Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Operation Of The Year Sheridan Nurseries Raises The Bar

Sheridan Nurseries CEO Karl Stensson (center) presents the growing team at the operation’s Norval, Ontario facility with its Grower of the Year awards
Sheridan Nurseries CEO Karl Stensson (center) presents the growing team at the operation’s Norval, Ontario facility with its Grower of the Year awards

Ontario-based Sheridan Nurseries has long been an innovator in the Canadian market, but during the economic downturn, CEO Karl Stensson says the company decided to take things a step further.

“We have survived the Great Depression, two World Wars and many other downturns in the economy,” he says. “During this last recession, our staff set out at being the best at what we do.”

The company’s efforts have paid off. Sheridan Nurseries was named Operation of the Year at Greenhouse Grower’s Evening of Excellence, held July 13, at Cultivate’15 in Columbus, Ohio. The company was also awarded for Excellence In Perennials Production, based on its reputation for plant quality and the activities the nursery has led and been a part of, both within its company and in the industry at large.

“We are elated and proud of our staff accomplishments,” says CEO Karl Stensson. “Over the last five years, we have been on a mission to be the best grower and the cleanest grower in the country. We believe we are close to our goals and these awards motivate us to raise the bar even further.”

Representatives from the perennials growing staff, Jessie Kee, senior grower, and Daniel Fevreau, assistant grower, attended the Evening of Excellence to accept the award. Later that week, Stensson made a formal presentation of the award to the entire staff at the production facility in Norval, Ontario.

“These awards verify that our endeavors over the last five years have been worth it, Stensson says. “The awards do not in themselves give us any more business, but they do bring awareness to our products and services, and it is up to us to prove that this is what we do every day, not just to win an award.”

Brenda Luckhardt, business to business marketing and development manager, says there was an exciting energy at the operation when the award was presented.

“Everybody that works for a company contributes to the success of the company. It’s not just the head grower, it’s not just the marketing — it’s right down to everybody that works in the operation,” Luckhardt says. “When you see the caliber of the competition and the companies that you’re up against, it really makes you feel proud that you can be up there with these big growers and beautiful operations.”

More Than 100 Years Of Experience

Sheridan Nurseries is Canada’s largest grower of hardy nursery plants and has been in business for more than a century, having opened in 1913.

The operation has two production facilities with a combined 900 acres, plus eight retail garden centers. Its Norval, Ontario, facility includes 83 acres and 340,000 square feet of heated production space. There, Sheridan grows annuals, perennials and vines and propagates its own nursery stock liners. Woody plants, including trees, shrubs, evergreens and broadleaf evergreens, are produced at its Glen Williams, Ontario, container and field nursery, which has more than 162 acres in container production.

Sheridan Nurseries’ customers include independent garden centers, landscape professionals, government and mass merchants throughout northeastern North America, from Minnesota to Newfoundland.

In 1998, Sheridan Nurseries was recognized as being one of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Private Companies.

And since embarking on its mission to be the best, Sheridan Nurseries was awarded the Nursery Grower of the Year in 2012 and 2013 by the Canadian Nursery and Landscape Association and the AIPH International Grower of the Year for an unprecedented two times. Also, two of Sheridan’s garden centers were awarded Garden Center of the Year in Canada.

At its Norval, Ontario, facility, Sheridan Nurseries grows annuals, perennials and vines and propagates nursery stock liners
At its Norval, Ontario, facility, Sheridan Nurseries grows annuals, perennials and vines and propagates nursery stock liners

Innovation In Perennials Production

As part of its effort to raise the bar, Sheridan Nurseries has developed various new perennials products in recent years.

“There’s many things we’ve been able to do over the last few years. We’re really excited about some of the new product developments,” says John McLaren, head perennial grower.

The operation has put a focus on providing color, says McLaren, and has produced its color pot program, where a mix of perennials in full bloom are sold in coordinating colored pots.

The operation is also creating mixed containers with annuals and perennials in the same basket. Also, the Bee-nificial Garden collection was added this year to the Sheridan Garden Classics, a collection of perennials. The new addition includes a mix of pollinator-friendly plants, which, McClaren says, were well received in the market.

Sheridan Nurseries has also made developments in the areas of technology and infrastructure.

“Our industry is changing, and to keep up with that change, you need to be on the forefront of technology and industry leading initiatives,” Stensson says. “Our senior leaders are accountable for their successes and are empowered to make decisions to improve our business practices and grow our business.”

Remote GPS sensor technology throughout the greenhouse and nursery areas monitor pH, soil, temperature and moisture via sensor transmission using a Wi-Fi connection. The technology allows staff to get real-time information through their computers or smartphones.

One environmental initiative is the expansion of water-holding capacity in the Norval facility. Rainfall off of the gutters of the greenhouses is collected and stored in rainwater harvesting cisterns.

“We’re quite proud of some of our environmental initiatives,” McLaren says. “I think this award has kind of given us some recognition and let us know that we’re on the right path.”

Taking Advantage Of Vertical Integration

Because Sheridan Nurseries is vertically integrated from propagation to retail, the operation can complete trials on new products and packaging formats. Over the past 100 years, Sheridan has introduced more than 30 new cultivars into the marketplace.

McClaren says that being growers involved in the retail business “allows us to react quickly to the changing marketplace and changes in everyday life. We’re able to see it right from the beginning to the end, and meet the changing needs from the consumers, as well.”

Luckhardt says it’s like having their own focus group, and it allows them to be more in touch with what retail consumers are looking for.

“If we come up with an idea of something new we want to try we’re able to propagate it, get it started at a greenhouse, move it through and actually market it to a consumer before we actually say to our independent garden centers, ‘Hey, try this it really works.’”

Being vertically integrated allows for efficient communication, as well.

“We’re constantly in communication with each department, so it’s a very quick process,” McClaren says.

One example of this is the weekly selection of the most retail-ready products.

“Every week, the growers select products they feel are prime, or looking really good, we call it our ‘simply the best,’ and then it’s communicated out very quickly to our customers and our garden centers so they can select the product early enough to get it to their benches when it’s prime,” Luckhardt says.

The program runs weekly from April to October. A lot of time is spent each week selecting the right product, but the result is plants that look great when they arrive in the garden center.

“There are definitely processes in this company that have been done the same way for decades because they work,” says Mary Jane Ash, Norval propagation manager. “Our company’s known specifically for the number of years of experience in its staff members. We have at least two people who have more than 50 years with the company, and several others who have been here 35 to 40 years. People stay here for the long haul.”

John McClaren is the head perennial grower for Sheridan Nurseries
John McClaren is the head perennial grower for Sheridan Nurseries

Sheridan Nurseries Is Active In The Industry

Sheridan Nurseries has always been involved in industry organizations, and is a founding member of Canadian Society of Landscape Architects, Canadian Nursery Landscape Association and Landscape Ontario. It also sponsors the Dunington Grubb Award for outstanding landscape installation by Landscape Ontario members.

When boxwood blight was introduced to the industry, Sheridan took the lead working in conjunction with the University of Guelph pest diagnostic department and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

“A couple of years ago when the blight entered North America, it got everyone pretty upset,” Ash says. “It started spreading pretty quickly, and so we got together with our government regulatory body and with our local university, to write a protocol and find out more information about the disease, as well, because not much was known at this time.”

Once written, the protocol was shared with industry associations and growers.

“We have had (CFIA) do some testing on site, and we do our own testing through a third party diagnostic clinic nearby, so we know that our stock is definitely clean,” Ash says. “So we’ve put into place other measures to make sure that we keep it out. We can guarantee our stock is clean. We don’t actually allow any external boxwood into our nursery at all.”

Two masters students worked on the project with the help of Sheridan Nurseries, which made monetary and plant donations to the cause, according to Ash. The effort led to the discovery that the fungus carries over in soil, even through the winter.

“There have been a few things found out, especially for this growing region, from the research that was done locally,” Ash says. “So that can be offered up to the global research regarding the disease and help forward the management plan.”

Sheridan Nurseries continues to work with Vineland Research Station and the University of Guelph’s horticulture department to test plant growth utilizing optimal fertilizer rates to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the use of peat moss in growing media.

“That’s an ongoing program right now and it’s being headed up by our container operation,” Luckhardt says. “We use recycled composted plant material in our mixes, and we’re trying to use less and less peat moss in the mixes, because peat moss isn’t a renewable resource.”

Luckhardt says it is worthwhile for Sheridan Nurseries to make efforts that improve the industry as a whole.

“Our industry is respected by the community,” “When the industry is strong, and we share our information and that the industry is moving in the right direction, the public feels good about what we do as an industry. We like to make sure that horticulture and the nursery industry is respected by the consumers as not contributing to any of the problems or issues, and is actually helping and finding solutions and being forward-thinking on the solutions.”

Ash says that throughout the company, trials and experiments are always being conducted to see how things can be made better.

“I guess you can say we’re a forward-thinking operation in general,” she says. “We’re very progressive in that way.”

According to Luckhardt, employees throughout the entire company take part in coming up with environmentally sustainable ways of doing things.

“Not even just our growing departments, but our offices and everywhere, environmental concerns are front of mind,” Luckhardt says.

Each staffing area has an individual tasked with coming up with ways their department can save on resources. If an idea is accepted and implemented in one department, it goes across the departments, Luckhardt says.

Sheridan Nurseries also makes it a priority to donate to causes throughout greater Toronto, especially those with a focus on children in need, such as Children’s Wish Foundation and Upopolis. It also hosts a program called Little Diggers, which inspires children to engage in horticulture, and sponsors school-greening activities through its Growing Up Green fundraiser. Sheridan also partners with Princess Margaret ‘Plants for a Cure’ program, in which a contribution from each plant sold in the program is donated directly to the Princess Margaret hospital.

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Operation Of The Year Sheridan Nurseries Raises The Bar

  1. Congratulations Karl. Well done!! I received this article from our daughter Valerie who is with VanBelle Nurseries in B.C. She also had them destroy the Boxwood which were infected, and they are now clean.
    Bill Kegel

More From Grower of the Year...
ASCFG-Gretel-and-Steve-Adams-Sunny-Meadow-Flower-Farm-feature

November 22, 2017

Growers Showing Renewed Interest in Specialty Cut Flowers

At the brink of its 30th anniversary, the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers is connecting a diverse and growing group of members dedicated to producing and marketing cut flowers.

Read More
Griffin Pennsylvania Expo

November 22, 2017

Griffin Sets Dates for 2018 Grower & Retailer Expos

The company will host two Expos next year — one each in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania — and each will be a two-day event.

Read More
Berger-Equipment

November 17, 2017

How You Can Help Berger in Donating to Hurricane Harvey Victims (While Learning More About Plant Production)

Between Nov. 23-27, Berger will donate $1 for every download of its free technical plant production guides to hurricane relief efforts.

Read More
Latest Stories
Sheridan Nurseries

September 3, 2015

Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Operation Of The …

Ontario-based Sheridan Nurseries has long been an innovator in the Canadian market, but during the economic downturn, CEO Karl Stensson says the company decided to take things a step further. “We have survived the Great Depression, two World Wars and many other downturns in the economy,” he says. “During this last recession, our staff set out at being the best at what we do.” The company’s efforts have paid off. Sheridan Nurseries was named Operation of the Year at Greenhouse Grower’s Evening of Excellence, held July 13, at Cultivate’15 in Columbus, Ohio. The company was also awarded for Excellence In Perennials Production, based on its reputation for plant quality and the activities the nursery has led and been a part of, both within its company and in the industry at large. “We are elated and proud of our staff accomplishments,” says CEO Karl Stensson. “Over the last five years, we […]

Read More
Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Head Grower Of The Year Tom Wheeler - Feature image

September 1, 2015

Bell Nursery USA Cultivates New Growers Through Interns…

Bell Nursery USA started its internship program two years ago with the aim of identifying and training the growers of the future. Each season, the company’s internships give interns a broad overview of the company, exposing them to everything from growing and production to distribution, retail and finances.

Read More
Tom Wheeler, Bell Nursery USA

July 15, 2015

Tom Wheeler Of Bell Nursery Named Greenhouse Grower&…

Tom Wheeler of Bell Nursery is Greenhouse Grower's Head Grower of the Year for 2015. His leadership on a company level and throughout the industry and his willingness to share his knowledge to help others makes him a worthy recipient for this reward.

Read More
Ron Van der Hengst, South Central Growers

June 19, 2015

Ron Van der Hengst Of South Central Growers Is A Finali…

Ron Van de Hengst’s concentrated focus on improving production practices and finding better ways to turn out a top quality product makes him a deserving finalist for the 2015 Head Grower of the Year and recipient of the 2015 Excellence In Production award.

Read More
CEO Karl Stensson, Sheridan-Nurseries

June 18, 2015

Sheridan Nurseries Is A Finalist For 2015 Operation Of …

Sheridan Nurseries is Canada’s largest grower of hardy nursery plants and has been in business since 1913. It is one of three finalists for Greenhouse Grower’s Operation Of The Year award and winner of the Excellence In Perennials Production award for 2015.

Read More
Casey Houweling Houwelings Tomatoe

June 18, 2015

Houweling’s Tomatoes Is A Finalist For 2015 Operation O…

Houweling’s Tomatoes is an innovative greenhouse operation based in Delta, British Columbia that grows a full array of tomato and cucumber varieties. It is the winner of Greenhouse Grower’s Excellence in Vegetable Production for 2015.

Read More
Tom Wheeler, Bell Nursery USA

June 16, 2015

Bell Nursery USA’s Tom Wheeler Is A Finalist For …

Tom Wheeler’s individual-based and broad scale industry leadership and innovative ideas for high-quality production makes him a deserving finalist for the 2015 Head Grower of the Year and recipient of the 2015 Excellence In Leadership award.

Read More
Ed van Hoven and family_American Color

June 9, 2015

American Color Awarded Excellence In Annuals Production…

American Color, a grower located in Orange, Va. that started with one acre of land, received the Excellence In Annuals Production award for 2015 at Greenhouse Grower’s Evening of Excellence held July 13 during Cultivate'15.

Read More
Nick Gerace/Welby Gardens

June 3, 2015

Welby Gardens’ Nick Gerace Finalist For 2015 Head…

Nick Gerace’s enthusiastic leadership and focus on smarter growing with less hours on the job makes him a deserving finalist for the 2015 Head Grower of the Year and recipient of the 2015 Excellence In Innovation award.

Read More

November 11, 2014

2015 Grower Of The Year Awards Nominations Now Open

The Grower of the Year program encompasses two distinct awards: Operation Of The Year and Head Grower Of The Year. Tell us about an operation or head grower you believe we should consider today.

Read More

August 27, 2014

2014 Head Grower Of The Year Ivan Tchakarov: An Enthusi…

Greenhouse Grower’s 2014 Grower of the Year Ivan Tchakarov accepts challenges, embraces the latest technology and leads his team with a positive attitude.

Read More

August 27, 2014

Henry Mast Greenhouses/Masterpiece Flower Company Build…

Greenhouse Grower’s 2014 Operation of the Year builds long-standing, mutually beneficial customer relationships that last.

Read More

August 22, 2014

Highlights From Greenhouse Grower’s Evening Of Ex…

Greenhouse Grower’s Evening of Excellence, held at Cultivate’14’, celebrated outstanding efforts in breeding, growing, and marketing, but more than that, it was a celebration of individuals and operations that strive for excellence in their daily work.  

Read More

July 15, 2014

Greenhouse Grower Thrilled To Honor 2014 Medal of Excel…

Check out the breeders, growers and new varieties that earned the Greenhouse Grower Medal of Excellence awards for 2014.

Read More

July 15, 2014

Ivan Tchakarov Of Metrolina Greenhouse Named Greenhouse…

Metrolina Greenhouse's Director of Growing Ivan Tchakarov was named Grower of the Year at Greenhouse Grower's Evening of Excellence, held July 14 at Cultivate'14 in Columbus, Ohio.

Read More

July 15, 2014

Henry Mast Greenhouses Named Greenhouse Grower’s …

Henry Mast Greenhouses is named as Operation of the Year at Greenhouse Grower's Evening of Excellence on Monday, July 14 at Cultivate'14 in Columbus, Ohio.

Read More

June 13, 2014

Ron Godden of Wenke Greenhouses Is A 2014 Finalist For …

Ron Godden of Wenke Greenhouses enjoys the challenge of growing and has a genuine love for the intensity of the spring season.

Read More

June 12, 2014

Andy Buist of Micandy Garden Greenhouses Is A 2014 Fina…

Head Grower Of The Year Finalist Andy Buist is a hardworking grower with over 50 years of experience who encourages his employees and spreads his passion to everyone around him.

Read More