Be apart of something great

Walters Gardens USA

The Biggest perennial nursery of the world and the leading grower of perennials in North-America

If there would be any hardy perennial nursery somewhere in the world which is worth to be visited, it is WALTERS GARDENS INC. in the United States of America. Take a flight to the metropolis Detroit, the city where the famous car industry has been settled. From Detroit you must take a 30 minutes continuing domestic flight to the City Grand Rapids and additionally, 30 minutes drive by car, to reach WaltersGardens.

WaltersGardens is located in the North East State Michiganin a small settlement, called Zeeland close to the village Holland . Zeeland is named after the Netherlands Province of Zeeland, so this American village was founded by Dutch immigrants to the USA. When checking the phone-directory, plenty of original Dutch family names are mentioned and elder people still can speak and understand the Dutch language. The Dutch influence is tangible; perceptible and visible. Zeeland nearly is absorbed by WaltersGardens. The open field nursery of approximately four(4) million square metres and the 56.000 square metres of modern glass houses used for the production of young perennial plants, impossible can be overlooked. Zeeland and Walters are a twofoldness! And , though WaltersGardens, totally is rooted now in the USA, the very first foundation was laid by Dutch immigrants. Walters gardens still is a ‘family run’ company.

How it began

When WaltersGardens celebrated its 60 years anniversary in 2006, the family wrote a brief story about the very beginning of the foundation of their company. It refers to the Dutch roots. Let me repeat Walters words literally…

Our story begins like that of many other family business in America. It is the story of the ‘American Dream’. Dena Le Poirewas 9 years old when she and her family immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands. They had heard that America was wide open for hard working people to earn good wages, so they sold what they owned and made the nine day journey across the Atlantic.

They settled in Zeeland, Michigan and after saving up some money, Dena’s family purchased a 48 acre farm where they grew onions, celery, and ‘a little of everything’.

In 1924, Dena married John Knoll and together, they started a flower business in which they were contract growers for agoing bananas large nursery nearby. Dena recalled selling Phlox for $ 3.50 each which was a very good price in 1935!!! Together, they had one daughter, Harriet. John died at a young age in 1936, but Dena was a self- starter and was determined to carry on in spite of her circumstances. On a $ 50,- loan from her mother, Dena placed an advertisement in a trade journal called the ‘Florist Review’, understanding that advertising was the key to a prosperous business. Itworked and the money was coming in.

In 1942, Dena hired a young man, named Dennis Walters. After a three year apprenticeship learning the art and science of growing perennials, he married Dena’s only child, Harriet in 1946. thus was the beginning ofKnoll & Walters perennials. When Dena retired a few years later, Dennis hired his brothers –Harold; Henry; Jason, and Floyd to help with the expanding business and Walters Gardens, Inc. was born.

The first 12 years of the business were especially challenging for Harriet as she struggled to raise five children and help with the business. She was in charge of the only typewriter in the whole company, so she was expected to type the orders, prepare the shipping documents, often with a child balanced on each knee. As it was customary at that time, she was also responsible for the wifely duties of cooking, cleaning and mending. She was a super mom! Dennis and Harriet made sure all of their children were involved with the perennial farm at a young age. The kids were required to help out on the weekends and summers when they were not in school.

In the beginning, WaltersGardens, primarily produced Tall Garden Phlox and Creeping Phlox. The remaining inventory consisted of plants that could be grown from seed such as Delphinium, Aquilegia, Leucanthemum, Gaillardia, Papaver and Carnations. The fields were all cultivated by hand using a push cultivator. Young divisions were planted by hand, dugwith a fork or spade, and transported back to the shed with a wheelbarrow. For Winter storage, the plants were dug in late Fall and set in trenches in the ground and covered with straw to kept the frost out. This method enabled them to lift the plants in late February or early march for shipping to southern states. (Modern cold storage units were added in the mid-1960s.) The bare root plants were shipped by Railway; truck and Greyhound bus.

New products were added through the 1950s and 1960s, including packaged and potted perennials.

The first plant, patented by Walters in the USA, was Dicentra Formosa Luxuriant. Walters bought this variety in 1960

Gradually over the years, machines replaced much of the work that was done manually, such as planting and harvesting. Greenhouses and warehouses were erected, and additionally farmland was acquired to meet the growing demand for a greater variety of perennials. A tremendous advancement came with the invention of stronger grades of poly film for covering the greenhouse structures, as this marked the transition from a seasonal business to year round. Realizing that, in order to stay ahead of the competition, Walters gardens had to be ready with the newest plants on the market, in the early 1970s, WaltersGardens began to look in Europe for the newest varieties of perennials produced by tissue culture(TC). In 1976, Walters gardens built its own lab to aide in the rapid multiplication of plants and to clean up the stock of certain popular cultivars. New sports, discovered at WaltersGardens were also rapidly propagated in their laboratory. Though the building of the lab and the accompanying greenhouses in which to grow the TC material required a huge investment, it proved that Walters gardens was on the cutting edge of the perennial plant business

Walters Gardens today

Nowadays, the company still is a family run company. The Chief Executive Officer(CEO) is John Walters, assisted by the President Evan Elenbaas and Johns oldest daughter Christa and aided by numerous other family members (nephews and nieces) and dedicated employees including plant health experts, skilled horticulturists, helpful customer service and a pool of sales representatives and brokers nationwide.walters garden

Through the decades, WaltersGardens has grown from a small farm, worked by just a few man, to a multimillion dollar business with over 300 employees.

At the height of the planting season over a million divisions are planted each week, using several 4 or 6 row planting machines. The Tissue Culture lab produces 1 million plants annually. WaltersGardens collaborates and cooperates with perennial plant breeders and plants enthusiasts around the globe. Each year around 100 new perennial cultivars are added to their catalogue, including their own breeds. Recent introductions are: Brunnera Jack Frost; Brunnera Looking Glass; Hosta Eskimo Pie; Hosta Fireworks ;Hosta Regal Splendour; Hosta Revolution; Hosta Dancing in the Rain; Hemerocallis Going Bananas; Sedum Black Jackand Scabiosa Pink Lemonade.

The Walters Breeders

Nowadays WaltersGardens employ three passionate, qualified breeders who combine their passion with modern skills and techniques.

1.Clarence Falstad. Clarence, is a progressive hybridizer for many years. Besides his discovering of plant sports and being successfully in breeding Hosta, he made a big step forwards in crossing fully hardy Hibiscus. Out of tens of thousand seedlings, he selects only the best ones. His goal is to introduce and to produce improved cultivars for plant lovers and home gardeners. Recent introductions of Clarence are: Hibiscus Jazzberry Jam and Hibiscus Summer Storm.

2.Chris Meyer. Chris is a dedicated Hemerocallis breeder.Breeding Hemerocallis requires a lot of patience. It takes considerable more time chris meyerthan crosses in other genera, Chris says. He will be happy if out of 1000 seedlings, only two are worth to be introduced. Chris began hybridizing Hemerocallis in his backyard in 1991, and it was there that he made the cross which would lead to the nowadays top seller, Hemerocallis GOING BANANAS IN 1992. Chris crossed Hemerocallis Happy Returns with Hemerocallis Brocaded Crown and saw the first flowers two years later. Out of dozens of seeds came this perfect daylily. It was loaded with glowing lemon-yellow flowers for a nearly continuous period. The variety was tested additionally two years before they decided to propagate it. It was Chris wife who came up with the name GOING BANANAS. The name is based on its colour and tremendous blooming ability. Hemerocallis Going Bananas firstly was offered in 2006, 14 years after the first seed was sown.

kevin a hurd3.Kevin Hurd is the youngest WGI breeder. Kevin is graduated from the IowaStateUniversity and got interested in hybridizing perennials during his period of practical training abroad at the nursery of Nico Rijnbeek in the Netherlands when Kevin still was a student. And it was also during this period that Kevin was able to make connections in Europe and stay on top of trend there. Currently, Kevin is working on a variety of genera, including Dianthus; Echinacea and Hibiscus. The results of his work are remarkable. Kevin’s success with the Dianthus Fruit Punch Series predicts a promising future in breeding. Kevin says: the process for WG breeders program starts the Winter before the cross is actually made. The crosses are planned out. The actual cross is made when the plants are in flower. The seed is collected in the Fall and germinated in the Winter to help speed the process along and obtain a mature plant faster. The plugs are transplanted to the trial field in Spring to be evaluated for a minimum of two/three years. Points of attention are: cold hardiness; improved habit; distinctive flower colour; disease resistance and overall market appeal.

Before the plants are propagated the plants are virus-indexed. WG ensure its customers that they can offer virus free plants.

Company Policy

All steps to be taken in the whole company process are thought over very well. Almost all members of the Walters staff eventually get involved in variety introductions. Everyone is instructed and encouraged to watch for variants, both as a quality-control measure, but also to check for new and improved varieties, combining the skills of hybridizers team and the team that evaluates new plants. Practically whole the staff is involved in the naming process for new plants as well. It helps everyone at WG feel some ownership over the products. WaltersGardens works closely with a broad network of breeders worldwide.