Welby Gardens Co.
In Denver, Welby Gardens Co., home of Hardy Boy Plants, has been making a name in the bedding plant industry with a reputation for high quality and high performance plants since 1948. The family-owned and -operated company offers a huge selection of annuals, perennials, ornamental grasses, herbs and vegetables, catering to independent garden centers, commercial and estate landscapers as well as parks and recreation departments. All of these customers have come to know that when they see the little Hardy Boy character on the tag, they can be confident that they have found some of the highest quality plant material.
“This is the greenhouse operations’ 67th year in business,” says Al Gerace, president and CEO of Welby Gardens. “The company started in Denver, growing vegetable crops and the bedding plant industry really started to take off.”
Alex and Esther Gerace bought original acreage and began farming with a horse and plow in 1938. The couple grew vegetables to feed the family. In 1948, the first glass greenhouse was erected for vegetable starts, but it wasn’t until 1955 that the first geraniums were grown to sell at the farmers market.
As the bedding plant market started to grow, so did Welby Gardens. “In the mid‘80s the landscaping industry in Colorado started to take off as a result of a big recession and real estate collapse,” recounts Gerace. “Owners wanted to keep units rented and so they turned to creating more attractive grounds.”
“Since, it’s really blossomed in Colorado; now nearly every town and city has a park area and there are many parks and recreation departments which we sell to,” says Gerace. Today the company’s reach extends well beyond Denver. “Larger growers are geared to big-box stores, while we sell mainly to independent garden centers, covering about 1,200 miles from Denver. We’ll sell as far north as North Dakota and Wyoming to as far south as the Gulf Coast,” notes Gerace.
Much has changed since 1948 and the company now spans four generations of family and has made numerous technological improvements and expansions. Welby Gardens now has three growing locations with 23 acres of greenhouses producing more than 3,000 varieties; all in all, that’s approximately 50 million plants a year.
“Even though, we have grown and changed through the years, we are still family-owned and -operated and continue to provide the highest quality plants and the best service in the industry,” says Gerace, who grew up in the Hardy Boy greenhouses. “I remember crawling around under the benches when I was just three or 4 years old,” he recalls.
Today, Gerace runs the company with many other family members on the roster. The company now has upward of 250 employees across the greenhouse, retail and distribution operations. “We often have to hire many additional 150 seasonal employees to keep up during peak season,” adds Gerace.
Leading in quality and performance
Welby Gardens remains a leader in plant research and development, constantly pushing the envelope in plant performance and resistance. The company works closely with universities around the country and other industry leaders to produce and test the newest and latest in plant genetics. “Every year, we test over 800 new varieties in our trial gardens,” says Gerace. “We’re active members on the board for the Young Plant Alliance and the Colorado State University research on plants.”
Leading research and testing, backed by greenhouse conditioning, makes for some of the strongest, most resilient plants on the market. “In 1976, coming out of a drought, we established the Hardy Boy logo and we’ve been growing differently ever since,” explains Gerace. “We really try to minimize chemical use, growth hormones and water.”
“We use special soil that’s 20 percent mineral and we pre-stress our plants to get them ready for the cold and windy climate in the early spring to heat and humidity in summer,” he continues. “This helps once they get established in the garden they really start to grow because they’ve already been exposed to certain conditions.”
In addition to testing and conditioning, Welby Gardens is also making room for growth by expanding its facilities. “In April 2015 we completed a remodel of our retail center to a landscape center to allow for more landscapers coming in and ordering directly,” says Gerace. “This is part of an effort to curtail heavy foot traffic within the growing site because it was having detrimental effects on inventory control and the plants themselves.”
“We have also leased a fourth facility for the spring rush, dedicated to transportation,” adds Gerace. “This facility is solely for docking trucks and moving shipments, which is much more efficient for us.”
With family roots, Welby Gardens is dedicated to active community support. The company is regularly involved in promotions with independent garden centers, donations for youth programs, children’s hospital and cancer society fundraisers and much more.
“Hardy Boy also generously donates to many organizations throughout the year,” adds Gerace. “Each year we donate to many incredible organizations.” This list includes: the Denver Botanic Gardens, Cultivation Cruiser, Colorado State University, Colorado Nursery & Greenhouse Association, Cerebral Palsy of Colorado, Susan G. Komen, Denver Rescue Mission, Jessica Ridgeway’s Legacy, Slow Food Denver-Seed to Table, TLC Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, Children's Hospital Colorado, Easter Seals Colorado, Denver Urban Gardens, Riverside Cemetery, Assumption Church and many local schools, churches and community gardens.”
After 67 years in business customers and the community have come to trust fourth-generation Welby Gardens Co. and the Hardy Boy name for superior plant material, family friendly service and values.