Changing of the Guard

Industry Pioneers Offer New Year’s Wishes for the Green Industry

As we prepare to celebrate the New Year, five horticulture industry pioneers share what they learned and accomplished over the years, as well as their hopes and advice for the future.

Larry Watson

Retired, former owner of Plants for Today and Tomorrow

His start in the industry: during 6th grade

Career & Legacy: Nursery Employee, Western Evergreens, Golden, Colo. (1952-58); CSU graduate, B.S. in Horticulture- Landscape and Nursery Management (1962); Western Evergreens (1962-1965); CSU Extension Agent, Jefferson County, Colo. (1965-68); Manager, Western Evergreens (1968-1979); General Manager, Little Valley Wholesale Nursery, Brighton, Colo. (1980-1988); Western U.S. Sales Representative, Schichtel’s Nursery, Orchard Park, N.Y. (1988-1991); Owner, Plants for Today and Tomorrow, Golden, Colo. (1991-2005); Retiree, volunteer at community and church gardens, Bremerton, Wash. (2010)

“My most satisfying moments at work were hiring and working with so many people who are still active and engaged with the nursery industry to this day, and continuing the legacy of George Kelly and Harry Swift of Western Evergreens in introducing, producing and promoting native plants,” Watson explained.

“While being active in CNA (the precursor to CNGA), Daryl Hall and I were able to start the Owners & Managers meeting (now renamed the Horticulture Leadership Retreat). I was also an active committee member when starting and promoting Colorado Nursery Research & Education Foundation (now CHREF) and the Nursery Certification program. I am also proud to have taught so many classes with Alan Rollinger and Gayle Weinstein.”

Kerri Dantino, Little Valley Wholesale Nursery Purchasing Agent and outgoing CNGA Board President, commented, “Larry Watson was my incredible mentor and I owe my career in this industry to him! To me, Larry’s legacy is that he is a true and honest nurseryman through and through. His love of learning and his desire to teach and be taught are what made him a huge asset to our industry. The knowledge he gained through industry connections and social activities made him invaluable. If you had a plant question, he would be at the top of your list of people to call!”

The Rewards of Working in Horticulture, according to Watson

“You will never find more honest and friendly people than you will find in this industry.”

His Advice to the Next Generations

“Do not ever quit learning. There is always another plant to learn or another method of doing something. Remember, doing what you love will not seem like work.”

His Hopes for the Green Industry’s Future

“My hope would be that the industry will continue to grow and prosper and that everyone will find satisfaction in what they are doing.”

Jan Gulley

Owner and Head Grower, Gulley Greenhouse & Garden Center

Age started in the industry: 20 years old

Career & Legacy: CSU graduate, B.S. in Horticulture / Floriculture (1975); Co-Owner, Gulley Greenhouse & Garden Center, Fort Collins, Colo. (1975-present)

“I feel that our family has developed a safe and satisfying place for people to work and thrive. The best thing I can ever hear someone say is ‘I love working here,’” said Gulley of the company inspired by the former Gulley Greenhouse, operated by Ray Gulley, her husband Jim’s father.

She continued, “Having both of our daughters want to join the business has been one of my highlights. There are many other satisfying moments, especially witnessing employees develop into an integral part of the business and figuring out how to grow and propagate some of the more difficult plants that we are known for.”

Daughter Beth Gulley, who is the company’s Wholesale Manager, explained, “Jan was one of the few female horticulture graduates that pioneered the way for all of us women in horticulture. She is a respected expert perennial resource, and now growers around the country come to her for advice. She has led our grower team to pioneer several projects that many other greenhouses don’t have the expertise to handle. She also donates so much time (and countless plants!) in support of education and fundraising for the horticulture industry.”

Asked when she plans to retire, Jan laughed and said, “When my daughters kick me out! I would like to take on a more consulting role eventually for our own greenhouse and potentially others, but for me this work is my life and I’d like to be involved for years to come.”

The Rewards of Working in Horticulture, according to Jan

“It is hard work and the seasonal nature of it makes the years go so fast!! But it is personally satisfying to see crops flourish and help our retail and wholesale customers succeed. With all the current negative news, we are so fortunate to work in an industry that is surrounding us with life and health… at the end of the day we are growing something that makes people happy and that is beautiful.”

Her Advice to the Next Generations

“Be thankful for every day, try your best, and always be ready to help your fellow employees.”

Her Hopes for the Green Industry’s Future

“The industry is changing so quickly and the future is so exciting. It has amazed me to see the changes in the past 20 years with offshore production, new grower technologies, and ways to avoid harsh chemicals. I hope that research in those areas only continues and becomes mainstream for the industry. I do feel that food crops in greenhouses will become more important for supplying local needs. With current events being stressful for so many people, I also hope that plants, indoor and outdoor, will become more important as a source of happiness, contentment and a staple necessity for every home.”

Steve Brown

Vice President and Outgoing Delivery Manager, Alameda Wholesale Nursery

Age started in the industry: 11 years old (earning $2 an hour!)

Career & Legacy: Alameda Wholesale Nursery, Englewood, Colo. (1983 to 1990); Fossil Creek Nursery, Fort Collins, Colo. (1992); CSU, B.A in Economics (1995); Alameda Wholesale Nursery (1995 to current)

“I’m very proud of carrying on the legacy of my family and all the hard work they’ve done, but personally I’m proud of how many deliveries we’ve done and all on time. I pack as many loads into one day as possible and within our time frame. Everyone at Alameda works tremendously hard to get quality plants to our customers as quickly as possible,” said Brown, son of company Owner and President Stan Brown.

Steve continued, “I’ve been on committees, served on boards, helped with events, and as president of CNGA, I helped us through a major drought and with merging Colorado Nursery Association with the Colorado Greenhouse Growers Association. But, I think I’ve helped our industry best by serving the small and medium-sized landscapers grow their businesses one tree and plant at a time. Their families, workers and workers’ families depend on us to help them make money. If we do poorly, they do poorly. I love seeing landscapers grow from one crew to several and being part of their success.”

Colleague Mike Arnold said of Steve, “This business isn’t easy but growing up in it with a friend like Steve Brown has made it very enjoyable. Being a third-generation nurseryman, Steve has obtained tons of experience from his dad and grandfather to pass down to upcoming young professionals or colleagues like myself. This is priceless to our ever-changing industry. Steve’s strong work ethic, passion, experience, and humbleness are attributes that everyone can benefit from. Steve’s willingness to share his experience and support others is a testament to him and his family’s legacy. Fun fact: as much as Steve likes to golf, he doesn’t at the CHREF Golf Tourney just so he can work a table to actually visit with everyone.”

As far as plans for retirement, Steve admitted, “I don’t think I’ll stay here forever. I’m willing to bet I’ll retire before my father. He’ll work forever!”

The Rewards of Working in Horticulture, according to Steve

“You never stop learning so don’t be afraid or embarrassed if you don’t know something. Nobody knows everything. There is always a new plant or insect or plant that nobody uses anymore. This industry is so wide that you can’t be an expert in every aspect. But there is an expert out there you can talk to.”

His Advice to the Next Generations

“Realize success looks different to different people and changes over time. It’s a long process that sometimes never ends. When you’re young it’s one thing, then changes as you get older. It could be to get a good job then change to being a master at it. Then maybe discovering a new plant or maybe traveling and seeing the green industry across the country.”

His Hopes for the Green Industry’s Future

“I hope that the green industry will adapt to our challenges easily and painlessly to keep new landscapes affordable, whether challenged with climate change and how it affects our plant palette or labor shortages and how to attract and keep good workers while still being profitable, or inflation and supply shortages.”

Sharon Harding

President, Harding Nursery

Age started in the industry: at birth!

Career & Legacy: Harding Nursery, Colorado Springs, Colo. (1979-present)

“My proudest and most satisfying accomplishment was growing the business, along with my husband Terry, from what is was to what it is today and having our children want to continue with it, and passing it down through the family,” explained Harding-Shaw, who took over the nursery from her parents, Billie and Joan Harding, and has been followed into the business by her children, Kristin Shaw-Burnside and Dustin Shaw, and her daughter’s husband, Chad Burnside. “My three grandsons also help when they can.”

Sharon continued, “You have to have the vision of what you want the company to be and where you want to go with it, and everybody has to be on board. There’s a lot of self-discipline that comes along with that. We have fantastic employees, and we couldn’t do it without them. Some have been with us up to 16 and even 27 years.”

Asked about her significant contributions to her company and the industry, Sharon said, “We all have very strong work ethics, which comes along with the industry. We always strive to do better, grow a better product and provide better service. We are always looking at how we can do better and improve our own business as well as industry standards.”

Husband Terry Shaw, who is the Vice President at Harding Nursery, commented “Sharon’s main legacy as a member of the horticulture industry is she has always had the love, passion, drive and can-do approach in regards to the nursery industry, seeing things develop and grow through the years and the accomplishments we have made as our family grows. We have instilled this passion in our children, so we know we will continue to be successful for many years to come.”

As far as retirement, Sharon said, “Terry and I love what we do so I think as long as we’re able to be in it, we will. I think we’ll vacation more.”

The Rewards of Working in Horticulture, according to Sharon

“I think that young people in this industry need to understand that plant material cannot be just manufactured, printed or stamped out. It’s a living thing, not a widget. There is such a need for people to work in the industry to grow plant material and yet it is so hard with land being so valuable. It would be easy just to sell off all these nurseries and reduce what is being grown, but we actually need more plants! This industry doesn’t have huge paying jobs and yet it’s a great living for everyone.”

Her Advice to the Next Generations

“Keeping people in the green industry is going to be a hurdle. Especially on the nursery side, patience is necessary to produce trees. People need to be committed to the long haul and harvesting in the future. Selling plants that you have grown and nurtured is rewarding. There’s a lot of fulfillment in that – there’s nothing like it.”

Her Hopes for the Green Industry’s Future

“I hope that people can continue to hold on to their farms and grow crops of trees and shrubs, and that there can still be the family-owned corporations that can continue with their family legacies of growing plants and having nice products.”

Marty Gerace and son Nick Gerace

Marty Gerace

President/CEO, Welby Gardens

Age started in the industry: at birth (left only for a few years between late teens and early 20s)

Career & Legacy: Welby Gardens (40 years); studied at CSU (1983), Front Range Community College (1986-1988), and “School of Hard Knocks”; Colorado Ag Leadership Program (2017-2019); Welby Gardens: Sales (1985-1995), Production & Sales Manager (1995-2005), General Manager (2005-2015), and CEO (2015-Present); Colorado Agriculture Commission (2016-present)

“I’m proud of the transitions our company has been able to make from generation to generation. We’ve done a lot of business modifications to make the business a little bit more professional, a little less mom and pop and meld the two together,” said Gerace of the four generations who have contributed to Welby Gardens’ legacy. “During my time, several staff members have been honored for their work. My son, Nick Gerace, (in the fourth generation) was named Head Grower of the Year, a national award from Greenhouse Grower.”

Marty’s uncle, Al Gerace, explained, “At Welby the first generation set the general parameters of the business and instilled the values of hard work and integrity. Those in the second generation were the builders and initial innovators. Those in the third generation led by Marty were the ‘perfectors’ of production, operation and manpower processes. Marty reached out to other industry leaders connected with the local associations for help and advice as well as sharing the company and family experiences, driving the company to full engagement with other industry leaders. He formed partnerships with customers, other growers, suppliers, and breeder companies to further the company’s reach and efficiency.”

“Marty oversaw the initialization of the H2A program for the company and became a resource for its implementation in the local greenhouse industry. He pioneered indoor greenhouse and field hemp production for Welby and participated with the Colorado Department of Agriculture in finalizing the state’s regulations on hemp,” Al added.

Marty also mentioned, “Our young plants division has been our fastest growing and successful division over the last 15 years. I started and pushed through that division to reduce our input costs and keep our employees working through the seasons. After consciously deciding to down size, I helped navigate us through that, and we are just getting to the position now where the business is healthy and growing still. I’m pretty proud of being able to move the family and business together through all these difficult steps.”

Marty doesn’t see himself retiring, but admitted, “In the next 10 years or so, I will start to slow down my work schedule a bit.”

The Rewards of Working in Horticulture, according to Marty

“Horticulture is hard work but very satisfying – it’s probably one of the most satisfying industries to work in where you get to work with people who love what they’re doing. You have to love it because it is hard work. If you don’t love it, you’re really not going to be successful in it. It really is a tough industry to work in, but the people you work with are the best.”

His Advice to the Next Generations

“Never give up. Put your head down and never give up.”

His Hopes for the Green Industry’s Future

“I think that over the last couple of years COVID has been tough on a lot of industries, but it has actually been good for our industry. It brought people back to the garden. Another whole generation is gardening – that’s awesome. I would like to see that growth continue, see people in our industry support each other, and continue to increase support of independent garden centers. It’s most important to have independent garden centers continue to thrive and not have chain stores take over the business.”