Midwest Groundcovers is deeply rooted in traditions of growth and innovation. When Peter Orum immigrated to the United States in 1965, he brought with him a deep knowledge and tradition of horticulture. This he gained from his experiences and training on the two acre nursery of his father, Palle Orum, in Jutland, Denmark, his nursery apprenticeships at Spejlborg and Vilvorde Nurseries and his education at the Vilvorde Horticulture School in Copenhagen. Most importantly, Peter had an entrepreneurial spirit and a vision of the course his life would follow – a journey that would be defined by hard work, passion and a fearless drive to succeed.
The organizing, planning, building and management skills Peter learned as an Engineer Officer in the Danish Army Corps of Engineers were essential to his successful journey in the horticulture industry and to Midwest Groundcovers’ inception and development. Peter achieved lieutenant rank in less than two years and cultivated leadership skills that would qualify him for his first job in the United States – a supervisory trainee at D. Hill Nursery Company in Dundee, Illinois. After a few months of training, Peter was quickly promoted to Superintendent of Propagation and served in this position for almost seven years.
Despite Peter’s success at D. Hill Nursery, he could not quell his entrepreneurial drive. In 1969, Peter and Irma began a life-long journey that would become the Midwest family of companies. They rooted several thousand cuttings in the West Chicago backyard of their friend and mentor, John Wilde. The same year, the Orums purchased five acres of land on Illinois Route 25, just north of St. Charles, Illinois.
The Midwest companies were built through the collaboration of many talented and dedicated people, and, in the early days, friends and family worked on weekends and evenings for wages of hamburgers and beer. Irma helped nurture the new company by utilizing talents acquired from her many years of business administration experience in Chicago, as well as her bookkeeping skills. Her dedication to fostering the growth of the new company was evident in her full participation in day-to-day nursery operations including potting plants, sticking cuttings, watering and mowing, while all the time caring for family and home.
The initial vision for the five acre nursery was to produce and sell quality ground covers at fair prices to local landscapers, independent garden centers and nurseries. This simple and wise business philosophy translated into continuing success for the Orums and fueled the expansive growth of Midwest Groundcovers during the coming years. Peter supplemented his foundation talent of horticulture and his management and construction skills gained in the Danish Army Corps of Engineers with many nights dedicated to business, finance and accounting studies. He earned a bachelor of science in Finance and Accounting from Northern Illinois University in 1978.
Over the next forty years, Midwest Groundcovers truly became a company “Always on the Grow.” In 2008, annual production totaled nearly 13 million market ready plants produced by a seasonal workforce of 185 and a year round staff of 65. The original five acres soon became too small and in 1974, the Orums purchased fourteen acres a few miles north on Illinois Route 25. Through the years, additional acres were purchased and this land eventually became the 160+ acre St. Charles nursery facility. Until 2005, this site was home to Midwest Groundcovers production and sales, Midwest Trading and Midwest GROmaster.
By the end of the nineties, Kane County identified a large portion of Midwest Groundcovers’ land as critical for a regional bridge over the Fox River. This development required the Orums to give up nearly half of the St. Charles nursery. Today, 90 acres on Route 25 are home to Midwest’s sales and distribution headquarters and some remaining production. This acreage also houses the recently combined Midwest Groundcovers and Midwest Trading Sales Yard and updated landscape display beds and trial gardens.
Midwest Groundcovers’ St. Charles headquarters, sales, distribution and trial garden facility, completed in 1994, was planned and designed by landscape architect Christa Orum-Keller, daughter of Peter and Irma. Comprehensive site planning was completed with the help of key nursery managers and consulting engineers. The gardens were designed as an educational tool and create a beautiful outdoor classroom where customers and staff observe and analyze mature plants and trial and review new plant varieties. Plant examples feature inspirational and innovative planting design combinations through the proprietary programs of Midwest Systems® and Midwest Solutions®. Midwest Groundcovers is committed to ongoing product trials to promote and display plants for peak performance in tough Midwestern conditions.
The eighties was a time of expansion for Midwest Groundcovers. On the advice of long time mentor, John Wilde, land was acquired in southwest Michigan starting in 1986. Currently, the Glenn, Michigan production nursery is over 300 acres in size and produces vital crops such as perennials, ornamental grasses, Vinca, some native species and Euonymus.
1990’s and early 2000’s
During the nineties, in preparation of future growth, two farms totaling 250 acres were purchased in Virgil, Illinois. Due to the actions of Kane County, the future came sooner than expected and construction of the Virgil facility began in 2001. The first plants were potted in 2003. Extensive facility planning was led by Peter and a team of key managers from Midwest Groundcovers, Midwest Trading and Midwest GROmaster, as well as professionals in land planning and civil engineering. The facility is now organized into growing centers for specialized crops, with three centers currently in operation and two yet to be developed.
The Virgil facility was planned to comply with progressive Kane County stormwater regulations. Runoff is contained on site through a unique combination of stormwater control basins and irrigation systems. Midwest recycles and reuses over 95% of the irrigation water. As a result of the extensive planning by land planners, The Lannert Group of Geneva, and civil engineers, Western Engineering, the Virgil site was granted the highest award for site design and planning by the Illinois Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 2007.
Additionally, Midwest Groundcovers’ Virgil production site was the topic of one chapter in the 2012 book, “Greening The Landscape: Strategies for Environmentally Sound Practice” by Adam Regn Arvidson.
The Virgil production nursery is now home to a wide variety of crops including deciduous shrubs, conifers, roses, small ornamental trees and broadleaf evergreens. All operations for sister companies, Midwest Trading Horticultural Supplies, Inc. and Midwest GROmaster were relocated from St. Charles to Virgil in 2005.
What We Grow
Each year, Midwest produces over twenty million plants in one of the broadest collections of species and plant groups of any nursery in the United States.
Product lines are continuously evolving to include more diverse species, to integrate native plants and to provide the most useful plants for the challenging Midwestern climate.
Midwest participates in, and is a licensed grower and/or propagator, for the most esteemed regional and national plant brands including:
Learn more about these programs here: Vendor Brands
Midwest Gives Back
Midwest has always been an industry supporter, and Peter has especially been involved and actively supports many national and local industry associations. Peter served on the board of the Illinois Nurserymen’s Association (which then became the Illinois Green Industry Association) and was president from 1991 to 1992.
Peter also served many years on the board of the Horticultural Research Institute (HRI), the research arm of American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA) – now AmericanHort. He has been instrumental in establishing many HRI funds, four from the Midwest companies, including The John E. Wilde Propagation Fund, in honor of mentor John Wilde; The Lydia & Palle H. Orum Research Fund, in honor of Peter’s parents; and the Orum-Midwest Research Fund; in honor of HRI’s 50-year anniversary. Peter was president of HRI before joining the ANLA’s board, where he was president from 2004 to 2005. In 2001, Peter was honored with the distinction of being named 2001 Grower of the Year by Nursery Management and Production Magazine.
Additionally, employees have, for over a decade, dedicated part of their time, talents and personal funds to support two local shelters – Hesed House in Aurora and Hope Haven in DeKalb. Throughout the year, there are multiple fund raisers from tomato sales and chili cook-offs to raffles and clothing donations. At the end of the year, the Midwest companies add 50% match to the employee contributions. Over the past eight years, the overall contributions to these organizations have totaled over $35,000.
For decades, recycling, reuse and reduction of waste have been part of Midwest Groundcovers’ regular practices. Environmentally responsible habits such as Integrated Pest Management and water runoff recycling at production facilities are a way of life. Midwest reuses plant containers, recycles growing shelter plastic and integrates vegetated swales into production facilities. While most nurseries dispose of all covering plastic each year, Midwest is one of the few nurseries to reuse 70% of its covering plastic annually. Midwest works with recycling firms that recycle all non-reusable covering plastic and containers.
Midwest facilities also collect and burn wood, office paper and cardboard using the heat generated to warm greenhouses for ivy, perennial propagation, woody plant propagation and sedum production. Organic nursery waste is composted at each nursery facility and is used in various growing operations.
In a further effort to integrate green practices and develop innovative product lines, Midwest Groundcovers entered the “Green Roof” market in 2000. Partnering with Midwest Trading, Midwest Groundcovers became the leading plant supplier in the emerging green roof market and has provided plants for green roofs on Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago City Hall, Millennium Park, Milwaukee Zoo and Target Inc., among many others.
The nursery and greenhouse industry send millions of pounds of plastic to landfills annually. To reverse that trend, Midwest Groundcovers initiated a horticulture container recycling program with key customers, starting April 2009. Visit our Sustainable Practices page to learn more about our Recycling Program. The program continues to be successful and include prestigious partners such as The Morton Arboretum and some of the largest landscape maintenance and contracting companies in the Midwest.
Other ways in which Midwest supports sustainable efforts is through Midwest Solutions® and Garden Artistry®. “Since we grew our first ground covers, we have always promoted and worked with customers to help them plant the right plants in the right places,” says Peter. “This is, and has been, a practice in sustainability.”
Midwest Groundcovers’ Midwest Solutions® is a system of recommended plant combinations with specified spacing recommendations, considering site conditions such as light exposure, soil type and soil moisture. Garden Artistry® is a consumer and garden center program inspired by plant combinations and plants used in Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden. For both Midwest Solutions® and Garden Artistry®, there are easy to follow steps in the catalog, and on the website, to assist in specification and calculation of quantities of plants needed for square footages designed.
These combinations essentially create micro plant communities or ecosystems that contribute durability and longevity, reduce maintenance and have superior aesthetic effect in the landscape.
Midwest Groundcovers’ daily operations are directed by company President and CEO, Gary Knosher. The Orum family remains involved. Peter Orum serves as Chairman of the board and daughter Christa Orum-Keller is Vice President and Vice-Chairman for Midwest Groundcovers as well as Chairman of the Board for Midwest Trading. While retired from day to day business, Irma Orum continues to serve on the board of directors.
What was once five acres and a dream has blossomed into Midwest Groundcovers of today – an industry leader in the propagation, growing and wholesale sales of quality container nursery stock. But Midwest offers much more than quality plants – our aim is to provide solutions for added value. These vary from expert shipping services in convenient custom designed trucks and delivery racks for supreme quality at time of delivery, to decision making resources for landscape architects, project managers and designers through innovative Midwest Solutions™ Plant Partners, Garden Artistry™ or convenient calculating tools in our website features.
Midwest remains an industry leader with dedication to quality, excellence, customer service, education, value-added services and continued growth. Our success is only possible in partnership with our loyal and valued customers and through the hard work of our dedicated and capable staff.
Left to Right: 1992 Midwest receives ILCA Distinguished Service Award at MidAm, 1998 Nurseryman Magazine, 2000 ILCA Landscape Award, 2001 Grower of the Year, 2009 Americn Nurseryman Magazine