When Steve Castorani and Mark Sellew founded American Beauties Native Plants more than a decade ago, the goal wasn’t to enrich their bank account. Instead, it was to spread awareness of the benefits of native plants and popularize the category to bolster the environment. There were native plants in nurseries and garden centers throughout the country, but no one was telling the story of natives in a compelling way. The pair designed American Beauties Native Plants brand to package these plants so consumers would recognize and appreciate them.
During the past 12 years, education and philanthropy have played a critical role in the success of the brand. Through the efforts and support of its grower network, the brand has helped fund important native plant research and projects. In the beginning, American Beauties partnered with the National Wildlife Federation, and the brand has donated more than $270,000 to support the federation’s Wildlife Habitat Program.
“It was a collaborative partnership, and it was a really good fit,” says Castorani, who is also one of the founders of North Creek Nurseries in Landenberg, Pa. “They not only promote native plants, but they have this potential customer base that didn’t know where to buy native plants.”
As the brand strengthened, it allowed the pair to broaden their ability to support other like-minded organizations. American Beauties has donated $12,000 to the Pollinator Partnership, $1,000 to the National Audubon Society, and $3,500 to Doug Tallamy at the University of Delaware. The brand also donated $5,500 to Catherine Zimmerman to support the production of her film, “Hometown Habitat, Stories of Bringing Nature Home.”
Now that the brand has enjoyed success and has some history behind it, the pair decided the timing was right to set up an endowment for native plant research. At this year’s Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show (MANTS) in Baltimore, Castorani and Sellew announced the establishment of a $25,000 endowment through the Horticultural Research Institute (HRI). The endowment will be funded with $5,000 per year for five years.
“Mark and I believe this was a good time to set up the endowment so we could get more money into specific research that we can guide – research that will be able to quantify, endorse and spread the message of why native plants should be a part of everyone’s landscape. We’re not trying to make everyone’s landscapes be all native plants. But all landscapes need some native plants,” Castorani says.
Sellew, who is also president of Prides Corner Farms in Lebanon, Conn., says it’s much better to give than to receive, and the pair
“It’s hard to sell an idea, but we’re selling a movement, a belief,” Sellew says. “And we truly believe in the movement. We’ve become better at selling it and telling the story. We prefer to give the money to HRI rather than to keep it ourselves.”
The brand has grown in market share, especially within the last five years, Sellew says.
“American Beauties Native Plants is our most rapidly growing program at Prides Corner,” he says. “And I’m called a brand-
Photo: Parikha Mehta Photography