The next generation

The next generation

Features - The Next Generation

As a younger set takes the reins of the horticulture industry, learn more about their vision.

March 2, 2015

Reach out

Meet Jessi Faircloth, assistant grower/perennial grower, Loma Vista Nursery.

By Matt McClellan

Jessi Faircloth originally wanted to be a vet. But after about a month working at a local animal clinic, she knew it wasn’t for her. She headed home and thought about other career options.

While she pondered, she worked in her garden with her mom — something she had always enjoyed. She realized that her true calling was right in front of her. She researched colleges and ended up choosing Kansas State University for its horticulture program.

Currently, the 23-year-old is assistant grower/perennial grower with Loma Vista Nursery. Faircloth helps manage the Kansas wholesale and retail nursery, but her primary focus is perennials. She enjoys the unique rhythms of working at this particular nursery.

“The type of production we have here is different than other perennial places because we have three planting seasons,” she says. “As stressful as that is, it’s something I really enjoy. Because I go from this adorable little plant that is a plug, and work with six people who all adore working with plants. And I get to see them get excited about these tiny little plants and all the care that goes into them. Watching them grow and seeing (our staff’s) reaction to how beautiful this plant becomes, and how amazing it is — to me, that’s the most exciting thing. Seeing that reaction on a person’s face, where they’re so happy and full of wonder — that makes me want to come to work every day.”

Faircloth has great love for “her” perennials, so much that she has a tough time picking her favorite plants. Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ is one.

“So many perennials have one specific color, but sometimes it fades or changes,” she says. “But with that one, the foliage always is the same color and the flowers it shoots up are very pretty.”

Echinacea is another.

“I’m from Kansas, so I’m used to seeing coneflowers all over the place in all different kinds of colors, shapes and sizes,” she says.

Faircloth hopes to change the horticulture industry by getting more customers involved and informed. Many of the people who ultimately purchase plants are unaware of all the aspects and benefits. She would like the industry to improve its education and outreach efforts for these people, to whom her nursery’s product is simply a pretty plant for their landscape.

“People are curious, that’s why you have so many webchats, gardening groups, people talking about it,” she says. “We — professional horticulturists — should go out and educate people. That’s where I want the industry to go. We should focus on helping people understand what we do. If you have questions we’d love to answer them.”

Educating customers about different plants could help them branch out, away from the bread and butter plants, to add more diversity in the landscape.

“I know that if they could just see the options, they might be overwhelmed, but at the same time it’s education,” she says. “Being more informed is not a bad thing.”

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More trees, please

Meet Trey Warrick, assistant manager, arborist, and part owner, Shelby Nursery/Scottree.

By Matt McClellan

Trey Warrick is helping the city of Charlotte, N.C., become a greener, happier place, and expanding the market for his family’s business at the same time.

His grandfather, Scott Warrick, founded Shelby Nursery in 1961. He was growing Virginia pines for a cut-your-own Christmas tree farm, and opened a retail garden center out of the nursery. Trey’s father, also named Scott “Skip” Warrick, transitioned the Christmas tree business into a B&B ornamental landscape tree grower in the late 1980s.

“I remember the Christmas trees when I was a few years old,” Trey says. “I grew up in the business, spending time at the garden center with my mom after school and then on the tree farm myself.”

Trey Warrick is the third “Scott” to join the family business, which includes Scottree (the tree farm) and its parent company, Shelby Nursery, which is out of the retail business now, but provides residential and commercial landscape services and tree care.

Trey handles a wide range of tasks for Shelby Nursery, while also spending time on the farm growing trees. After graduating from North Carolina State University in 2007, he spent two years working for Bartlett Tree Experts before returning to the family business.

The business has changed a lot in the last three years due to a partnership with TreesCharlotte, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and expanding the city’s tree canopy. TreesCharlotte recruits volunteers, organizes community plantings, and Warrick shows up with a truck full of trees. It’s a good deal for both parties, but it required a significant investment on the nursery’s part.

The nonprofit wants 7-gallon containers, and Scottree only did B&B.

“We had to upgrade our infrastructure to handle container plants, had to build a winter house to house them in the winter, a growing area, and an add-on to one of our buildings for a potting shed,” Warrick says. “Those are some big upfront costs, compared to the other growers who were already growing 3 gallons, 7 gallons, 15 gallons. We just looked at it as an opportunity to expand our market.”

After growing about 400 trees in its first year involved with the TreesCharlotte project, the nursery grew 1,400 trees in 2014, and expects about the same for 2015. Adding container production opens up other avenues of business for Scottree.

“A 7-gallon plant is a pretty good garden center plant,” Warrick says. “It’s a good size for landscape installs. We did this with the hope that we can continue to work with TreesCharlotte, but at the same time up our numbers so we have some marketable material we can sell. We get calls for containers. We have local landscapers who need a 7-gallon tree instead of a 3-inch oak. It’s expanding our market a bit. It was a big investment upfront and we hope it will pay off.”

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Plants as art

Meet Maggie Allbright, general manager, Sylvan Nursery.

By Matt McClellan

Last October, Maggie Allbright was ready to shift gears. She and her family moved from St. Louis to Billings, Mt., where she took a job as the general manager of Sylvan Nursery. Allbright is a jack-of-all-trades who handles many different tasks at the grower/retailer.

Her grandfather was a master gardener, and that was her first exposure to horticulture. Originally, she wanted to be an artist, and even earned an associate’s degree in art. But she went back to school for horticulture after discovering a love for it.

“That was because of my grandpa,” she says. “He loved his yard to no end, and I wanted to understand why he loved it so much. He enjoyed talking about plants, loving them, culturing them and nurturing them. I wanted to know more and I wanted to connect with him because I loved him very much. I started getting into it, then I got really addicted to it. It was like a bad drug in a good way. When I first took my ID classes, I just loved it. Once I figured out, that’s this type of tree or shrub, I was identifying plants at 60 mph on the highway. I loved it because I felt like I knew my environment better. Ever since then, I’ve loved learning about plant culture and what they need, and getting people that success.”

Sylvan Nursery began in 1968 as a Christmas tree farm, but expanded to sell trees in the spring and fall as well. With that came a full retail store and full-service landscaping business. Today, Sylvan Nursery grows all of its own annuals and nearly all of its own perennials. Allbright enjoys sharing her horticulture expertise with her customers to make their experience more successful.

“Information is power and being able to provide that to them makes it less intimidating,” she says. “Let them know that you can make mistakes. They will happen. I love being there to help them through that.”

In her brief time in Montana, Allbright has learned a few things about growing in Big Sky country. Containers are popular, and not many people are planting annuals in the ground. Geraniums and tropicals are often used for a blast of color, because the plant palette is quite limited. Trees, shrubs and annuals are staples, but perennials are not as popular. Allbright believes that she can fix that.

“Montana is a couple years behind the Midwest in terms of new cultivars and things like that,” she says. “I hope my impact here is to provide Billings with excellent information and confidence in new-edge material. I want to break this image of Montana being a few years behind everybody else in the country. I don’t think it has to be that way. I would like to bring in exciting things for people to try and still have some other staple items as well.”

Her three-year goal is to establish a houseplant program to help the company’s winter revenue, as well as classes and workshops.

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Garden socially

Meet Mason Day, cofounder of GrowIt!

By Matt McClellan

Mason Day grew up in the horticulture industry, but the way he’s contributing to it now is different than many of his fellow young professionals.

Day’s parents own a garden center/grower retailer in Michigan, and he was in the greenhouse from the time he could walk. Day is the cofounder of GrowIt!, a new horticultural app he describes as Yelp meets Instagram for plants. People across the country can post photos of plants and rate and review them, or “garden socially,” as the app’s tagline reads. That information is then shared with other app users in their area.

The app has features to cater to both advanced and novice gardeners alike, says Day, who co-founded the app with Seth Reed while they were working in other divisions of Ball Horticultural Co.

“We had this notion that our industry moves forward at a snail’s pace,” Day says. “Or it at least seems that way to a young person. The world that young people live in today is very fast, and it seems that our industry hasn’t caught up to that.”

GrowIt! is designed to inspire the next generation of customers, especially millennials. “We see GrowIt as an opportunity to reach people and bring them into the gardening fold. Someone who goes out and buys a succulent container to put on their counter, that’s a gateway plant. If it goes well, maybe they’ll plant a conifer garden in backyard. Even if it starts failing, they can take a picture, upload it to GrowIt, and ask users in their area what they’re doing wrong. A master gardener in their area may say, ‘you need to add fertilizer.’ That’s how they learn, through interaction with their peers and quick updates, not novels they have to spend hours studying,” Day says.

One of the biggest challenges facing GrowIt! is bringing the industry’s tech level up to be able to utilize it.

“Our industry hasn’t really evolved past the NexTel stage,” Day says. “You’ve still got nursery owners and garden centers using Direct connect, flip phones. Consumers are using smart phones, looking up ratings and reviews. We need to be on phones. We need to convince the industry that mobile is the place to go.”

While the app is designed for consumers, nurseries can get involved by taking pictures of their products and uploading them to the app, and using their influence to build their brand. If an app user is struggling with a red maple, they can ask that question. The grower can connect directly with the person, who is a potential customer.

“We tell them ‘Get on board now, and become an influencer in your area,’” Day says. “We want them to use it to show off their plants, so their customers can say ‘Jim’s Nursery really stands behind this maple or shrub,’ then they feel comfortable buying it.”

For now the app is available to garden center retailers, growers, garden writers and others involved in the industry, but it will launch to consumers this spring, Day says. It’s available in the Apple store and on the Google Play store for Android.

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Cutting edge

Meet Daryl Kobesky, production manager, Pleasant Run Nursery.

By Matt McClellan

Growing up, Daryl Kobesky spent a lot of time gardening with his family, and starting cutting lawns in sixth grade. He attended college for landscape architecture, because he enjoys designing outdoor spaces.

“Big trees make a ceiling for me in an outdoor room, and flowers, perennials, annuals become how you decorate to me,” Kobesky says. “Every plant plays a role in the outdoor garden. Knowing their intricacies is really neat and cool to me.”

That was when he realized he also enjoyed the production angle of figuring out how to grow those plants. How many to grow, how to control diseases, propagation timing – those were all interesting new challenges. He’s still a licensed landscape architect in New Jersey, although he’s not practicing.

Six years ago, Kobesky joined Pleasant Run Nursery, which bills itself as “New Jersey’s cutting edge nursery.”

“We’re constantly looking at new varieties of plants,” Kobesky says. “Our bread and butter for plant varieties is the hard-to-find stuff. Our owners who built this nursery are total plant geeks. They built the nursery on growing the rare and unusual plant material. That’s why a lot of people come to us. We have the rare and unusual.”

The wholesale grower stocks more common material, as well, with the aim of being a one-shop stop for its customers. Another way Pleasant Run stays on the cutting edge is through environmental initiatives.

“We’ve got solar panels that power our nursery, the electricity as well as the residence here on the property,” Kobesky says. “In areas where we can, we use beneficial insects instead of spraying. We’re constantly scouting and monitoring for beneficial insects being present and if they’re doing their job, maybe we won’t need to spray. We planted a bioswale and a rain garden to help slow down the water that runs off our nursery from storms and cleans it up. Our irrigation cycles are pulse-style. We use short durations, multiples times per day to reduce our runoff and reduce our fertilizer leachate out of our pots. As well as being cutting-edge with the varieties, we are trying to be environmental stewards as well.”

The nursery was recently named to New Jersey’s Sustainable Small Business Registry for its efforts. Kobesky is particularly proud of the results of the nursery’s irrigation style. He started by looking at the nursery’s fertilizer usage, requirements and needs. The nursery was able to reduce its fertilizer rates by reducing leachate.

“We’re not pushing the fertilizer out of the bottom of our pots,” Kobesky says. “We’ve been able to grow a healthier plant in a quick turnaround time, with less fertilizer. By looking at our irrigation cycles, we’re not pushing water out. So our fertilizer is staying in the pot and becoming very efficient. We were able to reduce our rates and our finish times were a little longer. We had a little bit of burn. Our roots looked good, but now, they look significantly healthier, whiter, stronger than before. They looked good before, but they look better now.”

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A place at the table

Meet Jared Barnes, assistant professor of horticulture, Stephen F. Austin State University

By Kelli Rodda

Mentors of all types and ages fostered a love of horticulture in Jared Barnes, starting with his great-grandfather. Beginning at age five, Jared would help Granddad start, care for and harvest plants in the garden at his West Tennessee home. It was a deep personal connection that shaped Jared’s love of gardening.

For years the two shared a passion for plants. When Jared turned 12, his Granddad died.

“It left a hole because I no longer had my gardening partner,” he explains. “His death propelled me into horticulture – studying it and choosing it as a career.”

Some of his other mentors include Carol Reese, a Tennessee extension agent; Jimmy Williams, a Tennessee garden writer; and his parents, who took him to botanic gardens and area nurseries.

“Just like with Granddad, those were personal connections,” he recalls. Now it’s Jared’s turn to play the role of mentor as an assistant professor of horticulture at Stephen F. Austin State University in East Texas.

Jared works tirelessly to attract students to the world of horticulture, as a consumer of the products or a pupil of the industry.

“As an industry, we are experts at propagating plants, but we’ve got to learn how to propagate gardeners and horticulturists,” he says.

Taking a cue from his Granddad, Jared says the industry must start with young children through more school gardens and horticulture programs in schools. “If they start gardening at a young age, and see it’s an important part of life, that translates to a better chance of them being a gardener when they’re older,” he adds.

Jared sees edibles as the gateway to horticulture, a vision he shares with many industry friends.

“I started an edible and perennial trial garden at the university called Sprout,” he says. “Students see how to take a seed and get a head of lettuce in 60 days. The industry is not capitalizing enough on that type of experience and wonder. It all goes back to the idea that plants are life.”

The industry also needs to capitalize more on the sharing culture of the younger generation.

“People have been sharing and trading plants – both edibles and ornamentals – from their gardens for thousands of years. Sharing creates that personal connection that gets people interested in gardening,” he says.

The younger generations also want to know how their actions impact the environment.

“They concentrate more on being sustainable – but I like the term thrivable – such as water rights issues, water quality issues, or how we’re affecting pollinators, for example,” he says. “Show them how with plants they can invest in resources that will help the people in their community, such as using plants to mitigate water or pollution issues or simply feeding others. It all goes back to cultivating life with plants. Plants are life.”


Landscapes for real life

Meet Gregory Smaus, landscape maintenance manager and designer

By Kelli Rodda

Gregory Smaus designs gardens that combine practicality and beauty. The Washington-based designer founded Native Root Designs in 2003 to advance his cause and ideas. His philosophy: A landscape should never be a hindrance.

“I would love for people to not see their landscapes as a burden,” Smaus says. “I design landscapes that provide for my client’s needs. That’s why I ask, ‘What do you need? Do you need a place to drink coffee and have peace? Do you need a place to play with your kids?’ I want to inspire people to be happier, to be kinder and to see beauty in the world. And a landscape can accomplish that.”

Smaus’ childhood shaped his love of gardening and the outdoors, as well as his desire to share his interests. His father was the garden editor of the LA Times for 40 years.

“I grew up in it, deep,” he says. “We visited public and private gardens, as well as nurseries. I was also influenced by hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains.”

He grew up in an urban environment, but his family had a “rich garden,” he recalls.

He left home and moved to Aptos, Calif., to study art at Cabrillo Community College. Thinking art would be his calling in life, he quickly realized how much he missed horticulture.

“Right away I was calling my dad, asking him how to propagate things. I just had to grow things. As soon as I didn’t have it [horticulture and gardening], I needed it,” he says.

He changed his major to horticulture – he praises the community college with having an outstanding hort program – and got a paid position at the school’s nursery. He also combined his love of art with horticulture and studied landscape design. It was there he nurtured his belief of working with nature instead of against it. He’s championed that philosophy ever since.

As a business owner, he’s noticed the nuances between the generations when it comes to gardening.

“There are different perceptions of value in gardening within the different generations,” he explains. “The older generation, 70+, has more traditional values such as economic and craftsmanship, more of a structured value. The 50- to 70-year-olds have more of a design and aesthetic value. They want to see the right colors in the right places and have things match nicely. While 30- to 50-year-olds have a personal investment value but still feel it’s important to help in the community. They enjoy things like wildlife gardens and edibles. And the under 30 crowd is culturally oriented, paying attention to organic products, non-invasive plants, gardens that support wildlife and things that improve the environment and our culture. They care about community involvement – it’s more of a social/cultural expression.”

To help spread the word about gardening to all those different facets, he’s supporting the Plant Something campaign (, which has been adopted by the Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association. The association, of which he is a member, also launched a new website for locals: The Washington website currently features a video titled, “Get growing.” It’s tied into the Plant Something program, and effectively explains the correlation between gardening and improving individual health and the health of a community.