Horticulture has always been a part of Henry Groen’s life since the 1950s. “I started my landscape business through the encouragement of my father,” says Henry. “I started small, but the business grew over the years.”
During his landscaping years, he saw the opportunity and need for a nursery that would grow quality deciduous tree seedlings. He was also influenced by an elderly nurseryman who explained the importance of growing deciduous tree seedlings in Canada. Deciduous tree seedlings at that time were all imported from the U.S. and the Netherlands “No one in Ontario was doing it at that time,” remembers Henry.
In 1972, he ended his 14-year old landscape business and began full-time in creating his nursery. He started from scratch, growing deciduous tree seedlings in his backyard. He then purchased 26 acres adjacent to his property.
Henry knew that he needed some formal education in horticulture before starting the nursery business, so he enrolled in the Horticultural program at the University of Guelph in 1961. It was a difficult process while operating a business and raising a family. “It was mostly through correspondence, but I was required to attend formal classes at the university a couple of days per year. I really learned a lot by taking the course.” He received his Ontario diploma of Horticulture in 1965.
From the start, the company’s slogan was, ‘You do better on our roots.’ “I was proud of the fact that we produced quality Ontario-produced deciduous tree seedlings,” says Henry. The tree seedlings were used for budding and grafting purposes.
Groen’s Nursery sold wholesale across Canada and later in the U.S A. Growth was gradual. In later years, Groen’s Nursery also started to grow tree seedlings in containers averaging about 30,000 potted plants. Sales evolved into 20 per cent to the western provinces, 20 per cent to the U.S. and rest in Ontario and Quebec. “I was always my own salesman. It allowed me to do a lot of travelling, and I met many people within the industry. At the same time, it greatly increased my knowledge of the industry.”
Customers were landscape contractors, conservation authorities, nurseries and municipalities. “We collected a lot of cherry seed ourselves in Vineland and Simcoe,” says Henry. “We also collected hard-to-get varieties.” Henry says the Royal Botanical Gardens was very helpful.
Over the years, Henry saw many changes in the industry. “It seemed to happen every time a recession hit,” says Henry. “It (recession) forced industry members to become resourceful and innovative, and to find new markets and ways to cut costs.”
Always a supporter of his association, Landscape Ontario, Henry was a member of LO Growers Group for three years.
Henry retired in 2000, selling the nursery to his son-in-law John Verbinnen.
“I am very grateful to my father-in-law Henry Groen for introducing me to the nursery life. I started working at Groen’s Nursery in the fall of 1979, and Henry taught me all about field growing seedlings,” says John.
Verbinnen’s Nursery was established when John and Cindy Verbinnen acquired the nursery from Cindy’s father. Verbinnen’s Nursery specializes in growing native (indigenous) species of tree and shrub seedlings. The company now grows about 100,000 field grown seedlings for bare root production, another 100,000 seedlings in plugs and over 150,000 trees and shrubs in containers ranging from a one- to 15-gallons.
John says that after Henry retired, he was not sure if he had the skills to run a business. “It was not an easy transition, but it kind of grew on me over the years. Looking back, I have been very blessed and I have great respect for the many people whom have come to know and work with in this industry. I am also very thankful to see the business go into its third generation with our sons Alex and Mark. I pray that they too may blessed and be a blessing to others in the years to come.”
Henry is pleased to see his grandchildren now in the industry. “The Lord has blessed us abundantly,” says Henry.
After he retired, Henry found other things in life to be involved in, especially working with his church. As an industry pioneer, Henry Groen’s legacy will continue for many years for both his family and the nursery industry.