More than half a century ago, the Gerace family planted the beginnings of a small produce and plant farm. Today, with greenhouses in three locations in Denver and Arvada, and more than 3,000 varieties of annuals, perennials and food plants, you could say Welby Gardens has deep, strong roots.
“Originally, my parents, Alex and Esther Gerace, were growing vegetables in their garden,” says Al Gerace, president of Welby Gardens and part of the second generation of Geraces. “In 1948, they built their first greenhouse and grew vegetable starter plants for other farmers. As time progressed, they began growing flowers: geraniums first and then petunias.”
Today, the business – which has 1 million square feet of greenhouses over its three locations – grows anything that consumers might want to plant in their yards and gardens, including flowers and organic vegetables. Currently they sell to landscapers and independent retailers only.
“Our fastest-growing division is our young plants division, which includes baby plants that we sell to other greenhouses like ourselves,” says Marty Gerace, CEO and third-generation family member at Welby Gardens. These baby plants are sold under the name of Hardystarts and Welby’s bedding plants are under the Hardy Boy brand – one of the most well-known brands of ornamentals in the industry. Marty says that status is thanks to the innovative marketing practices of the earlier Geraces, who were ahead of the times.
“We were the first greenhouse to brand our product and sell outside with a brand attached,” Marty says. “A lot of that marketing was done early on where we were marketing commercially through newspapers and TV in the 1980s.”
Along with brand recognition, both Al and Marty say Welby Gardens has always stayed on top of what’s new in the industry in terms of science and technology.
“We’ve become more sophisticated,” Al says. “Growing up, we were the labor. My dad was a salesman and my mom managed the details. It was mostly backbreaking work, and it still is, but today it’s a lot more in your head.”
To stay on top of the game, Welby Gardens works closely with Colorado universities to gain knowledge on everything from water usage to cost analysis. Al says they’re part of a plant alliance consisting of 10 universities that share helpful research findings, and Welby Gardens has also participated in trials on their farm so that they can have the best, newest products and also test certain plant traits, such as drought resistance.
“When we started the trialing process, we were doing it ourselves in-house,” Marty says. “As time went on, Colorado State University started doing some trialing as well, and we’ve always supported their program. We supply them with vegetative annuals and hire lots of interns from there. We’re very open to education.”
Al adds that one thing that makes Welby Gardens unique and helps them progress is the education of the employees.
“We hire people with degrees in our company,” he says. “My son is a post-grad entomologist and the fourth generation, Nick, is a soil agronomist.” An agronomist is an agricultural scientist whose work focuses on issues ranging from crops to water to chemistry. Nick Gerace focuses on soil health and plant growth.
All in the Family
Both Al and Marty agree that the company wouldn’t be where it is without the foundation from Al’s parents and their work ethic, plus family members of ensuing generations.
“We’re very fortunate that my parents laid the groundwork for a strong work ethic,” Al says. “And everyone has played their part.”
“Our family work ethic has made us what we are,” Marty adds. “We’ve never asked our employees to do anything that we wouldn’t do. We’re right there with them in the trenches and the hard times.”