In addition to working in the finished annuals division at Fessler Nursery in Woodburn, Ore., 42-year-old production manager Kyle Peterson is committed to helping other people in the industry prosper.
While working extra hours — sometimes 70-plus-hour weeks in the spring — Peterson completed a bachelor’s of science in business management and leadership, graduating in 2016. He also takes part in a horticultural advisory committee at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City, helping develop the college’s horticulture program to train students for work in the industry.
“I’ve really dived into that area,” Peterson says. “I’m really passionate about it. I want to not only create great plant material, but help the industry out and help people within their careers. I thrive on that. It’s very important to me. Being connected with the college like that, we can also get people who are entering the industry and give them a great start in their career.”
Starting in horticulture
Prior to committing to a career in the horticulture industry, Peterson worked in the grocery business. He began working in horticulture at R & L Greenhouses in Vancouver, Wash., under owner Randy Wosepka. “I didn’t discover I had a passion for this until later, and thankfully for me, Randy gave me an opportunity to get into the industry,” he says. Peterson still speaks with Wosepka, and they are good friends.
When Peterson was working at R & L Greenhouses, the operation conducted business with Fessler Nursery, a family-run operation that Ken and Marie Fessler founded in 1960. At that time, Peterson met Marvin Fessler, one of Ken and Marie’s five children, and one of their three children who work at the nursery. Marvin oversees the operation’s finished annuals division, while his siblings Dale Fessler and Debbie Farrell oversee the tropical plants and propagation divisions, respectively.
Perfecting the basket
About five years ago, Peterson joined Fessler Nursery as production manager. “I’m responsible for determining what plants we grow, how many, what colors, the timing of them, etc.,” he says. “I’m in charge of determining everything we grow within the finished annuals portion. The propagation and houseplants are separate divisions, but within the annuals, I kind of run the show. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Peterson designs the different mixes for Fessler Nursery’s mixed baskets, and there are many. The more than 650,000-square-foot greenhouse facility specializes in hanging baskets, growing nearly 100,000 a year. It is a rooting station for Ball and a root-and-sell station for Selecta.
When designing the baskets, Peterson picks out flowers such as petunias, verbenas, calibrachoas, lobelias, bacopas, as well as accent foliage, such as helichrysum. “We probably have about 20 or 30 different recipes just in our 12-inch mix, and I try to go through those each year and axe any that haven’t performed that well in the market, and then do five to 10 new introductions each year,” he says. “I also like to integrate new cultivars that have come out into the mixes, so that our customers get a chance to see the new items, too, and how they play with other plants.”
Peterson also manages poinsettia production. Fessler Nursery grew 32,000 poinsettias in 2017, up from the 25,000 it normally grows in a given year. The Fessler family is involved in the church and community, and the majority of the nursery’s poinsettia market is for fundraisers put on by churches, schools, clubs and other groups.
Although Peterson says many growers dislike growing poinsettias, he says he enjoys producing them. “They’re a pain, but they’re one of those crops where I have a new problem each year,” he says. “They force me to become a better grower, and I like that.”
Becoming a better grower and businessman
As he improves as a grower, Peterson says he is thankful to the Fesslers for providing him with the opportunity to work with them. “They’re a hard-working family who dives in and works with the crew,” he says. This includes Ken, who has officially retired, but enjoys working in the nursery so much that he is there every day.
After learning the ropes himself, Peterson has been glad to show others. Over the last five years, he says, he has better discovered himself. “I’ve had a great opportunity to help people grow and succeed in their own careers, who have been under my wing, one of which is Kelly Vance, and he’s now with Beneficial Insectary. He worked here as a grower and he’s since moved on, but he’s really flourishing in his career.”
Looking ahead, Peterson plans to speak at industry events, sharing valuable information with people to help them advance. “I want to play a part in how the industry is attracting young people, working toward the future of the industry and making that an attractive place to have a career,” he says.