Allan Armitage on Why You Can’t Stop a Grower From Succeeding


Drew Koschmann of Walters Gardens won Greenhouse Grower’s Head Grower of the Year Award at Cultivate’23.

I have been jotting down my thoughts about what this industry is all about for quite some time. I mull over what I see as the next great plant, the next great greenhouse innovation, or the elusive trends that come and go. I have been filling this page in the magazine long enough that I am even able to recall a bit of our history. So, each month finds me sipping my coffee staring at my notepad and pondering what I might share.

As I sift through plants and trends, I stop — because it comes to me yet again that the most important ingredient in what we accomplish is not the plant or the structure, nor the trends. It is, of course, the people.

We all hear stories that “no one wants to work anymore.” The fact is, we have been hearing the same story for decades. Qualified and dedicated workers are hard to find, but when has that not been the case? Yet, somehow we are still here.

Every time I meet a young person in this trade, be they a local landscaper, a cut flower farmer in Tennessee, a bedding plant grower in Iowa, a breeder in California, or a gardener in Michigan, I am blown away with their enthusiasm and love of what they do. I can’t tell you how special it is when my former students, who were struggling with their future, write or find me at a show and share their success. Immediately, the constant volley of pessimism out there is replaced with swells of optimism. And it is catching.

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Success is measured in many ways. But let’s get real. Success is not the big house, the swollen bank account, or the number of cruises — those are simply things. To me, success is very simple to define. Strip away the “things,” and it is basically being proud of your body of work — be it your job or your family — and being content in what you have accomplished and where you are. I use the term “body of work” deliberately; it is not a single accomplishment that defines success, it is the journey.

And no one said that success would be easy.

Have you ever attended an Evening of Excellence at Cultivate? This event was introduced by Greenhouse Grower many years ago to showcase plants and people, and has become one of the highlights at Cultivate. For sure, the audience applauds with enthusiasm as the winning plants are unveiled, but every time, the loudest applause and the happiest shouts of joy accompany the announcements of the Head Grower of the Year Award and the Industry Achievement Award. Why? Because they recognize people in our industry.

Their body of work was so impressive that they rose to the top. Yet, like all of us, even these most successful people will tell you that it was not ever easy. They had as many obstacles as you and me.

How did they do it?

I remember speaking to Henk Berbee, whose father, Leo, created the iconic Leo Berbee Bulb Company. We were chatting about this and that, one topic being the difficulties young people face. Henk looked at me and stated, “Allan, you can’t stop a person from succeeding.” He went on to say, “If they want something badly enough, they will figure out how to do it!”

I walked away thinking that Henk’s statements were too simplistic, and perhaps even naive, for such complicated times. The more I talked with successful people, the simplicity rang true then, as it does today. There are numerous books on attaining success, written by very successful people. But for me, all I need is The Philosophy According to Henk.

It is difficult to define success, and it is difficult to attain. However, stand back, because you cannot stop a person from succeeding.

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