As Peter says, everything begins with an idea; it’s what you do with that idea that determines your success. Midwest Groundcovers began with an idea to grow and distribute quality ground cover plants. Within the first ten years, that idea grew from a company of two people, five acres and a family car to a staff of twelve and a six-figure sales revenue.
Growth required expansion, and in 1974, the Orums purchased additional acreage a few miles north of the original property. This new acquisition would become the St. Charles Nursery; the original site was retained for propagation, and the company office, sales yard, family home, and production facilities were moved to the new location.
With the incremental purchase of adjacent acres over the next several years, the St. Charles nursery grew to more than 160 acres. Propagation and production soon included perennials, shrubs, evergreens, and grasses, and in 1986 the company became a licensed propagator and grower in the new Chicagoland Grows® plant introduction program. The program, a partnership among the Chicago Botanic Garden, The Morton Arboretum, and the Ornamental Growers Association of Northern Illinois (OGA)—of which Midwest is a member—develops, selects, and markets a broad range of plants suitable for the Upper Midwest and similar regions. In the years since the program’s introduction, Midwest has sold nearly three-quarters of a million Chicagoland Grows® plants.
The 1980s were a period of rapid growth. When a customer picking up plants at the St. Charles nursery wanted to purchase peat moss —which Midwest Groundcovers did not sell at the time—Peter made an on-the-spot decision to sell him a few bales from the production area. In that simple transaction, he saw an opportunity to further serve nursery customers and to expand the business. In 1981, Midwest Trading was established to develop, manufacture, and distribute growing media and other hardgoods. Now a separate sister company, Midwest Trading operates at the Virgil Nursery site, where a state-of-the-art mix plant was built to produce media.
In 1986, Peter took the advice of mentor John Wilde, and friend and advisor Bob Erlandson, and the company acquired a 144-acre farm in Glenn, Michigan. This nursery now covers more than 300 acres and continues to produce perennials, ornamental grasses, and ground covers.
It was also in 1986 that Peter and Finn Aagaard established Midwest GROmaster. Initially created to support Midwest Groundcovers’ needs, the company has supplied growers across the United States with fertilizer injection systems, ebb and flow growing benches, and recycling water systems for more than 30 years.
By the end of the decade, acreage continued to be added, sales had more than quintupled, and the company employed a staff of 84.
Midwest realized considerable growth in the 1990s, with the further acquisition of land and development of infrastructure. In cooperation with Midwest’s nursery managers and consulting engineers, landscape architect Christa Orum-Keller, Peter and Irma’s daughter, planned and designed the company’s St. Charles headquarters, which included sales and administrative operations, sales yard, distribution facility, and trial and display gardens. The office was officially opened in 1994, the same year that the company issued its 100,000th invoice.
Christa joined Midwest on a full-time basis the following year, and in 1997, Christa and her husband, Craig Keller, moved to Denmark for a year to train in various nurseries. Craig joined the company in 1999.
International plant breeder Anthony Tesselaar expanded operations beyond Australia, and in 1994, Midwest Groundcovers was among the first nurseries in the U.S. to become a licensed grower of the Flower Carpet® ground cover rose. The rose was released to the gardening public in 1995 to much acclaim, and Midwest expanded its agreement with Tesselaar to include additional rose cultivars and perennials.
At mid-decade, the Michigan nursery crew launched the container-growing operation with potting of select perennials; Juventino Castillo, hired in 1972 as Midwest Groundcovers’ first full-time seasonal employee, moved to the Glenn Farm location to help develop the site’s production facility. The first farm at Virgil, comprising 174 acres, was purchased in 1995, preparing the company for future growth—and change.
Acreage at both the Michigan and Virgil nurseries increased during the 90s, but the St. Charles location became subject to negotiations with Kane County officials when the county identified a large tract of land at the north end of the property as critical for construction of a regional bridge over the Fox River and the extension of Stearns Road. Eventually, a sixty-six-acre plot was ceded to the county, and construction of the county bridge and roadway was completed in 2010. The St. Charles nursery today comprises nearly 90 acres, and remains home to Midwest’s office, sales yard, and distribution headquarters. Although some production remains, most has been relocated to the Virgil and Michigan nurseries.
Groundbreaking on the Virgil nursery took place in 2001, following careful planning for development led by Peter and a team of Midwest professionals, as well as consulting land planning and civil engineering professionals
The 250-acre site is divided into five discrete growing centers, each of which is dedicated to specialized crops. In 2005, the nursery also became home to both Midwest Trading and Midwest GROmaster, when both companies moved operations from St. Charles.
Plant collection and branding programs grew during the 2000s, resulting in Midwest Solutions®, a program developed to bring successful plant combination solutions to landscape designers and contractors. It’s an easy-to-use system of designing with hardy and beautiful companion plants selected to provide sustainable plant communities.
Midwest’s Bud & Bloom program, launched in 2008, offers garden centers an opportunity to purchase eye-catching, ready-to-sell selections just in time for the spring rush. The collection includes trees and shrubs, roses, hydrangeas, annuals and perennials, vines, grasses, and even fresh herbs.
By the end of the 2000s, and heading into its fifth decade of business, Midwest Groundcovers was well-positioned to drive further growth.