Assistant Grower, Perennials at Costa Laymans in Aiken, South Carolina. I’m in charge of the timing of the crops. I have to answer these questions about the plant we grow: “Is this a marketable plant? Does it look like what it’s supposed to when being sold? Would I say "WOW" if I saw this plant in my local garden center?"
I am responsible for plant health from the time it arrives as a plug to the time it is loaded on a rack to be shipped to the store.
How long have you worked at Costa Farms?
As a grower, how do you produce plants—what’s the process?
We receive a small plug or bare root. I advise operations on potting and planting depth, making sure each plant is spaced so that it grows properly, and it gets the right fertilizer. Then we place it in right light, sun, or shade.
We maintain proper moisture for each crop, and I’m in charge of making sure there’s no disease or insects and spray accordingly. We anticipate things. I know that some plants may be susceptible to disease at a certain temperature, so I watch for that.
How does growing perennials differ from growing annuals?
We grow perennials outside at our facility in Aiken, SC. Because our plants are perennials, some require vernalization, which is a chilling period. This is one main difference. We have to help a plant live through winter in order to have good blooms and early sales. Another large difference is that perennials in general take a lot longer to grow. So you have to be very diligent with plant health because you need to maintain the plant for many weeks.
How did you get into horticulture? Did you always like plants?
I didn’t come from a horticulture background. I mean, my parents aren’t big plant people. I lived in the outskirts of Montgomery, AL—and I was always an outside kid. In 10th grade I did a science fair project and won the state science fair. My project was "How pH Effects Hybrid Bermudagrass."
I went to Auburn University and I was considering Pharmacy, then went through the Ag school because Auburn was known for their agricultural and engineering prowess. My advisor said, “Haven’t you always liked plants?” So I took Intro to Hort and fell in love with horticulture right then. Horticulture has always made a lot of sense to me. It’s always been fascinating.
How are you like the plants you raise?
I'd say, like plants, I grow with change. I came from a slower paced company than Costa Farms, which is an extremely aggressive and goal-driven company. I started a few months after Costa Farms acquired this facility, so it’s been a roller coaster. But it's fun and exhilarating to look back on what all I have been through and experienced. This is much like our perennials. They go through brutally hot July and hard freezes in January, but after it all, they look wonderful. That’s my hope: that I end up blooming.
What gives you pride in your job?
Knowing that a plant started out just 2 inches tall, and then knowing that someone will plant it in their yard and it will look beautiful (and bring their lives joy and beauty). That gives me pride.
It’s challenging to grow plants; it it was easy, there wouldn't be such a feeling of accomplishment. Plants respond, in a good or bad way, with how much attention you give them. And every day is different. There’s always a new plants. I love it.
What plants do you have in your own home?
I just purchased a house recently so I don’t have much in my yard, but I am currently planning out a landscape, which is very fun to play with my own plants. But one of my favorite plant characteristics is how it smells. I love Winter Honeysuckle. It smells like Fruit Loops. I love that smell. I don’t have one in my new yard yet, but I will be getting one.
How has working with plants changed you?
In a word: Patience. There are a lot of different aspects to growing plants. You have to take a step back. Raising plants teaches patience.