hit by only a handful of storms—namely Eloise in 1975, David in 1979 and Andrew in 1992 (which I covered as a freelancer). Never did the eye of a storm pass over me. I was lucky.

As of this writing, Irma’s path is still uncertain, but the entire state is at risk—and that means many of our grower friends, because remember, Florida is the No. 2 floriculture production state in the U.S.!

I am sure they have been busy with preparations … but what might those preparations be?

Ellen Wells reached out to Nature’s Way Nursery of Miami and marketing manager Bea Garces, whom we visited in January, to ask about preparations. Ellen remembered that Bea had endured Hurricane Andrew, at one point huddled under a bridge. Here’s Bea’s reply:

Ugh! Wish this monster storm was taking a different path; it doesn’t look very good for us. We are preparing here in South Florida. Lines for gas at the pump are already long and water is scarce! South Floridians don’t take these hurricane warnings lightly; we know how deviating these storms are. We are thankful, however, that we CAN plan for what’s coming.

At the farm … it’s tough to prepare. We have our crop insurance in order and that’s the most important detail. We back up and protect our servers and technology like computers, phones, etc. We board our offices, organize and tie down any farm equipment that we can, and hope for the best. It’s tough to prepare for a category 4 or 5 hurricane at a tropical farm!

And that’s the challenge, isn’t it? What can you really do? Take down plastic and shade in the hopes of preserving your structure and having something to cover it with after the storm? And if you still have plants to protect, and electricity to run the pumps required to water them. And the biggest if of all: if your employees are okay, and can even get back to work.

I heard many amazing survival stories when I covered Hurricane Andrew's aftermath as a freelance writer, and I know that when the storm hits our industry in Florida and the Southeast, the damage could be great. But the spirit of rebuilding that we’ll witness will be even greater.

In related event news, FNGLA (the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association) has decided to cancel its annual Landscape Show, which was scheduled for September 14-17 in Orlando, due to the impending storm. The Society of American Florists' Annual Convention, which was slated for this week in Palm Beach was also canceled.

Irma Recovery Web page

FNGLA has created a Hurricane Irma Recovery page on their website that features two big buttons: “I need help” and “I can help.”

Make use of it at

More from Harvey

Not to take away from the victims of Hurricane Harvey, who are still mopping up, reader Margaret Cherry of Abbott-Ipco in Dallas wrote to tell me of a horticultural institution that was especially hard hit: Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens, on Houston’s north side. Margaret said that their location along Cypress Creek makes them a target of flooding; they have been hard hit multiple times over the years.

Margaret passed along this note she got from the horticulturist at Mercer Arboretum:

“We had 8 ft. of water in the greenhouses, so I have soil bags in the rafters. The mess is so bad I just don’t think we can be ready [to plant our fall annual crops]. All the tables were thrown, so trash is everywhere; the staff building was the only one spared. Visitor center had 6 ft. of water, so we have to gut the interior and all of its contents.”

Wrote Margaret about Mercer:

They are actually a county park, with no admission and a tight county budget. They raise money with a HUGE and wonderful plant sale in the spring ad several others throughout the year, with mostly volunteers and members of the Mercer Society. Check them out at and donate through the Mercer Society at

Director Darrin Duling can be reached at

Thanks for passing this along, Margaret!

Hort Couture, after Raker (pot no longer required)

Yes, coming with the announcement that C. Raker & Sons has been sold to Indiana grower Roberta’s Unique Gardens is the confirmation that the Hort Couture partnership was NOT part of the deal, and that Jim Monroe and the company he founded 10 years ago is now back on his own after seven years of partnership with Raker.

Well, Jim is not quite on his own. He has been extremely busy since July, when he first got wind of Raker’s financial challenges; since then, he has lined up three rooting station partners and three brokers to handle propagation and distribution for the coming season. They are:

Peace Tree Farm, Kintersville,  Pennsylvania 
Skagit Horticulture, Mount Vernon, Washington
Wenke Sunbelt, Kalamazoo, Michigan and Douglas, Georgia
Ball Seed Company, West Chicago, Illinois
Eason Horticultural Resources, Ft. Wright, Kentucky
Fred C. Gloeckner Company, Harrison, New York

After receiving a Hort Couture press release, I called Jim to ask about his brand’s situation.

“I don’t think anybody saw this coming,” he told me of the sudden announcement of the Raker sale. He certainly didn’t, and he said he had lots of ground to cover in taking over all the various supply chain responsibilities, such as dealing with breeders, cutting farms, sales reps, marketing and so on.

“None of it was on my plate when this happened,” he says. “Raker was basically running the program.”

One of the first companies he reached out to was Ball Seed, who agreed to continue as a Hort Couture distributor. Ball also offered to help him manage the logistics of offshore production.

“That’s a blessing beyond belief,” Jim says.

The partnerships with Peace Tree, Skagit and Wenke give Hort Couture a more regional approach to propagation, he points out, with coverage in the East, Midwest and West. He also expects to add more distribution partners such as McHutchison (one of the original Hort Couture distributors) and JVK in Canada.

No pot?

I hinted in the headline at the biggest change for Hort Couture: the branded pot is no longer a requirement (although the branded tag is). Jim explained that one thing he’s learned about selling plants is that a required pot is “the single most limiting factor” in getting a customer to buy.

“In a perfect world, I may not have made the decision to remove the pot [requirement],” he says.  … You have to figure out how to move forward, and my biggest goal was to make sure the cutting farms get paid and get the cuttings that we committed to get sold and make sure the breeders are getting paid … removing the obstacle of the pot was done as much to make things easier on us moving forward.

“We still encourage everyone to buy the pots,” he adds. “And they will.” In fact, he says he got an order for branded pots just that morning.

Once production and sales are ironed out, Jim says his focus will be on R&D.

“We’re a little company, with very little budget,” he says, “but we have cool stuff. I think that’s our strength: coming up with really interesting novelties. That has to be the focus. I think what will carry Hort Couture forward—or not—is new product development.”

Lastly, Jim insists that Hort Couture will remain an independent-only program, just as it has always been.

“Our industry is not a healthy industry if we lose the independent channel. Things that can perpetuate independent businesses [such as] proprietary products that aren’t in the box stores … products that aren’t [commodity] priced …  I think there are a lot of independents that have a deep appreciation for what we’re trying to do.”

Jim’s own storm

Jim mentioned two things to me that I didn’t want to include in the hard news, but didn’t want to leave out, either, because they’re so reflective of what makes our industry great. First, he’s got no hard feelings about the situation he found himself in, saying, “I’m very appreciative of everything the Raker family did, and wish them nothing but the best going forward.”

Not that he should have hard feelings, mind you—hey, it’s business! Deals happen and deals fall apart. Still, it's a good frame of mind in which to move forward.

Second, Jim says that he has been “overwhelmed” by the support he’s had from the industry.

“… [F]rom brokers and the breeders … everyone has reached out to try to help us make this happen, because, I think, we’re a really cool company. We have great plants and a great commitment to the industry, and I think people see that and want to help us, and they’ve really reached out to do that.

“I just want people to know that I’m passionate about making this work.”

You’re right, Jim, this is a helpful, generous industry—a family, really. When we’re talking about getting young folks to choose this as a career, maybe we should play that up!

PAS cuts their Spring Trials to four days

Anne Leventry, President of PanAmerican Seed, popped by my office the other day with this bit of news: PAS is planning on shortening their Spring Trials by a day, and will now be open Saturday through Tuesday only, instead of Saturday through Wednesday (the “official” 2018 dates are April 14-19—Saturday through Thursday).

Anne said they made the decision for two reasons: cost control, and because traffic at the end of the event is very light anyway. It seems as though a majority of Trials traffic moves south to north nowadays (that’s how the Ball Publishing team does it), with PAS getting the bulk of their visitors on Saturday and Sunday.

She asked if I thought it was appropriate to announce this, and I replied, “absolutely!” knowing it would help Trial attendees (and the other trials) adjust their schedules accordingly.

Now, as a veteran of the Trials (it’ll be a quarter of a century next year—egad!), my concern is that the trials in the north might decide to follow suit with the Sat.-Tue. schedule. That would be a disaster! Those of us traveling south to north would have to cut the time of our visits drastically in order to see everybody. Or we’d have to start picking and choosing whom to visit—something I really can’t do and still provide fair, thorough coverage of the event.

So selfishly, I’d ask the northern trials to stay open later, but maybe start a day or two later—Sunday or Monday. Of course, that would be a disaster for those who travel north to south.

Maybe they’ll have to switch up and we ALL travel south to north. Which would offer its own challenges, like hotel rooms. And the idea of controlling who visits your trial when would pretty much go out the window.

Then there’s the perpetual idea of renting out the L.A. Coliseum or some such venue and turning it into a trade show. That concept stinks for many reasons, so forget I even brought it up.

In the end, all I know is, Ellen and Jen and I will be there, and we will bring it all to you one way or another … even if our photos and videos are a bit blurry from having to run from flower to flower.

OnlyRoses sells … (give you one guess)

"London-Based Luxury Roses Retailer OnlyRoses Announces Opening of Their First U.S. Store in Beverly Hills, California"

I love this headline because it is proof that you can make a horticultural product a luxury item and sell it at a premium price.

OnlyRoses is the concept of husband-and-wife team Anian and Sabine Schmitt, who launched their first store near Harrods in London in 2007. They’ve since expanded with franchise locations in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha (Qatar), Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) and Kuwait City (Kuwait)—proving that Sheiks think roses are chic!

And now the luxury rose requirements of movie stars will be met, too, by their second non-franchise store in the heart of Beverly Hills. The store, inspired by old Hollywood glamour, opened September 1.

OnlyRoses sources its flowers directly from a handful of farms in Ecuador. Naturally, they’re all certified for high social and environmental standards. They also have their own reforestation program in Ecuador (to help stamp out their carbon footprint, you know).

HERE is a story about the couple and the new shop from The Hollywood Reporter.

I truly dig this idea! I mean, we’ve got $20 rose dozens in the grocery store, nice roses from traditional florists and now luxury roses (and nothing else) from OnlyRoses—proof that a great product with a great story and in the right setting has a value well above its input costs.

Telling time with real flowers and moss

Here’s yet another example of people outside our industry who recognize and promote the value of flowers and plants better than we do: A Kickstarter campaign for the “Botanist Collection” of watches, from Analog Watch Co. Each watch features real flowers or moss encased in resin that surrounds the watch face.

What I’m impressed with is that founder Lorenzo Buffa is promoting his latest watch by using research that proves the benefits of plants—how they improve mental health and physical well-being. Says the press release, “If keeping nature close can improve one’s overall life satisfaction, creating a watch using thoughtfully placed plant and flower materials would act as reminder to get back into nature, and thus act as an impetus in improving one’s life.”

I mean, I guess you could set your Apple Watch to remind you to go for a walk in the woods. But maybe seeing a bit of moss on your wrist is a more natural way to go.

Check out the campaign and get your watch HERE.


Here are our next 11 employees

Shinoda Foundation scholarship winners

Congrats to the 11 horticulture students who’ve been honored with annual Shinoda Foundation Scholarships, worth a total of $21,000.

“The Shinoda Foundation thoughtfully selects our scholarship winners based on their superior academics, career goals, extracurricular activities, work experience and need,” says Bob Otsuka, president. “We’re very aware that these elite students can play a key role in horticulture’s continued growth.”

2017-18 Shinoda Foundation Scholarship winners include:

Megan Haresnape, Junior, Kansas State University ($5,000)
Olivia Fiala, Junior, University of Nebraska - Lincoln ($2,500)
Kaylee Ites, Junior, Texas A&M University ($1,500)
Melissa Eggleston, Junior, Michigan State University ($1,000)
Joanna Lambert, Sophomore, Louisiana State University ($1,000)
Leala Machesney, Junior, The University of Maine ($1,000)
Allyson Stolte, Senior, Delaware Valley University ($1,000)
Sarah Houtsman, Junior, University of Georgia ($500)
Katelyn Stoops, Senior, University of Missouri – Columbia ($500)

This year, additional award winners include:

- Alexandra Bickham, who received a $1,000 Shinoda Design Center scholarship
- Gage Willey, who received a $1,000 California Floral Council Scholarship

Since 1965, The Shinoda Foundation has awarded more than $847,250 in scholarships to 684 students.

Make note of those names, people—they’re your future employees!

Finally …

The hoodied young geniuses of Silicon Valley have figured out self-driving cars and same-day diapers, so why not how to grow crops on Mars?

That’s the goal of a two-day “hackathon” scheduled for early November in Silicon Valley, California, wherein a roomful of geniuses and deep thinkers and computer code experts will eat pizza and drink Red Bull and brainstorm crazy ideas that just might work for growing actual crops on Mars. The event is sponsored by a New Zealand company called Autogrow, which develops automation for indoor growing.

The reason behind the hackathon is the growing world population, which is expected to hit 9 billion by 2050. How do you feed all those extra folks? Well, some say vertical farms. This group thinks maybe some of us will need to head to Mars to make space, and the new Martians will need to eat something besides Space Food Sticks.

Anyway, they’re looking for individuals and teams, and I’m thinking it wouldn’t hurt to have somebody in the room who actually knows something about growing a crop. I’ll bet that, other than the occasional dorm room pot plant, most folks in Silicon Valley haven’t even grown a sunflower in a Dixie cup.

If you want to help ‘em out with some real-world practical crop info, check out the website HERE.

See you next time,

Chris sig

Chris Beytes
GrowerTalks and Green Profit

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