New American Garden, The

Peterson, Jasmine

Ornamental grass guru John Greenlee has teamed up with EuroAmerican Propagators to give American yards an Earth-friendly makeover.

He is known by many as the guru of grasses. In fact, he will be the first to proudly tell you that ornamental grasses and native plants are his life, his passion. And he is sure to make that apparent in all of his work.

Not only does North America’s leading expert on ornamental grasses have a well-rounded resume including The Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses, television appearances on HGTV and PBS, and his own nursery, he has also teamed up with EuroAmerican Propagators to introduce his own line of products – the John Greenlee Signature Collection of ornamental grasses.

Garden Revelation

The pure enjoyment of being outside and connecting with nature was the flame that sparked Greenlee’s obsession with native plants and ornamental grasses. As a boy, he was involved in Boy Scouts and exposed to raw nature. He discovered ornamental horticulture as opposed to forestry. “I saw these beautiful landscapes in nature and the fact was that this is really where my heart and soul belonged.”

In 1978, Greenlee received a degree in ornamental horticulture from California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. “I kind of stumbled onto horticulture early,” he says with a laugh. “And I can honestly say that I wasn’t paying attention in greenhouse management class. I was more interested in landscaping and landscape design.”

After graduating, Greenlee says he considered himself a “hotshot horticulturist.” It was perhaps one fortunate trip to a Baltimore nursery that changed his know-it-all attitude.

Greenlee walked into Kurt Bluemel, Inc. and was amazed by the several different varieties that were on display. “Here were like 300 plants we had never learned about in college,” he says. “I was like, ‘where did they hide all of these things? How could I have missed that?'”

His mind was not only spinning with excitement from the new varieties but childhood memories of nature, as well. He began to realize all of the plants that are out in nature are really not represented in any nursery. It was at that exact point he knew what he wanted to do.

Greenlee started working with Kurt Bluemel and the more he learned about ornamental grasses, the more he realized Americans should also know about these plants. He began to travel and educate himself on the different types of grasses and native plants. “As I traveled, I started a catalog that just contained descriptions -no pictures,” he says.

Greenlee Nursery became a mail-order nursery that was based on his catalog. It was the first nursery on the West Coast to specialize in ornamental grasses, Greenlee says. “I think what really struck a cord with my catalog was the fact that I wasn’t just a nurserymen, I was a garden designer,” he says.

Greenlee admits becoming the ornamental grass expert by default. “Nobody else was doing this,” he says excitedly. “The more I worked with grasses, the more I realized that a lot of the stuff Bluemel was growing back in Maryland wouldn’t work in my Mediterranean climate.”

While Greenlee was conducting research for his book, he started to understand that the ornamental grass scene was regionally focused. “I noticed some varieties wouldn’t work in certain regions of the country,” he says. That became the focus.

A New Venture

“The classic story in the industry is the fact that a lot of little people do the work and then the larger nurseries swoop in and say thank you,” Greenlee says when explaining his partnership with EuroAmerican Propagators. “They are brilliant and they actually do something the nursery industry doesn’t do a lot of – reward breeders and plant introduction people with royalties,” he says.

Greenlee teamed up with EuroAmerican Propagators in 2001 in order to fill the demand that he created through his book and numerous appearances across the country. “Teaming up with Euro will allow us to meet the rapidly increasing demand, and it will allow me to focus on the promotion of grasses and their uses,” he says.

Greenlee believes the reason EuroAmerican Propagators approached him was because of his expertise. “Because of the book, I have been doing a lot of traveling; because of the traveling, I have spent a lot of time in nature. I don’t mean to brag, but I know my plants.”

According to John Rader, president and CEO of EuroAmerican Propagators, everyone involved will reap the benefits of this venture. “It will expand EuroAmerican’s offerings and will create new opportunities for John (Greenlee) through prestige and royalties,” he says.

EuroAmerican’s marketing strategies, Greenlee says, are superb. “They were the first ones to say, ‘you can use grasses as annuals.’ That was a huge concept,” he says. He adds the fact that EuroAmerican puts money into education and its tags is great. “They don’t just dump the plants out there. They actually spend time and money on the labels.”

Some of the highlights in the John Greenlee Signature Collection are pennisetum ‘Red Bunny Tails,’ an excellent dwarf form of purple fountain grass; eragrostis ‘China Love Grass,’ a compact grass for container gardens and borders with cloud-like flowers that emerge pinkish-red and mature to gold; and nassella ‘Mexican Feather Grass,’ a two- to three-foot tall grass with silky, almost iridescent leaves.

Going Natural

Despite the recent growth in popularity, ornamental grasses and native plants have a lot of room to grow, Greenlee says. “There are a lot of opportunities and so much potential.” From shady, to wet, to sunny areas, there are grasses to fit almost every situation, he adds.

Greenlee says America needs to reevaluate its gardening practices and go with something more natural. “In all honesty, a lot of the practices America is engaging in are not good for the planet,” he says. “Most turf-grass requires irrigation, spraying, maintenance, and that is what most of America does when they make a garden. They are just using chemicals.”

As for the future, Greenlee says he will continue to focus on alternatives for the American lawn. The John Greenlee Signature Collection of the future is going to strategize toward those goals and change what is the current paradigm of a good garden.

“It’s not just the most flowers and the greenest lawn,” Greenlee says with a sigh. “It’s the garden that still has some of the original plants from that region that has beauty.”


Assistant Editor

Copyright Meister Publishing Company Dec 2003

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

You May Also Like

Leaders in 2002

Leaders in 2002 CRIMES Seeds offers five new Garden Leader varieties for the 2002 spring season. Each has been tested in Grimes’ nationwid…

In Memoriam

In Memoriam INDUSTRY NEWS Alberta, Canada lieutenant Governor and co-founder of Hole’s Greenhouses & Gardens Ltd. Lois Hole died Jan…

Right The First Time

Right The First Time Drotleff, Laura MIKE Klopmeyer isn’t only head of production for Ball FloraPlant’s offshore farms in Central Am…

Crop protection 2005 survey

crop protection 2005 survey Calkins, Bill ACARICIDES Floramite SC from Crompton Crop Protection is registered in all states fo…