30 More Years Of Greenhouse Growth Is Within Our Grasp

Dick Meister
Dick Meister

The great growth era for floriculture that occurred from the end of World War II up until the beginning of the 21st century was a triumph of technological progress plus discovery of new cultivars that brought bright colors to the landscape. It was also an era that was remarkable for an astonishing and marvelously insatiable boom in demand for flowering plants to beautify the expanding middle class investment in homes, patios and gardens.

The growers who adopted the technology, and the professors and land grant colleges that taught and preached it came from the vegetable side, where there was experience in annual plants, their propagation and growth.

Our American Vegetable Grower magazine began to devote more and more space to an editorial section called Greenhouse Grower, which worked hand-in-hand with the newly formed organization, Bedding Plants Inc., at Michigan State University under the leadership of Dr. Will Carlson. Bedding Plants Inc. quickly grew to national stature as growers reaped profits, with cash registers, as one grower put it, ringing a merry tune. In 1983, the flower plant section in American Vegetable Grower was spun off to become a standalone magazine, and Greenhouse Grower was launched.

It is hard now to comprehend how great was the surge in flower and plant sales. Sales weren’t increasing at 20, 30 or 40 percent, they were doubling and tripling. In the 1970s, flower and plant sales tripled in size to $1.5 billion and foliage plant sales grew by 12 times. By the end of the century, sales had doubled again, to $3 billion.

Positioning For Another 30 Years Of Growth

Now, at the beginning of 2014, the great boom is long over. We are in a mature market. Consolidation is taking place and there is a daily war to keep market share. Dire predictions are being made about the future of this business, especially taking into account a millennial generation fascinated by smartphones and iPads, with seemingly little concern for landscape beauty and gardens.

However, the lesson of the past 30 years is that the greenhouse industry is strongly resilient and it is premature to say the growth era is over. There are still large numbers of producers because flowers and plants are a perishable crop, subject to variations in quality and performance, and considerable skill remains a prerequisite. Nearly all greenhouse businesses are family operations, which are well-adapted for survival and can stay in business long after others have thrown in the towel.

And greenhouses produce that most desired of plants — the fragile and beautiful flower, which enhances the senses and beautifies the landscape. Flowering plants are essential for a sense of well-being and wonderment at the beauties of nature, of which we are an integral part. The desire for beauty in the landscape is basic.

Combine the power of flowers with developments in breeding new plants, which are sure to outdo even such current favorites as bush hydrangeas, Knock Out roses or trailing petunias, along with the advent of new technologies in growing, and an expanding future can be just around the corner.

Advice From The Past That Still Makes Sense Today

Will Carlson wrote a monthly column in Greenhouse Grower from 1983 until his death in 2010 — 37 years without missing a column, quite a record in itself. We put together the best of his columns in a book called “One to Grow On.” One of his columns asked “Will Floriculture Continue To Grow?” His answer is worth reviewing today when he said, “Yes, floriculture will continue to grow. New plants, technology and consumer trends will develop with your help. All you need to do is be the first to react to them and know what to do with them.” And then, with typical Will urgency coupled with practical advice, he wrote “Keep squintin.’” (Meaning keep looking, studying and learning).

That’s good advice as we look forward to the next 30 years.

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