MD Pesticide Ban Lifted; Two Obits; Another Blue Flower Story; PaperSoil

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

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Court strikes down Maryland ban
Zurko at Bailey's Summer Expo
RIP Harry Hollander
RIP Francis Kwong
SUPERthrive acquired
Another blue flower story
PaperSoil, a Kickstarter project
How Paul Schwabe got into hort
Finally ...

Maryland Court strikes down County pesticide ban

In 2014, Montgomery County, Maryland, narrowly passed an ordinance banning the use of lawn and garden pesticides on private property. Now that ban has been lifted, thanks to a decision by the County’s Circuit Court, which ruled that the ban was unlawful and preempted by Maryland state law. That means folks can go back to treating their lawns for weeds and grubs and such.

Spearheading the legal challenge against the ban was RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment) along with seven residents, six local businesses, and CropLife America. They filed suit in November 2016 with the support of a grassroots coalition of more than 400 residents, homeowners and licensed professionals who worked together to oppose the ban. They succeeded in laying the groundwork for a successful legal challenge to a contentious and complex ordinance that left Montgomery County residents uncertain about how to protect their lawns from weeds and pests.

Said RISE President Aaron Hobbs, “We are gratified that the Court agreed that the County’s ban on the use of State- and EPA-approved pesticides on private land is preempted by Maryland state law, which already provides uniform and comprehensive regulation of pesticide use across the state.”

Located in Washington, D.C., RISE is the national trade association representing manufacturers, formulators, distributors and other industry leaders engaged with specialty pesticides and fertilizers used by consumers and professionals.

At Bailey Nurseries' Summer Expo

I encourage GrowerTalks managing editor Jen Zurko to abandon her computer and get out into the real world whenever possible, and she’s always happy to take me up on the offer of fresh air and sunshine … in exchange for a story, of course. She obliged this week with a report from Bailey Nurseries’ annual Summer Expo—never before open to journalists, she says!

Bailey Nurseries has held their annual summer expo for the last 12 years or so (they lost count), but this year was the first time that they invited trade press to tag along and mingle with about 500 of their customers at their facility right outside of Minneapolis.

The day before the expo, Bailey held a “VIP Day,” when each sales rep invites one customer for some individual face time and a special tour. The day of the actual event also includes tours, educational sessions (which included a fascinating talk on customer service from Zing Train) and show specials that their customers can take advantage of for last-minute deals. There were tables where Bailey staff were stationed, laptop warmed up, ready to take orders.

Bailey had a few exciting announcements they shared during the expo. One was that BloomStruck, one of their most popular hydrangeas from their Endless Summer collection, has been named as the “Plant of the Super Bowl,” which will be held in Minneapolis this coming February.

Ryan McEnaney, PR & communications specialist for Bailey, said that he thought of pitching the idea to the NFL to decorate inside U.S. Bank Stadium and around the city when he found out that Minneapolis was going to host the Super Bowl. Since BloomStruck is purple, “it made sense,” said Ryan, because the hometown team’s colors are purple. (Whether the Vikings will actually participate in the Super Bowl is another story. Ask any beleaguered Vikings fan. And this is coming from a beleaguered Bears fan.)

In anticipation of the big winter 2018 event, Bailey has been conducting trials of BloomStruck for two years, because the quality of the plants “can’t be decent,” said Ryan. “It has to be excellent.” They’re also working on growing a larger volume than they’re used to for a special event. Typically, they grow about 40 plants for a trade show; they’ll need about 3,500 for the Super Bowl. And the fact that they need to have them looking beautiful for early February adds to the challenge.

The other news I can’t talk about, except to say that there’s a new Endless Summer hydrangea coming soon that they say is truly a breeding breakthrough. I got to see it and it’s stunning—I can honestly say it’s unlike any other hydrangea I’ve ever seen. But we couldn’t take photos and we were sworn to secrecy (no leaks here!), so you’ll have to wait until Bailey officially announces it to the industry. I do know that liners will start shipping out to growers in the Endless Summer licensed network in 2018 and the first commercial sales will be in 2019. So, to be continued! 

Two obituaries: Harry Hollander, Francis Kwong

I’m saddened to say that two industry notables who I considered friends, not just colleagues, passed away recently: Harry Hollander, founder of bulb and plant distributor Abbot-Ipco; and Francis Kwong, Director of Seed Technology for PanAmerican Seed.

Harry Hollander passed away from natural causes on Friday, July 28. He was 77. Born in the Netherlands in 1940, Harry’s father was a dairy farmer, but as a teenager, Harry found work at a local bulb nursery, Van Zyverden Inc., and took a liking to the industry.

Harry first visited the U.S. in 1960 as a seasonal warehouse man for the company, then got involved in sales. Five years later, he and his new wife, Hetty, moved to the U.S., settling in Dallas to set up a new sales territory for Van Zyverden. In 1974, he founded his own company, IPCO (International Products Company). In 1981 he bought out competitor Abbot Industries and merged the two into today’s Abbot-Ipco.

Meanwhile, caladiums had become a big part of Harry’s business, so in 2000, he and tissue culture expert/caladium breeder Bob Hartman founded Classic Caladiums in Avon Park, Florida. I visited Classic in 2010 and featured them on the cover of the January 2011 issue, much to Harry’s delight.

Harry was responsible for the massive display of tulips and other spring bulbs at the Dallas Arboretum and other public parks across northern Texas. He even had a breeder in Holland develop two warm-climate tulip varieties, which he dubbed “Dallas Blooms” and “Laura Bush.”

Much of what I know about Harry I learned from his book “Pushing Up Tulips,” which he self-published in 2016. It’s his life story, with names changed to protect those who did some pretty wild things with Harry back in the day. But Harry puts his own foibles right out there for all to see—such as his penchant for fast cars and even faster driving. He could normally get out of a ticket by flashing his Dutch license and pretending not to speak English. Although he once got five tickets in one traffic stop. Harry also had a passion for soccer, and in his spare time coached numerous teams to state and regional titles, even reaching the final four for the national championship.

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Hetty, his son Richard (Janice), his son Marvin (Felicia) and four grandchildren, Jake, Katie, Ryan, and Jason.

RIP Francis Kwong

Francis Kwong passed away Friday, July 30, after battling colon cancer. He was 65.

Francis was born in 1952 in southern China during the land reforms begun under Mao Zedong. He and his family left for Hong Kong, where he attended Catholic schools. In 1969, he came to the United States to pursue his interest in agriculture. After earning an undergraduate degree in agriculture from the University of Minnesota, he got a master’s from Oregon State University and a doctorate from Purdue.

Francis’s first job in the industry with with Sluis & Groot in the Netherlands, working in vegetable seed production around the globe.

In 1986, he returned to the U.S. to join PanAmerican Seed, where he was tasked with setting up the company’s first production research department. He led that effort for 30 years.

Said Anne Leventry, President of PanAmerican Seed, “He was absolutely key in working with all of our farms to help them to consistently produce high quality seed across an extremely wide and challenging group of products. He was the worldwide leader in his field in the flower seed industry.” She added that Francis’s combination of scientific brilliance and amazing creativity allowed him to solve seed production problems that others could not. He was instrumental in helping introduce many groundbreaking seed products, such as angelonia, calibrachoa and New Guinea impatiens.

“In many ways he was a pioneer in flower seed production,” said Anna Ball in a tribute to Francis. During his distinguished career, he made many discoveries and developed new processes for seed production that helped the whole industry.”

Francis also had an interest philosophy and poetry. He spent hours reading Tennessee Williams, Walt Whitman, Greek classics and Adam Smith, among others, said his wife, Jennifer (who also emigrated from China). “His curiosity was boundless, and the depth and breadth of his knowledge were phenomenal.”

Anna Ball summed up Francis best when she said, “He had the mind of a scientist and the soul of an artist.”

Francis and I both worked for Ball at the same time, but of course he moved in much different circles than me, and our paths only crossed in the hallway, at management meetings and company events. However, I did have one opportunity to work with him on a professional level: I once asked him a complicated seed physiology question regarding how seed would perform after spending decades or even a century at near-freezing temperatures and very high pressure. Would it still germinate? Francis didn’t raise an eyebrow or ask why I wanted to know something so obscure, he simply dove into the intellectual challenge with child-like enthusiasm and gave me the answers I’d hoped for.

And that is how Francis became a key resource for my April 1 story about Titanic begonias, which so many people fell for.

A very nice testament to Francis’s life and career was recently printed in The Chicago Tribune. You can read it HERE.

SUPERthrive Acquired

Ellen Wells recently wrote about the sale of SUPERthrive—that little bottle of vitamins and nutrients said to work magic on plants:

That familiar SUPERthrive label—literally crowded from corner to corner with product benefits and testimonials—is one of horticulture’s most iconic sights. That bottle has been sitting on garden center shelves for … gosh, well, since garden centers first existed, I suppose. The product and company’s founder, Dr. John Thomson, invented this plant vitamin solution back in the late 1930s to help folks have healthier plants, and from the stories I’ve heard from gardeners, SUPERthrive truly is the magic elixir for all things green and growing—and even some things brown and nearly dead.

Dr. Thomson passed away about six years ago, just days after his 100th birthday, but the North Hollywood-based SUPERthrive business has kept ticking. The latest news for the nearly 80-year-old company is that it has been acquired by Plantation Products of Norton, Massachusetts. SUPERthrive is a product that is quite a bit different for Plantation Products, which is the largest packet seed and seed-starting company in North America. But Plantation Products’ strengths lie in managing brands that have been around a long time, such as Ferry Morse and Jiffy, for example. Per a press release: “SUPERthrive has passed the test of time and our job is to get the product into more people’s hands, so they can experience the benefits of SUPERthrive themselves.”

I emailed the folks at Plantation Products to ask what their plans are for changing the way SUPERthrive is marketed and sold. President and CEO Michael Pietrasiewicz responded, “We are proud that SUPERthrive is one of the few brands in lawn and garden that have survived the test of time. We realize that the packaging is ‘unique,’ but it is certainly recognizable for sure. We will be very careful in regards to packaging changes, but our goal is to introduce more SKUs and get the product into deeper distribution. The product works amazingly well and is used by a lot of professional growers. We are hopeful to get the product into the hands of more consumers, so they can benefit from the same products that professionals use for their crops.”

Thanks for the good reporing, Ellen!

I did a phone interview with Dr. Thomson a few years before his death and wrote about his adventures and ideology. One thing I asked: Why do you cram so much information into your ads?

“I’m Scottish both by lineage and habit,” he answered, “and I just can’t stand to waste space.”

You can find my story HERE.

(By the way, on a personal note, I think SUPERthrive is the bomb! I used it [in conjunction with Nature’s Source plant food] when I relocated at least 50 mature plants in my garden last summer, including a magnolia big enough to require a Bobcat to lift, and all but one or two is thriving today.)

Another blue flower story

Why can’t people just be happy with delphiniums? But no, we have to find a way to make blue the flowers that aren’t naturally blue—and according to this story by Gizmodo, less than 10% of the world’s 280,000 flowers are naturally that way.

In yet another attempt to rectify that situation, scientists at Japan’s National Agriculture and Food Research Organization have created what they say is the first blue chrysanthemum. They accomplished the task by inserting blue-expressing genes from two other flowers, butterfly peas (Clitoria ternatea) and Canterbury bells (Campanula medium). The resulting blue color was the work of “co-pigmentation” they discovered, an intra-flower chemical interaction that they hope they can use to turn other popular flowers blue.

Photo: Science Advances

In spite of my snarky intro, I applaud their efforts. Certainly, if a new blue flower showed up at Spring Trials, we’d be all over the story.

However, in light of the recent orange petunia situation, one has to ask: Is this technically a genetically engineered organism—at least by USDA or European standards? They didn’t like it when we put corn genes into petunia—will they be okay with campanula and clitoria genes in a mum? If so, great! If not, it will cost a ton of dollars—maybe several tons—to get such a product approved by government authorities in any country where it’s produced or sold.

Which means it will most likely remain a laboratory novelty rather than a commercial cash-cow.

PaperSoil, a Kickstarter garden project

This is pretty cool: Somebody has developed a novelty potting medium that’s made from recycled paper. Available in multiple colors, PaperSoil is designed for indoor plants in glass containers, so the colored “soil” becomes a design element—think colored sand and gravel in those terrariums we all used to make. They're raising money for the product on Kickstarter. There's an attached video that's pretty good.

What I like about the idea is that they’re showing the product’s education and entertainment value for kids.

And hey, they even show plants on a car’s dashboard! Not since the new VW came out with its bud vase have we talked plants in cars (except maybe Felder Rushing’s pickup truck).


How Paul Schwabe got into horticulture

In the August GrowerTalks, I revealed the slightly odd story of how I got into horticulture (three six-packs of Cocktail begonia for $2 at Kmart). My story inspired Paul Schwabe of Johnson’s Nursery in Jackson, Wisconsin, to share his story. Here it is:

I must have been a weird kid in my youth. Weird because by the end of first grade I already knew what I wanted to do for a living.

My decision to go into horticulture stemmed from two major events that happened that school year. First, in the fall of 1986 we moved out from the big city of Milwaukee to a rural setting in a subdivision that had very large lots. Our newly built home was located on the remains of an old fruit orchard. Luckily, the developer left each lot in our part of the neighborhood with a few very old apple and pear trees.

At that stage in life, I was terrified of moving into a new home, new neighborhood and having to go to a new school. Too many new things for a 6 year old! However, upon discovering that our new home came with apple trees just loaded with fruit, I was a happy child. Wow! I could pick and eat apples right off the tree any time I wanted one. No need to ask the parents first. And those standard-sized apple trees (25-30 ft. tall) had so much fruit on them I could not possibly run out. Suddenly I was no longer afraid of moving.

I started first grade at a catholic grade school. My teacher, Sister MaryAnn, taught us a science lesson that spring by having all of us bring in a packet of seeds to plant. Then after the project we could take our plants home. My parents took me to the local hardware store and I chose some variety of green bell peppers off the seed rack. Back in class, we planted our seeds in old containers and watched them grow on the southern windowsills in the classroom. I finally got to take my beautiful pepper plants home in late May and proudly planted them in the garden.

I was hooked! Growing plants was intoxicating. The garden soon was run entirely by me and my brother (who also ended up in horticulture).

I will always be indebted to Sister MaryAnn for planting the seeds of horticulture into my young mind. It was, and is still is, a journey of discovery.

Got an interesting story about how you got hooked into the business. Send it to me at and I might just share it.

Finally …

Marvin Miller reminded me that today marks the 20th anniversary of the passing of the late, great Vic Ball, who was editor of GrowerTalks for most of his career with his family’s business. I had the pleasure of working with Vic for almost four years, during which I learned of his love of technology … and also that “Bedding—Up!” is a perfectly cromulent headline.

Vic started writing for the magazine around 1940, when the publication was just three years old, and he continued until his death in 1997. That’s a 57-year publishing career that none of us here at GrowerTalks will ever come close to matching … although I’m hoping to hit 50 years, which will happen November 8, 2043.

Stay tuned to see if I make it!

See you next time,

Chris sig

Chris Beytes
GrowerTalks and Green Profit

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