In 1942, Dennis Walters was hired by Dena Knoll to work in the fields of the Knoll family farm. Dena Knoll had a small perennial business that she shared with her mother and daughter, Harriet. Within a few years, Dennis and Harriet became attached and were married. This began the enterprise known as Knoll and Walters Perennials. This business was so successful that Dennis was able to bring his four brothers into the growing operation. When Dena retired, the company was re-branded as Walters Gardens.1942
The young company struggled in the early years with growth. Dennis was either a gambler or a visionary, depending on who you asked. Sometimes Dennis' vision brought the company good fortune, such as being one of the first in the industry to publish a color catalog. Other times, nurseries, whose significant orders had been fulfilled by Walters Gardens, would close their doors without paying. At the same time, Dennis and Harriet were busy raising a family of five children.
Through the years it is our Bare Root Production which has kept us unique in the industry. Thanks to our location along Lake Michigan, we enjoy sandy, well drained soil that helps our roots grow bigger faster. We've been growing high quality bare root product from the very beginning and it has guided some of the biggest decisions in Walters Gardens' history. Our first greenhouse was built to help propagate small plants for early spring planting and our Tissue Culture lab to help clean up disease troubled field stock.
Today, Tissue Culture is an industry standard, but in 1976 it was an emerging science. Few in the industry saw the benefits of Tissue Culture and even fewer were implementing it. Having one of the first labs in the industry allowed Walters Gardens to not only produce disease free plants, but to do so on a large scale and quicker than their competitors. It was through bold moves and investments like the Tissue Culture Lab that Walters Gardens was able to distinguish itself as a national leader in perennials.1976
We now have over 1,000 varieties listed in our catalog with hundreds more being trialed and tested by our research and development team. In 2016, our hybridizing department introduced more than fifty new varieties to the market from over twenty different genera. We continuously work toward anticipating market trends to supply not only the highest quality, but highly desirable perennials as well. Our genetics are now sold all across North America, with partnerships and connections guiding them into Europe and farther.
Dena Knoll's 5-acre farm has grown to 1,500 acres and we're in the process of expanding our 500,000 square feet of greenhouses. Our commitments to high quality plants and genetics have led to an expansive collection of Walters Gardens introduced varieties and a close relationship with the Proven Winners® brand. We produce almost 20 million perennial plants a year now, a big step forward from 1946. Walters Gardens is still family owned and run. We haven't lost sight of our (bare) roots or the values that made this company what it is.