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About: Altman Plants

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Meet a business that’s been part of our story for 40 years

At Altman Plants, we happily trace our history back more than 40 years ago to the backyard of two cactus & succulent geeks (you can probably guess their last name), but we know well that this incredible journey has not been one embarked on alone. There’s no 40-some years of collecting, growing, and selling unique, weird, and not-so-weird plants without there being plenty of others right there with us. Customers and fellow plant fanatics, from nationwide retailers at the tip of everyone’s tongue to Main Street plant shops that help form the backbone of their communities.

Victor Hlavacek Florist and Greenhouses is full of fat, juicy succulent plants.

We’d like to introduce you to a business that helped make the Altman Plants dream a reality. It wasn’t enough that two enthusiastic collectors had amassed a group of plants so great that their backyard was bursting at the proverbial seams. People had to come along in some way and say, “Hey, I’d love to buy those fat, funky plants from you.”

Meet Billy Welter, Owner/Grower of Victor Hlavacek Florist and Greenhouses. His family-owned business has been serving the community in and around Winnetka, Illinois, for four generations, since 1924. Victor Hlavacek Florist and Greenhouses is one of the characters in this plant-driven story.

Billy’s dad, Bill Welter Sr., discovered Altman Plants in the ’70s.

“I believe he found out about the nursery from a trade magazine ad or word of mouth. After receiving some of the plants, in one of his early vacation trips, he stopped in to see the nursery,” Bill said. “My parents were very impressed by the young person that they talked with at the nursery. My mom told me that he knew every botanical name of every plant that he showed my mom & dad! Sounds like an Altman!”

Ha; we reckon so.

It makes sense that a plant business hip to succulents in the ’70s would have as owners people with a fondness for the lovable weirdoes — mimicry succulents, aka mesembs.

“I think one of his favorite succulents….and mine are the living stones, or what I call living rocks: the Lithops and Pleiospilos,” Billy said of he and his father. “The Lithops come in so many different patterns and colors. Both are just cool! We even grew some from seed.”

It wasn’t just about the odd. Quality was paramount.

Aloe ramosissima, one of Billy Welter’s favorite specimens, he says. Purchased from Altman Plants in a 3″ pot. AKA Aloe dichotoma subs. ramosissima and, more recently, Aloidendron ramosissimum.

“My grandfather’s father, Frank, started with having the best quality of whatever he had in the greenhouses and he started to carry many unusual plants as well.”

This carried on to his son Victor, my grandfather, to my mom, Grace — Victor’s daughter — and now to my brother and me, Grace’s two sons. Bill Welter Sr. and Grace Hlavacek Welter were the third generation.”

There will be a quiz at the end of this post.

“Our customers from days old to the present have known or have heard that we carry the best quality and still try to carry many unusual plants and hard goods. It’s just something that is in our family genetics as well as ‘drilled’ into us when we were young!”

” ‘Don’t ever skimp on quality,’ we were told. And we haven’t, as we always hear, ‘You guys have the best plants.’

“I never get tired of hearing that!”

Billy was predisposed to digging plants, but it wasn’t just a family business-based interest for him.

“I have always liked nature, so working with plants, even though it was in the family, kind of came naturally. I learned a lot from my dad and a grower that was here, but what I didn’t know I taught myself. I still teach myself today. If I don’t know something, I look it up to educate myself, either on a plant, the growth habits, or a pest issue.”

A Gasteraloe ‘Green Ice’ from Billy Welter’s collection that is quite a few years old, from Altman Plants.

While Victor Hlavacek Florist and Greenhouses has always carried some cacti and succulents, the last few years have gone bonkers. Don’t we know it!

“The last few years have just exploded with succulents and orchids…our two biggest repeat sellers. We have even incorporated Echeveria and orchids together. Being the orchids are in moss, they only require watering every couple of weeks. That works OK for the Echeveria too. It is a unique look.”

As much as Billy enjoys parting with cool plants, there are some that don’t quite make it out to the customer area.

“We have had a few requests of customers wanting to purchase the larger plants that are past an ’employee only’ chain. Those are my ‘personal’ collection of plants that I select when the plants come in and I get to pick my favorites! Sometimes I will ‘let go’ of one of my favorites to a good customer.”

Fortunate customer! From our conversation, it sounds like Billy is just where he wants to be.

“The thing I like best about being in this business is that the plants tell me if I am doing a good job or not. There’s no question…no yelling…no conversation needed. The plant either looks great, or it doesn’t. That’s my best reward!”

Next time you’re in Winnetka, 20 miles north in Chicago, pay a visit to Victor Hlavacek Florist and Greenhouses, 746 Green Bay Road. You might wanna take a peek past the “employee only” chain. No promises of great rewards, though. That’s up to Billy.

Billy Welter’s favorite echeveria received from Altman Plants: what looks like Echeveria cante. One of his top 3 Altman-grown succulents, he says. This is mother plant. The five chicks are planted separately.

Crassula arborescens (silver dollar jade) in 14″ pot, obtained 20+ years ago from Altman Plants.

 

 

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Summertime, and the livin is easy…with succulents

Ah, summertime. It’s almost here. If you’re hunting for ideas on what to plant from the succulent & cactus world, we’re here to help. You may know from magazine photos, or from Instagram, or from your own garden that the sheer number of plants to choose from can be overwhelming. So many good ones!

As the largest grower of succulents & cacti in the world, we at Altman Plants know this all too well. Below we present five succulents of summer that sing in temperate gardens or year-round in pots.

Before we get to our summerific five, let’s briefly touch on some plant design principles. It’s pretty much always a #winning idea to avoid creating planters or garden beds that resemble a “I gotta have that one too; I don’t care where it goes” mindset. While fun in the moment, that can lead to jarring, juicy messes.

  • Plant to scale: Don’t fill a huge yard with only ground covers or shoehorn a century plant agave into a tiny porch.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat: Repetition encourages harmonious flow and drama.
  • Contrast colors, in an appealing way: Get comfy with a color wheel!
  • Spread harmony through textures & shapes: Find varieties with similar attributes as well as spots for contrasting plant forms.
  • Color. Be judicious: You don’t need to spotlight every shade. Massing color (pockets of reds here, yellows there) is visually appealing.

 

Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ US PP29,584

The colors that this gorgeously opalescent icy star picks up are something else — pinks, purples, blues. Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ US PP29,584 is a patented Altman Plants original hybrid. Park this hen-and-chicks star near succulents exhibiting those colors and even oranges. Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ produces concentric, “snowball”-style rosettes of chunky, fleshy, lightly colored leaves.

Flowers hang from gracefully arching stalks in later winter to spring. A robust, clustering grower, it’s an excellent choice for use in a dish garden or as a potted plant on the patio. Not only those, but would also serve superbly in a summer wedding bouquet or centerpiece. We’re also thinking moonlight gardens — ooh, that soft nighttime glow.

Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ would be a stellar fit for a celestial decor theme or as the ornamental living treasure in a decorative crystal or stone planter. As far as the daytime scene goes, it can put up with a reasonable amount of heat — we’ve seen it flaunt its sun-tolerating magic — but protect the plant from frost. Rosettes can reach 6 inches in diameter.

Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ is available at shopaltmanplants.com or wholesale at cactusshop.com.


Melocactus azureus

We humans prefer not to be blue, but it’s quite a spiffy look for cacti. Hailing from Brazil, Melocactus azureus sports a globular, noticeably ribbed frosty blue body that’s protected by variably colored spines — silvery white to reddish brown.

When the cactus reaches maturity, which could take more than a decade, fetching little pink flowers emerge from its cephalium. Its what? A cephalium is a peculiar woolly mass associated with Melocactus species that forms a distinctive cap of sorts on top of the plant. Far out (or far up, as it were)!

While you wait for that, enjoy its beautiful blue epidermis and symmetry. Even without the funky, woolly “cap,” the view of Melocactus azureus from above is rather attractive. Even a little mesmerizing. Go ahead, try it.

Native to semitropical environs, Melocactus azureus really loves life (best growth & appearance) when the temperature stays above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Because of that, we recommend this one in its own container on the patio or a sunny windowsill. For nifty pairings, locate it near plants expressing shades of orange, coral, or light pink. Or, thanks to its spines, tie it into plants with darker reds like burgundy.

Its growing season runs from April to October. Watch the water during the cooler months. Stems will grow to 8″ in diameter and to 12 to 18″ tall.

Melocactus azureus is available at shopaltmanplants.com or wholesale at cactusshop.com.

 

Echinocactus grusonii (Golden Barrel Cactus)

Thank Mother Nature that not all living things are as delicate as us humans. In summer, we pine for anything that cools us off — beaches, pools, lakes, and all manner of covered, artificially cooled rooms. Not golden barrel.

There’s not a whole lot of mellow about the golden-yellow sphere officially known as Echinocactus grusonii, which belongs in the orbit of any plant geek who desires a space light on fuss but deep with dramatic appeal. The color, texture, and shape of golden barrel lend interest, definition, and contrast to any composition.

Comb through a magazine full of professionally designed desert or waterwise gardens and you’re going to see plenty of golden barrel. For maximum effect, group it in threes.

Sunshine, occasional soaks, and room to grow are about all it desires. It can even tolerate some frost for a brief spell. Golden barrel can be kept smaller by being housed in a container, for those without room to let plants stretch their proverbial legs.

Growing to 3 feet in a diameter in the ground, this eye-popping, spiny orb belongs to the barrel cactus family. Curiously, it also goes by the monikers of “mother-in-law’s chair” and “mother-in-law’s cushion.” We can’t recommend repurposing it as a sitting device, though. Water it when the soil is thoroughly dry to the touch.

Echinocactus grusonii is available at shopaltmanplants.com or wholesale at cactusshop.com.

 

Euphorbia anoplia (Tanzanian Zipper Plant)

So named because of the zipper-like patterns along the margins of its angled columns, Euphorbia anoplia looks something like a spineless, underwater cactus. But it’s not a cactus! Euphorbia anoplia forms a colony of leafless ribbed columns, which are green to light green, with the zipper markings a darker green. The plant produces small dark burgundy flowers at the column tips, as if the columns are bespeckled by quirky little berries.

Euphorbia anoplia is a summer lover, responding well to warmth, with its active growth period in the late spring and summer months. It wants bright light for best appearance, and should be allowed to rest during the coldest, wettest part of winter, with less water given.

Tanzanian zipper plant is perfect for an underwater theme in a rock garden. It will also thrive in all sorts of pots…maybe even a cute ceramic mug. Columns can rise to around a foot tall and spread 1 to 2 feet.

But do take some precaution around it. All euphorbias contain a white sap that can be irritating to eyes and mucous membranes. If contact is made with this white sap, take care to not touch face or eyes before washing hands with soap and water.

Euphorbia anoplia is available at shopaltmanplants.com or wholesale at cactusshop.com.

 

Agave ‘Blue Glow’

Agave ‘Blue Glow’ is a sharp-as-can-be sword plant standout. It’s one of those stunners that prompts people to say, “OMG, I didn’t know agaves could rule this much!” The blue-green leaves are outlined by yellow and red, with red tips. This moderately sized hybrid grows to just two feet high and three feet wide, making it a super choice for smaller spaces.

A key point, ha, about Agave ‘Blue Glow’: It’s a solitary grower, so there’s no need to fret about the possibility of having to dig up a bunch of pups in the future. Just make sure you leave some wiggle room around the plant site or container. You don’t want someone’s shins encountering the stiff leaves as he or she turns a corner.

Agave ‘Blue Glow’ is a star, so treat it like one, as a focal specimen in areas where height or girth is not desired or needed. This could be a landscape bank surrounded by yellow, gold, or orange soft ground-cover succulents. You could also mass it in a grouping, especially as a complement to a taller and wider agave or other plant.

Give it full sun near the coast or in temperate zones to part sun in hot areas.

Look for Agave ‘Blue ‘Glow’ at Altman retail partners such as the Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Walmart, as well as at independent retailers that carry Altman Plants-grown succulents. Possible container sizes range from 8″ to 15 gallons.

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Greenhouse Grower: Altman Plants/Color Spot Nurseries consolidation at the top

Original story published by Greenhouse Grower

April 29, 2019

Story by Janeen Wright

Co-Presidents Ken Altman (right) and son Matt Altman (left) share a common interest in leading a united Altman Plants’ team into a successful future.

Altman Plants, based in Vista, CA, is 10 weeks into integrating the recently acquired Color Spot Nurseries assets into its operation after acquiring them near the end of December 2018. It’s an undertaking of massive proportions as the two companies, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on Greenhouse Grower’s list of Top 100 Growers in 2018, work to become one company under the Altman Plants name. What happens when the big get bigger? The way this merger is coming together proves that the big get better, but the real test begins as the newly united companies head into the busy spring season.

“We’ve shared with the team the key goals for the company,” says Co-President Ken Altman. “We want to produce high-quality plants and satisfy our customers. And we want the two companies to feel like one team with an interest in helping one another. Decisions are measured against those goals. To this point, it seems like the team is on the same page. Now it is about executing this spring. There is a lot to do in a very short time.”

New Locations Bring Advantages

Altman Plants gained 11 million square feet of environmentally controlled space and 1,500 acres of outdoor space, spread across Color Spot Nurseries’ facilities in Fallbrook, Salinas, and Lodi, CA, and in Troup and San Antonio, TX, plus three locations in Waco, Walnut Springs, and Fort Davis, TX, that were closed and will remain closed for now. The increased production capacity leaves the company in a good spot to supply the ornamental bedding plants, container perennials, woody ornamentals, potted foliage, and succulents it produces for its customers.

“The facilities are well-positioned geographically,” says Co-President Matt Altman. “We are well located to serve the Southern part of the country, and we have the capacity to do so. When needed, we can share plants between sites to be sure that all customers’ needs are satisfied.”

Altman Plants has two major business units in addition to the Altman Plants organization. One is Plug Connection (No. 63 on the 2019 Top 100 Grower list), which is a young plant company that serves both Altman Plants and other growers. Plug Connection grows plugs, roots liners, and grafted vegetables. They also grow tissue culture plants. The operation just opened a new tissue culture facility with a modern 10,000 square foot lab. The lab is used primarily to do rapid build-up and production of new plants bred by Altman. With the purchase of Color Spot, 20 acres of young plant greenhouses in Lodi are being added to Plug Connection.

The other unit will be known as Lone Star Growers and will focus on production of woody ornamentals and flowering tropicals from its San Antonio, TX, location. There will be little separation between Lone Star Growers and Altman Plants, with a lot of sharing between merchandising and transportation activities. Lone Star has a history of high-quality plant production, and Ken says Altman Plants intends to invest appropriately to earn that reputation going forward.

The first decision made by the company relating to the integration was regarding which computer operating system to use. Management made a decision to stick with the Altman system and cutover from the Color Spot SAP software system. California facilities are successfully converted and Texas facilities will be tackled in June.

Working Together Opens the Way for a Successful Transition

Marriage is hard enough for two people. Marrying two large companies with distinct management styles, different operating systems, and hundreds of staff members would seem like a recipe for a disaster in comparison. But like all strong marriages, unity has been key to the two companies becoming one.

“We’ve placed a strong focus on being one company with the development plan,” Matt says. “The staff on both sides have been receptive and embraced the change, which allows us all to move forward together.”

The management team also played a key role in smoothing the transition. With the acquisition of Color Spot Nurseries, Altman Plants gained around 1,600 employees, and five facilities, creating what would seem a logistics and human resources nightmare.

“We felt confident taking this project on because we have a strong management team,” Ken says. “The team is engaged and collaborative. They’re very capable of making things happen to get the job done.”

Extra hands also means extra minds, which Altman Plants has applied to problem solving, innovation, and process improvement during the integration. The management team has held on-site meetings with growers to look at growing operations to determine what best practices they are using that could be leveraged across the entire company. This has kept the staff engaged and led to some processes implemented for the future. Ken says having new people with a fresh set of eyes analyzing processes, sharing ideas, and brainstorming to solve problems and improve efficiencies is a big advantage.

Matt echoes that sentiment, adding another benefit of a larger staff.

“There will always be challenges such as environmental regulations and labor availability,” he says. “When presented with those challenges, we now have more people to bring to bear on finding solutions. We get further along faster.”

Investment Drives Innovation

Opinions vary in the floriculture industry about whether consolidation on the grower side and the breeder side is healthy for the industry. The Altmans point out that company acquisitions can be beneficial for the industry when done right, saying they keep people employed and allow for best practices to be put to use across a larger enterprise.

“It’s true we have gained more resources to use to help our customers,” Ken says. “But we recognize that there is a place in the market for all sizes of growers. The growers in this industry are friendly. We share information with each other and wish each other well.”

Larger companies also make substantial investments in new and developing automation equipment and other technologies that keep the industry sustainable by supporting other companies, Matt adds. The resulting innovations benefit other growers who want to adopt new technology.

For example, Altman Plants is currently helping a company develop and trial an autonomous vehicle that it will eventually use in its greenhouses. The vehicle is basically a cart that can find its way from the greenhouse to a loading dock and back on its own. This type of technology saves growers time and labor during the shipping season.

“Family-run companies are investing back into their businesses, and everyone benefits from those dollars coming into the industry,” Ken says.

Strong Research Focus Benefits All Growers

Altman Plants’ strong commitment to research and education is one way it shows leadership and gives back to the industry. In 2008, Ken and his wife Deena Altman founded the Center for Applied Horticultural Research, a nonprofit organization that addresses, through research, the practical issues the nursery and floriculture industry face on a regular basis. At the time, Ken felt there was no shortage of issues that needed solving, but the funds to find solutions were limited. He and Deena decided to do something about it. The center supports industry researchers and opens its doors for all types of growers to participate.

True Bloom, a new line of disease-resistant garden roses, is one of the results of Altman Plants’ investment in research and development. This is the True Gratitude rose.

Altman Plants also invests heavily in research and development through its multiple breeding programs. A current introduction is True Bloom roses, a new line of disease-resistant garden roses with a shrub-type habit and hybrid-tea-like blooms. The development of these roses has been a lifetime work for the breeder. Altman Plants will roll this program out soon to its customers on a limited run, with more production in 2020 to supply other growers. Ken says the company is also working on a compact hibiscus and has more breeding projects in the works for the future.

“The rose breeding project has been a large-scale investment for us,” Ken says. “We can invest in these types of projects and continue to invest in things for the long run because of our larger scale and volume. It is a big endeavor and a benefit for the industry and our customers.”

Matt recently spent time in Washington, DC, at the Society of American Florists’ Congressional Action Days, lobbying with other members for the support of the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative and the continuation of the USDA Floriculture Crop Survey. He says it was important to fight for maintenance of the initiative because floriculture crops represent 15% of the crops in the country, yet the industry gets less than 1% of the research dollars.

“Our industry is easily forgotten by our legislators, and these initiatives provide visibility and important research dollars to university programs,” Matt says. “However, ultimately it falls on growers to invest in the industry to keep it going strong.”

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All Wrapped Up: We have you covered for spring, Mother’s Day

Whether a gift for the person who’s been there for you from the very beginning or something peaceful to herald the awakening of spring, we have you taken care of this season

Mom dropped us some juicy hints. Imagine being wrapped in warm, comforting hugs, like the ones from Mom herself. The cuties in our Love Grows Rosette Succulent Collection arrive in wood-design-wrapped 2.5″ pots. Their larger cousins live in lovingly stickered 3.5″ digs. Both come with an Altman-designed to/from card.

Remind her on Mother’s Day and every day after of what she means to you with our Love Grows Rosette Succulents Collection.

Whichever complementary match of adorable easy-care succulents arrive, they will make a heartwarming gift that lasts long after the sun sets on Mom’s special day.

Wild about your wife? Well, duh! Treat her to our wildly colorful Tie Dye Modern Hippie Rosette Succulent duo, available in mere days at shopaltmanplants.com. Tell the kids you got this one. Of course, this sweet pair should appeal to the free spirit in all of us. Did you follow our six-panel reveal on Instagram? If not, there it is, relaxing above some fleshy kindred spirits.

View our Gift Collection of succulents at shopaltmanplants.com.

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Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’: Chill out with this rosette succulent stunner

Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ produces arching stalks of coral/yellow flowers in late winter to spring

Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ mounds to create lots of pretty little babies.

“We just survived winter and you wanna gush about an echeveria named ‘Arctic Ice’?” You betcha! This opalescent white beauty will freeze you and other succulent seekers in their tracks…in the best possible way, like the sight of a fluffy arctic fox would.

While no fluff ball, the hen-and-chicks standout — one of our newer patented hybrids — produces concentric, snowball-esque rosettes in lovely mounding style. Its luminous white foliage is liable to throw off soft undertones of icy blue or soft, light purple, depending on factors such as lighting.

Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ would make a superb choice for a wedding bouquet or table centerpiece. Click on the linked video below to watch our succulent whisperer Tom “shiver” with delight about this icy gem.

Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ is available at shopaltmanplants.com (retail) or the Cactus Shop (wholesale).

Succulent wizard Tom Jesch of Waterwise Botanicals and Altman Plants talks about Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’, a patented succulent hybrid developed by Altman Plants.

 

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The New Yorker talks to Altman Plants breeder about Dudleya poaching

Reporter Dana Goodyear interviewed Altman Plants breeder Kelly Griffin for a story about the smuggling of dudleyas from wild habitat in California.

Feb., 12, 2019

From the piece:

Another way to fight smuggling is to destroy the market. That is the ambition of Kelly Griffin, a Dudleya specialist who works for Altman Plants, a nursery based in Southern California that is the country’s leading supplier of succulents. “I see myself as Johnny Cactuseed,” Griffin told me. “I’m the person that spreads cactus and succulents everywhere.” Griffin travels the world legally collecting plant material—pollen, seeds, and samples—from which he makes hybrid crosses and tissue-cultured clones, plants that people can enjoy without destroying sensitive habitats. He also stalks the Internet. A few years ago, he noticed rare and, he suspected, ill-gotten agaves being sold for thousands of dollars apiece on eBay. So he cloned thousands of them for nurseries where they sold for five dollars each. “I intentionally killed the market,” he said. “Being an activist, you can say, ‘That looks like a collected plant, and you shouldn’t be selling collected plants.’ ”

Read the full story at The New Yorker website.

Dudleya photo by John Rusk (CC by 2.0)

 

 

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GrowerTalks’ Acres Online: Ken Altman on the Color Spot purchase

Original column published by GrowerTalks’ Acres Online

Feb. 8, 2019

Column by Chris Beytes

Ken and Deena Altman

Ken and Deena Altman

Ken Altman on the Color Spot purchase

It’s no secret that when bankrupt Color Spot went up for bid at auction last July, Ken and Matt Altman wanted it.

“We were the other bidder in the auction,” he told me at the time. “We made a very large bid to purchase all the assets, but in the end, the bank decided to credit bid for the company. We are working to see what we can purchase from the bank.”

That last statement, which came to fruition December 21, includes eight former Color Spot locations in California and Texas covering 10.3 million sq. ft. of greenhouse and shadehouse and more than 1,700 acres of field production, making Altman Plants the largest (by area) grower in the country by a comfortable margin.

I covered that news in the January 10 issue of Acres Online, but without being able to speak with Ken directly. In that item, I wrote that I had two main questions for Ken: “Why?” and “How will you not let this sudden massive expansion screw up what you’ve already built?” Finally catching up with Ken as he drove to the airport earlier this week, I was able to ask both those questions and a few more.

After the customary greetings, I thanked Ken for being a good sport about the rather direct, unvarnished way in which I had phrased my second question.

Ken, who knows that’s my style, dismissed my concern with a generous laugh.

“I’ve been asked that question from the time we came out of our backyard,” he said.

But before we got further into that, I asked him question No. 1: Why make the decision to add so many locations and so much retail territory to an already large nursery?

“We like the nursery business, and we like our customers, so this gives us more of all of that,” he replied. But he admitted that it’s a major expansion, even for the formerly second-biggest nursery in America.

“It’s a big jump. But I have to tell you, we’ve been growing very rapidly for a number of years. I think even from the first years, we have always grown in double-digit numbers every year. It’s just that when we first started, we were making $10 a week—double digits wasn’t so big. Now it’s getting bigger.”

I asked Ken if perhaps the acquisition looks bigger and scarier to those of us on the outside than it does to him.

“I think even to us it’s a big deal,” he answered. “But I have to say, we have a really great management group. There are a lot of really experienced people who run fairly good-sized enterprises themselves. And we have younger people who are coming along and are gaining skills. So I think we have a really good roadmap for running this.”

How they’re bringing the new locations aboard

To run the new operation, Ken says they’ve retained the location managers that were with Color Spot. They expanded the territories of their West Coast and Southwest divisional leaders. And he and his son, co-president Matt, are busy filling positions where needed.

“One thing we’ve found is that there are a lot of great people at Color Spot. They seem to be happy and really good about joining us. Morale has been pretty good right now with some of the direction we’ve been providing.”

I asked about the initial reaction of the former Color Spot staff to the new ownership.

“You never know because every company has its own culture, but when we first took over, Matt and I and some of the other managers made a quick circuit through every location and talked to all the employees in group get-togethers—one great thing about that is that Matt is 100% fluent in Spanish, so he was able to communicate bilingually so everybody could understand and participate.

“We had a few main points that we were trying to get across: one is that we are going to be all about quality in our plants and every decision that comes up we are going to make in favor of quality.

“Another thing is that we are going to be totally customer-focused and 100% on making customers satisfied. We’ve always had a position in our company of wanting to say ‘yes’ to our customers. When we get a request from a customer, our first impulse is to say yes, then figure it out. We want to make sure that the bigger company also has that same point of view.

“The final thing we told everybody is that we are going to be one company. The company happens to be Altman Plants, but the idea is that we are going to reach out our hands in welcome to everybody who joins our organization.

“That seemed to resonate with people, the idea that there’s now a family that cares a lot about plants, cares about the nursery business and has a really long-term view of things. They’ve been through equity owners and bank owners; I think all those people did their best job, but we have a different point of view, a longer point of view.”

Also boosting morale? Raises. Ken noted that wages had been stagnant at Color Spot, so they’re boosting the pay of all the production people by a considerable percentage. He didn’t want me to say how much, but it’s generous.

“We think we can pay more by being inventive and efficient, and growing good plants,” he said.

How they won’t screw up what they’ve already built

So back to question No. 2: We watched Hines Horticulture get big, then fail. We watched Color Spot Nursery get big, then fail. How does Altman Plants avoid that same fate?

“First of all, I beg you, don’t put us on the cover of GrowerTalks,” Ken joked. (I had just pointed out to him that both Color Spot and Hines had been featured as cover stories in the past. He’s been there already—the December 2016 issue, so it’s too late.)

Then he got serious.

“We’re going to concentrate on exactly what I told the employees. If we have really good quality plants and we don’t forget where our bread is buttered—which is our customers—and we do everything to make them happy, and if we keep the morale of our company up as one company, that should be good.”

One other note about those other two vs. Altman: They were bank- or private-equity owned. Altman is still 100% family owned.

The former Spot facilities they’ll be running

After visiting and evaluating all the Color Spot assets they acquired, Ken and Matt have put together the following list of facilities they’ll be running, along with the size of the operation:

California:
Fallbrook – 192 acres, 1.2 million sq. ft. of greenhouse
Salinas – Added 240 acres and 3.3 million sq. ft. of greenhouse
Lodi – 39 acres and 700,000 sq. ft. of greenhouse

Texas:
Troup – 334 acres, 3 million sq. ft. of greenhouse
San Antonio – 580 acres, 2.1 million sq. ft. of greenhouse

Ken says they have three more Texas facilities—Waco, Fort Davis and Walnut Springs—but they’re “mothballed” and will stay closed at this time.

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Echeveria ‘Lola’ and painted lady echeveria look similar for a reason

Echeveria derenbergiiWe recently posted a photo to our Instagram of a cute-as-can-be trio of Echeveria derenbergii, a species lovingly referred to as the “painted lady” echeveria. Painted lady is a quick-to-clump hen-and-chicks species from Mexico that forms small rosettes of triangular green or green-blue leaves with pointed tips. It bears a clear resemblance to another lovely “lady,” the succulent enthusiast favorite Echeveria ‘Lola’, introduced decades ago by famed hybridizer Dick Wright. There’s a reason for that, which we will get to shortly (have a guess as to what that is?). Someone commented on our post that she had thought these three little echeverias were ‘Lola’. Which prompted us to look at a whole bunch of photos of the two plants and do some reading and querying. The comment was totally understandable. There are so many species, hybrids and clones out in the collective “wild” of the nursery trade and hobbyist culture. Pretty much all of us are bound to get confused or unsure from time to time, especially when trying to make definitive IDs from photos.

So, the reason for ‘Lola’s’ resemblance to painted lady? Well, that’s because E. derenbergii is most likely one of the two parents of ‘Lola’, the other being Echeveria lilacina. You will see this as the credited parentage for ‘Lola’ in many online sources, but not all. Some say it’s E. lilacina and Echeveria ‘Deresina’, which is a hybrid created by Alfred Gräser (of ‘Perle von Nurnberg’ legend) involving derenbergii. So not wildly different. And then a well-regarded online resource on succulents lists the reported parentage as E. lilacina and E. ‘Tippy’, another hybrid of Wright’s. But it gets sticky. While it credits Wright for being the source of ‘Tippy’ having come from E. agavoides and E. derenbergii (there “she” is again!), this resource questions whether ‘Tippy’ truly could be a cross of agavoides and derenbergii.

We’re now going to step out of that thicket, hoping you’re still with us, and just make a case for ‘Lola’ being a “descendant” of derenbergii. The low inflorescences of ‘Lola’, with fewer flowers than some other echeverias, is a derenbergii trait, and seems to express in later generations. (By the way, have you noticed just how low the flower stalks of painted lady are? Super low.) The somewhat larger, slightly more open corolla (petals) is another. The shape of the leaves is similar to derenbergii, and when coupled with the more spatulate leaves of lilacina, appears to account for the leaf shape of ‘Lola’. The rosette form, somewhat shaped like the anthesis of a rosebud, the time at which it is beginning to open, is also expressed in derenbergii. And then there is the similar coloring.

So there you have it. With all the different species, cultivars and hybrids available today, it is quite easy to confuse or mistake one for the other based on a photograph. Especially when you factor in things like differences in growing conditions from one plant to the next, or even just the lighting of an image. That goes for whether you are just starting out in the hobby or are a professional nurserywoman or man. In this case, we have two echeverias that are almost certainly related, but the precise “how” is not universally accepted.

Echeveria derenbergii and Echeveria ‘Lola’ are both available at shopaltmanplants.com or cactusshop.com (wholesale). We love succulents no matter their pedigrees!

Both varieties are among those you may receive with our Valentine’s Day Rosette Succulent Collection, an online exclusive, at shopaltmanplants.com

 

 

  
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Treat your valentine to succulent sweethearts

Alluring. Enduring. Low maintenance!
Like your special someone, succulents really are something else. Let your love grow this Valentine’s Day season with our Valentine’s Day Rosette Succulent Collection. These living treats are even sweeter than candy hearts or chocolate and they last a whole lot longer.

Each two-pack ordered comes with a specially designed to/from card — we’re aiming to make this a piece of cake for ya! Varieties vary, in that enticing, ooh-I-can’t-wait-to-see way. Check out both styles, in 2.5″ or 3.5″ sizes. 

Few “giftable” things embody lasting affection like succulents, if we do say so ourselves. The rosette-forming sweeties in our 2 1/2″ two-pack come in decorative wood-style pot wraps. 

Succulents may not be as huggable as teddy bears, but they’re just as lovable. For our 3 1/2″ two-pack, two rosette beauties come in pots adorned with the sayings “Love Grows Here” & “Let Love Grow.”

Our Valentine’s Day Rosette Succulent Collection, an online exclusive, is available at shopaltmanplants.com

PS, make no mistake…we are pro-chocolate too! 

 
  
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Unleash your succulent spirit indoors

As spring weather approaches in some areas, a cool and dreary winter trudges on in others. It is hard to put on our creative gardening cap when the front yard remains dormant and lifeless.

Have no fear! Spruce up your home and decorate indoors with succulents.

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