When Jen DeVere first encountered horticulture at a high school job fair, she thought working with plants sounded like a stress-free career. Now, after more than a decade in the field, she understands that greenhouse growing isn’t always easy — in fact, it can be a hot, dirty, demanding job — but the rewards are well worth the labor.
“I tried working in an office and it’s just not my thing. I need to be outside,” says DeVere, a section grower at Casa Verde Growers in Columbia Station, Ohio. “Watching the transition from a tiny plant with two leaves into a giant bush — and knowing that these two hands helped guide it — that makes me proud.”
Finding a fit
After taking a hort tech prep class in high school, DeVere enrolled in The Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute to explore opportunities in horticulture. She “fell in love with the greenhouse program,” and graduated in 2005 with a two-year associate degree of applied science in greenhouse management and production.
DeVere worked for wholesale growers near Columbus and then Dayton before finding a job at Heartland Growers in Indiana as a propagation section grower. But then, feeling homesick for her family back in northern Ohio, DeVere began looking for jobs closer to home. In 2014, she found a perfect fit as a section grower of finished plants at Casa Verde Growers, a wholesale supplier for Petitti Garden Centers, which operates nine retail locations across northeast Ohio.
DeVere oversees five acres of production at Casa Verde, which operates 28 acres under cover and about another 10 acres outdoors. She’s responsible for growing finished poinsettias, Easter lilies, herbs, cyclamen and “hot annuals” including dahlias, begonias, impatiens, lantana and — her favorite — flowering vinca.
Working from home
When DeVere arrives each morning, her first stop is a computer in the office that monitors the greenhouse climate. Most days, she accesses these environmental controls before she even leaves her house, using an app on her phone to check in while she’s drinking her coffee.
“It’s helpful having the ability to see what’s going on and make adjustments,” she says. “I’ll be sitting [at] home on a Sunday, and during halftime of the [Cleveland] Browns game, I’ll think, ‘It’s [awfully] sunny. How hot is it in the greenhouse?’ so I can pull it up, and see that the shade curtains aren’t closed, and manipulate it from home.”
Through the app, DeVere can also control flood floors and automated watering booms in her section of the greenhouse.
“I’m often flooding poinsettia floors from home in the morning, because I don’t want those to be on when [my crews get to the greenhouse] if I want to have people walking around,” she says. “Using that automation to irrigate ahead of time is super helpful.”
Making the rounds
After checking the environmental controls, DeVere makes her daily rounds.
“I’m walking the crop in its entirety, every single day, to make my to-do list: ‘This has to get spaced, this has to get pinched, this needs to get sprayed, this is going to get drenched,’” she says. “Then I’ll prioritize that list and either sic my crews on it or do it myself.”
At peak season, DeVere has three crews (a total of eight assistants) working with her, which shrinks to a crew of two in the offseason. She checks in with them throughout the day “to make sure they know what they’re doing, they’ve got all the supplies they need, and they don’t have any questions,” she says.
A key to DeVere’s managerial style is that she doesn’t ask crews to do anything she wouldn’t do herself — whether it’s trimming herbs or scrubbing out the flood floor tank.
“I like being involved in the nitty-gritty part,” she says. “If I go home at the end of the day and my hands aren’t dirty, I haven’t been doing it right.”
Every growing season brings new challenges, but DeVere encourages other growers not to lose patience.
“You’ve got to remind yourself that one bad crop doesn’t make you a bad grower,” she says.
Growers should feel reassured knowing they’re not alone, she says. Between former colleagues, social media groups and peers she’s met at symposiums, DeVere has built a strong network she can turn to for advice when she encounters pests, diseases and other issues.
“There are so many people you can reach out to who are in similar structures, growing similar crops, dealing with the exact same problems,” she says. “The connectivity we have as growers is really neat — it’s a nice little club.”
She also reminds growers to pause and look at the big picture, considering how plants will brighten a customer’s day.
“It’s so easy to get stressed out and beat yourself up because this is coming in late or these bugs are attacking, but someone’s going to buy that plant and it’s going to make them happy,” she says. “Stop for a second and look at what you’ve created; look at the beauty around you and the joy you’ve created with those crops.”