Walters Gardens didn’t set out to be one of the leading companies in the industry. They simply wanted to provide our local growers with high quality perennials. To fulfill that dream, a small perennial farm was established by Dennis and Harriet Walters in Zeeland, Michigan in 1946. Today, Walters Gardens has grown to be one of the nation’s largest wholesale perennial growers with a reputation for superior quality, excellent service, and cutting edge new varieties. Their company continues to be run by the Walters family, aided by over 300 dedicated employees. Their commitment to delivering the best perennials in the business extends well before the tray or box of plants you receive in your order. Their philosophy for success is equal parts offering the best plant varieties and delivering the highest quality plugs and bare root. To reach this goal, They start at the beginning.
Hybridizing a Way Forward
They realized early on that the best product begins with the best genetics. In the early days of the company, they would source genetics from Europe where some of the most progressive hybridizing was occurring. Now, they have become one of the foremost breeders of perennials in North America with introductions being sold throughout the world (including Europe). Their breeding program works with almost 100 different genera of perennial, with introductions found in many popular brands such as Proven Winners® Perennials.
With the completion of their Acclimation Range, they have accrued over 550,000 square feet of greenhouse space used for growing over 1,000 different varieties of perennials, grasses, succulents, and tropicals. They consider growth a science, testing and treating each variety individually to deliver the best product.
Leading the Field
Over 1500 acres of fields make them the largest grower of bare root perennials in North America. It is hard to find a higher quality bare root product than their, or a match to their range of bare root perennials.
A Brief History of Hostas at Walters Gardens
Their relationship with hostas really began to take shape with the construction of their Tissue Culture lab in 1976. The lab was one of the first in commercial horticulture production and built before using tissue culture to propagate perennials was a common practice. This addition quickly made them a leader in both perennial production and new plant development.
The lab allowed them to rapidly reproduce perfectly cloned hostas, a process previously possible only through division. Their new ability to increase supply also cut down the time it took to get a hosta to market. They were now able to trial and introduce many new varieties of hosta, transforming perceptions of the genus and helping to push more cultivars into the main stream. This included plants sent to them by outside breeders, as well as sports identified within their own lab.
Clarence H. Falstad III, remembers this story about the boom in hosta popularity:
“I remember a story Dennis Walters told of showing a couple of visitors around in the mid 80’s and they were amazed at all the different colors of hosta foliage in our hosta greenhouse. They asked Dennis how many different varieties of hostas there were and he replied there were over 300 registered. (There’s now over 6,000.) They started laughing, and after gaining control, they apologized and said they were not laughing at him, but they had just asked someone at Frank’s Nursery (now out of business) the same question and they were told there were two, green and variegated.”
Their catalog now boasts 120 varieties and hosta is one of our top selling genus each year. To date, they have offered more than 400 different varieties of hosta commercially, including more than 100 new varieties that were either identified at Walters Gardens or sent to them in partnership by a breeder. They are grateful for the many blessings this genus has given them, and the passion it has inspired in gardeners around the world.