May/June 2013 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Kirsten Fairchilds
Photos by Richard Green
How one Central Coast nursery helps beautify cities with roses.
More online: Miniature rose varieties
Bob Lund is a fan of roses, not to mention those who grow them.
Bob Lund, an avowed rose lover, leads an award-winning community beautification group.
Self-described as "someone who's probably always had a rose garden," Lund currently grows three different varieties. However, he isn't limited to simply admiring his own blooms. While strolling through the historical district of his hometown of Arroyo Grande—a city on the Central Coast with a population of about 17,000—Lund has plenty of roses, and other plants and trees to enjoy.
As president of Arroyo Grande in Bloom, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the beautification of the city, with 125 residents as volunteers, Lund credits the generosity of the area's nurseries for donating plants, trees and soil. One such nursery is Greenheart Farms, whose headquarters are south of the Arroyo Grande city limits.
Leticia Rodriguez displays plants from Greenheart Farms, a nursery that grows more than 200 varieties of roses. The roses are cut into transplants and sold to retailers.
"I don't know how we would do what we do without Greenheart and the other nurseries," said Lund, an Arroyo Grande resident for the past 20 years. "Roses are one of the hardiest, most beautiful flowers ever grown on this planet. I always get comments from people who we've given plants to, thanking us for the beautiful roses they have growing in their yards."
But enjoying roses grown by Greenheart Farms is by no means limited to the residents of Arroyo Grande or even San Luis Obispo County.
Bill DeVor, head grower at Greenheart Farms, gets some help moving roses from his best friend, Pepper.
With 14 acres of outdoor growing areas and 750,000 square feet of greenhouse space on site, Greenheart Farms, established in 1979, is among the largest nurseries in the nation and has become a leading vegetable transplant producer as well.
In 1998, the nursery began growing rose liners—also called transplants, plugs or starts—for horticultural businesses that, in turn, grow the rose plants to the finished stage. The plants are then sold to national retail chains, such as Lowe's, Home Depot and Walmart, as well as independent and smaller businesses.
"We grow 8 million rose plants a year here (in Arroyo Grande); we grow more than a billion plants at all of our facilities," said Bill DeVor, Greenheart's chief operating officer, general manager and head grower. That kind of production, DeVor said, makes Greenheart Farms the nation's No. 1 grower of liner roses, with additional facilities in nearby Nipomo, Guadalupe (Santa Barbara County) and Yuma, Ariz., totaling more than 90 acres in all.
The business grows more than 200 varieties of liner roses for commercial sale from a collection of more than 800. It also has a collection of 400 miniature roses, which DeVor calls "the largest in the world," and grows 12 varieties commercially.
The fourth-generation rose grower is deeply rooted in the rose business. During the past 90 years, the DeVor family has been very involved in the methodology of how to produce roses. "In 1923, my great-granddad George invented the way commercial garden roses are grown," he said. In fact, DeVor first tried his hand at the budding age of 9. "My grandfather Paul built a greenhouse next to our house, so I could start to learn how to do this."
One tip to growing perfect roses that DeVor learned along the way is to plant them in locations with good light, air flow and well-drained soil. He adds that "phenomenal" improvements in the plant's genetics during the past 20 years make growing beautiful roses that much easier.
Developing a more modern rose
"About 10 years ago, the amount of garden rose plants sold in the U.S. per year had dropped from 65 million to 20 million," said Greenheart Farms co-founder and CEO Hoy Buell. He attributed those poor sales, in part, to the flower's need for a makeover. "The old rose got a lot of diseases and was only sold in a 5-gallon can."
With that in mind, Buell said plant breeders went to work to create a more "modern" rose, one that didn't have to be sprayed or grafted, and could bloom from the late spring to the end of fall. "The varieties you see in our nurseries all have those traits," he said.
With names like Robusta and Champlain, the plants that make up Greenheart's Extremely Hardy collection are known as being cold-tolerant and disease-resistant. The nursery's Kolorscape collection includes self-cleaning shrub roses, such as Kardinal and Milano, known for their heat tolerance.
DeVor credits the entire rose business—today, about 50 million rose plants are sold annually—for helping get itself back on track by changing its focus. "The industry's breeding and hybridizing of the past 100 years were aimed at the flower, not at the plant," he said. "The result was that plants were not disease-resistant, they were not hardy and they were not easy to grow. Over the past 20 years, the hybridizers and rose companies have started focusing on the plant. ... Now, they're working on the flower."
A flower with enduring appeal
The often-heard sentiment that the rose is an old-fashioned flower belonging more to your grandmother's generation than to a modern-day gardener is a misconception Layci Gragnani seeks to dispel. As part of a generation heralded for being tech-savvy, Greenheart's 29-year-old ornamental marketing and sales director has turned to social media to reach existing home gardeners, as well as recruit new ones.
Tommy DeVor, 18, is a fifth-generation rose grower.
"Gen X and Gen Y like things fast and easy," Gragnani said. "They don't want to have to take a lot of time to research a plant or flower and then take the time to plant it, but they do want the end result. I believe because they will have success with our roses, they'll go back to their garden centers and we'll have created a repeat customer."
DeVor's 18-year-old son, Tommy, shares Gragnani's optimism about the flower's enduring appeal. "If you're going to go to any store, you're going to see roses—they're everywhere," said the younger DeVor, a college student and assistant grower at Greenheart. "Roses are always something that's going to be desired, and therefore, will need to be grown."
Lund couldn't agree more. The president of Arroyo Grande in Bloom said roses have brought beauty and color to his town and even resulted in national recognition for the city from America in Bloom, a national nonprofit promoting beautification and volunteerism in communities across the U.S. that holds a nationwide competition annually.
"Arroyo Grande has won more awards than any other city in the country," Lund said. "Our organization has a lot of pride in our community. Our motto is: 'We plant pride.'"
Miniature, memorable and marvelous
Bill DeVor selected five miniature rose varieties with memorable names and marvelous color from Greenheart Farms' collection.
"Basically, what determines a mini is the size of the flower, not the plant," said DeVor, Greenheart's chief operating officer, general manager and head grower. "Generally, the flower is not over 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Ours range from an eighth of an inch to 2 1/2 inches."
||Boogie Woogie: Slightly scented. "It's orangey-red with a bright yellow reverse. It's just fun."
||Cal Poly: Slightly scented. "It's clear yellow and named after Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo."
||Electric Lady: Extremely fragrant. "As it opens, it changes its color. It goes from a coral to a pink to an orange."
||Splish Splash: Slightly scented. "It's cherry-red with a creamy white reverse. It has a lot of petals."
||Whoopi: Slightly scented. "It's named after Whoopi Goldberg. It's a deep red, almost purple rose with almost perfect form."