Chris Hansen with his SunSparkler sedums
Photo courtesy of Chris Hansen

WHY HE’S GREAT: Chris Hansen loves horticulture, enthusiastically marketing his unique plant varieties to a younger audience seeking a carefree perennial that won’t wilt under their attention. Hansen spun his lifelong adoration for the greenhouse into Garden Solutions, where he manages 17 employees in the production and shipping of 72-cell plugs of SunSparkler sedums and Chick Charms sempervivums.

“There are so many opportunities in the industry, but the main thing is to get non-gardeners excited,” Hansen says. “If you can reach people when they’re young and get them enthused about plants, then you’ve got them hooked for life.”

FEEDING OFF THE ENERGY: As an independent breeder, Hansen is always busy developing distinctive brands. A newer creation is Gnome Domes, part of the Orostachys family of succulents closely related to sedums and sempervivums. Resembling the common Hens and Chicks evergreen succulent, Gnome Domes add a mix of reds, greens, oranges and silvery blues to rock gardens. The plant gets its name from a tall cone emanating from its center that contains hundreds of tiny flowers.

Gnome Domes
Photo courtesy of Chris Hansen

Hansen’s Chick Charms brand of sempervivum launched four years ago with a dozen varieties, with new selections introduced every year since. The colorful, vigorous plants are led by the striking “Gold Nugget,” which sold to the tune of 120,000 plugs in 2018. Drought proof and hardy, Chick Charms are often bought together for display by avid collectors.

“People love collecting them because they’re so easy to grow,” Hansen says. “You can have them out on a cold windowsill in winter.”

From left to right: Doyle, Captain and Shadow
Photo courtesy of Chris Hansen

Instilling a love for gardening in children is buoyed by fostering an environment of fun at work, Hansen believes. Garden Solutions employs workers of all ages, some of whom had little interest in plants before getting hired. While the hardworking breeder’s culture of creativity includes keeping a trio of miniature donkeys on site to inspire employees, the real magic comes when Hansen’s crew taps into one another’s energy.

“People feed off passion — if they see me enthused they’re going to get excited,” Hansen says.

Douglas is a Cleveland Heights, Ohio-based freelance writer and journalist. His work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Crain’s Cleveland Business and The Chronicle of Higher Education.