How long ago did Ball get started?
The company was founded in 1905 by George Jacob Ball. George grew up with a love for plants and at the age of 14 he started working for a commercial florist in Ohio. After that, he moved to Chicago, found work in a greenhouse and began selling cut flowers. But his passion soon led him to strike out on his own and he became a specialist in the breeding of sweet peas and mums. This success led to the start of Ball Seed.
How would you describe what Ball does?
First and foremost, Ball Seed is a distribution company. Our primary products are seeds, cuttings and plugs/liners. Secondly, through Ball Horticulture Co., we are a breeding company that helps bring to market new plants that are rigorously evaluated and aim to provide superior performance to other plants on the market. We work in over 50 countries, importing plants and products to meet the varied needs of our customers. Regionally, we have a customer base of many CNGA wholesale growers and help them with new ideas while supplying plant inputs.
How do you bring a new plant to market?
It begins with a breeder’s idea and then moves to a committee review process to evaluate what our breeders and partners are working on. Next comes the trialing process and each year I attend at least three separate trials across the country to see the plant material in its outdoor growing environment. Besides the trials, one of my favorite ways that I get to evaluate our new plants is to grow them in my own backyard – this allows me to see new introductions up close and personal and evaluate how they might fit and work in a customer’s assortment.
What’s one trend that you see in your work?
I can sum it up in one word – easy. From the grower side, the trend to making our plants easy to grow is a good fit with some of our newer owners who may not have a horticulture background. With easy to grow plants, their jobs become a little less complicated and success comes more quickly. Retail shoppers are often very busy and don’t have or want to take the time to maintain their plants. So ‘easy plants’ means no deadheading, because we can breed so that the plant is self-cleaning, where flowers shrivel up and disappear by themselves. Easy means self branching, which reduces the need for pinching and keeps a plant full and in flowers all of the time. Small space gardening is also up and coming. We’re also involved with developing ‘kitchen minis’ – easy-to-grow plants that you can put in small places like a window sill, and can produce tomatoes or peppers right in the kitchen.
Has there been an upside to the COVID impact?
Yes, and it’s a good one for our industry. Many of the retailers I speak with are seeing more first-time gardeners in their stores than ever before. And if we give them good products and information, they will become the economic pipeline of our industry’s future.
How does CNGA help with your work?
My favorite thing about CNGA is how you help me stay in touch with other members, many of which are my customers. It’s the comradery and connections that I truly value and look forward to each year.