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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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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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