Photo courtesy of Jennifer Webber
Driven by a commitment to keep improving and learning more about every detail of growing operations, Jennifer Webber has carved out a successful greenhouse career.
Growing up in the small town of Kensington, Georgia, Webber says she “didn’t have much, but we always had a big garden.” From a young age, she helped her father plant seeds and care for crops as he taught her everything he knew about plants.
Webber’s father died when she was only 11, and by age 15, she was out on her own. She went out and bought a suit, then got her first job at Hardee’s. She even rented her own apartment, telling the landlord she was 18.
When she wasn’t going to school or working, Webber was reading plant books and magazines to keep honing her green thumb. Meanwhile, she continued working her way up the fast food chain, eventually earning her restaurant manager’s diploma, when she realized, “This isn’t what I want to do.”
So, at age 18, Webber relocated to Gulf Shores, Alabama, where she landed her first growing job at a wholesale greenhouse. She continued her personal research, trying to absorb all the informal horticulture knowledge and experience she could.
“Determined to become one of the best growers around, I even built a small greenhouse in my backyard, where I began learning about scouting for pests, using biological controls, pruning ornamental plants and pesticide regulations,” she says.
Her dedication paid off, and within three months, she was promoted to head grower. Webber stayed at the company for four years, until a hurricane scared her back to Georgia. She worked as a grower near her hometown for another 10 years, before joining Rambo Nursery eight years ago.
Training her team
As Rambo’s head grower and operations manager, Webber oversees two locations: a 75-acre facility in Dallas, Georgia, and a 117-acre perennial farm in Cedartown. The wholesale nursery grows annuals, perennials, groundcover, roses and succulents exclusively for Home Depot locations in Georgia and Alabama.
Rambo Nursery has 66 employees between both locations; 13 of them are section growers. Webber holds weekly training sessions for them to discuss conditions and issues to watch for in current crops. To supplement that training, she also meets with each grower one-on-one throughout the week.
Webber routinely shares her vast plant knowledge with her team every way she can, passing down what she has learned throughout her 22-year career.
“Over the years, I have taken notes on different growing techniques [as I learn] what each plant likes and dislikes,” Webber says. “With all this knowledge, I put together a grower’s handbook — years of work passed down to make all of Rambo Nursery’s growers the best they can be.”
Webber also created a daily checklist for her growers to follow, “so there [are] never any questions about day-to-day tasks,” she says. “It has made my growers outstanding assets to the company.” For growers, every day begins by walking each aisle to get an overview of the greenhouse and identify which plants need hydrating first.
“While they’re walking, they’re required to scout for pests, plant diseases and any kind of discoloration. They never pass any weeds without pulling them,” Webber says.
Emphasizing this attention to detail, she says, is essential to maintaining successful growing operations from start to finish.
“You have to notice the whole environment and pay attention to very small details so you don’t miss anything,” she says. “You have to look everywhere, up and down, and notice all the surroundings to [ensure] the quality of the plant.”
Webber says her main responsibility is “to ensure the highest quality of finished product for our Home Depot customers.” In her dual role as head grower and operations manager, she understands that plant quality is a result of cohesive teamwork throughout the operation — from production and propagation, to her growing staff, to the shipping department. To that end, she’s constantly communicating with all these groups, while training her section growers to look beyond the plants and understand how these pieces work together.
“Not only do we teach [our growers] how to maintain crops, we teach them how the operation runs,” Webber says. “For example, I have an assistant grower at the Dallas location, so when I’m walking with her, I want her to not only see the growing side of it, but also to understand the operation, so I point out everything from maintenance issues to how we enter plants into the shipping system, so she can learn all of it.”
As a result of her insatiable quest to “learn all of it” and help other growers do the same, Webber equips her team to grow their careers through a comprehensive understanding of greenhouse operations, from the ground up.
“I love everything about growing, and that’s what continues to make me knowledgeable in the growing industry,” Webber says. “If there’s something out there I don’t know, I want to know it.”