Saturday, March 17, 2012

Costa Farms - They Do Houseplants (And More!)

It's been a crazy two weeks here at Our Little Acre, because one of us has been here and there and everywhere and the other has so wonderfully kept things under control all the while. My husband - bless him - has fed and watered the chickens, taken care of the cats, and has even watered plants in the house and conservatory while I was out and about. And he did it without complaining. He's a good man.

Just a week ago, I traveled to Miami as the guest of Costa Farms for Social Summit 2012. Ten writers and photographers from across the country joined together to tour the Costa facilities, home of the largest indoor plant producer in North America. Costa also provides annual bedding plants for much of the southeast, but due to shipping constraints (annuals don't hold up as well in shipping), we don't get those here in Ohio.

I'm no stranger to Costa Farms. Even before I considered myself a real gardener, I grew houseplants, all the way back to my college days. In the last eight years, I've managed more than 175 plants (probably more like 200 now) both in my house and in my conservatory and many of those are Costa Farms plants.

Our group was an interesting mix of gardeners and home enthusiasts: Jason Loper from Apartment Therapy, James Farmer from Southern Living, Cara Wilkerson from Living the Home Life, Jane McKeon from Better Homes & Gardens, Tabitha Alterman and Tim Nauman from Mother Earth News and Natural Home & Garden, Jill Fehrenbacher and Yuka Yoneda from Inhabitat, Robin Horton from Urban Gardens, and me.

We began our day with Costa Farms with an overview of the business by Marta Garcia and Melissa Marteaga-Marti, along with other employees and Maria ("Mane") Costa Smith. Mane is the granddaughter of Costa Farms' founder and she, along with her husband, Jose ("Joche"), are the current owners and CEOs of the business.

Yes, Costa Farms is a family business and it hasn't been easy. There was the initial hard work in building the business and then came Hurricane Andrew. The entire business was wiped out, and there was no insurance, but the family pulled together and rebuilt it, literally from the ground up. Their heart and soul is invested in everything they do.

From there, we went to the succulents division, where we met the charming Alfredo Bergolla, who told us the story of his flight from Cuba, where he left his valuable collection of rare succulents. He, too, had to start over when he came to the U.S.

There were tables of those fabulous succulents of all kinds for us to drool over and I was glad to hear that there are some new ones coming our way via Lowe's, Home Depot, IKEA, and Walmart, just to name a few of the places that Costa Farms supplies.

New this year are the Minis.

Dr. Kate Santos
Next up was the orchid house and just imagine walking into a huge greenhouse that holds blooming orchids almost as far as the eye can see! There, we learned great tips from Dr. Kate Santos, in regard to growing orchids (it's easy!) and several of us got to repot an orchid and learn the proper way to do it. (That's easy, too.)

The next activity was tremendous fun! We were divided into three groups  and given plants, containers, potting soil and other elements necessary for potting things up.  We had ten minutes to figure out how we were going to design and plant our containers, and once we finished, we presented them to the group.

Photos were taken, and they were posted to Facebook, where readers had a chance to vote on their favorite container among Team Succulent Garden (I was in this group, with Jane McKeon of Better Homes & Gardens and Yuka Yoneda from Inhabitat), Team Terrarium, and Team Houseplants. I just learned that our group won!

It's a winner!

It was time for lunch by then, which was held in the Trial Gardens and though the food was delicious, I wanted to spend my time walking through the beautiful rainbow of color laid out before us. We saw annuals from many familiar companies being grown there: Ball, Proven Winners, Drummen, etc. And before we left, we each voted on our top favorites. (Now that was difficult.)

Osteospermum 'Sunny Lola' and Solanostemon 'UF 10-81-001'
from Proven Winners. Man, I hope they change the name of that coleus if
they end up bringing it to  market.

After lunch, we visited the Mandevilla fields, which I think were the largest fields of all that we saw.  I could barely see the end of it as I stood looking across pot after pot of white, pink, and red mandevillas, which is one of Costa Farms' biggest sellers.

Next, we visited the coir (coconut shells) processing facility, where we learned about how Costa Farms is using coir fiber as a potting medium. This is a highly sustainable product, being a by-product of a by-product that at one time was just discarded. It's great for plants because of its moisture-retaining ability while also being fast-draining. I had purchased some Costa Farms plants just prior to making this trip and they were planted in coir. I like it.

Now that's a lot of coir!

The last stop was to see the Tropic Escape® Hibiscus - Costa Farms' newest line - and I have never seen such large hibiscus blooms in my life. The colors and frilly-edged petals were just gorgeous. Here, we had tropical drinks and hors d'oeuvres.


After a short time back at our hotel for freshening up (it was a hot day and several of us got sunburned), we were treated to dinner at the home of Joche and Mane Smith. And when I say treat, I mean it. The home and property are simply gorgeous. Elegant, yet not overdone, the landscaping and outdoor rooms were the ideal place to enjoy an evening of friendly conversation and delicious food and drink. It was the perfect ending to a gardener's dream of a day.

"Moon over Miami"

The next morning, we met at the hotel for a recap of the previous days' activities and discussion about ideas and insights we all had. Costa Farms is very in tune with their customers and they really do care what we think and what we want as consumers. I'm grateful to Costa Farms and Garden Media Group for the opportunity to be a part of this summit. It was inspiring in some ways that I didn't expect and a valued part of my ongoing education in the world of horticulture.

My trip to Miami, including all transportation costs, hotel, meals, and other expenses were provided by Costa Farms. The purpose of the visit was to provide information and education about houseplants and Costa Farms' part in bringing them to the consumer. They requested nothing from me in return.


Erin @ The Impatient Gardener said...

Looks like a great trip! What a lovely spot for dinner. Those hibiscus blooms are bigger than your faces! Thanks for sharing.

Robert Bornstein said...

Great adventure for you! I used to be a FL AG nursery inspector there so really had a connection to the nursery. Thank you for sharing.

Kylee Baumle said...

Erin ~ That isn't even one of the largest hibiscus blooms! We'll be able to find them in our stores up here soon!

Robert ~ It is an incredible place! So much beauty and wonderful people.

blogger templates | Make Money Online