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December 10th 2015

Behind the Scenes at Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Written by
Floret

Floret_Johnnys_Seed-100Earlier this week, I shared a few photos and highlights from my trip to the East Coast and the creative collaboration  between designers Nicolette Owen and Sarah Rhyanen and their Little Flower School workshop.

Today’s post picks up where the last one left off.  After finishing up the workshop and saying farewell to our flower friends , Chris and I set out on a road trip towards Maine and the famed Johnny’s Selected Seeds  farm and world headquarters.

Floret_Johnnys_Seed-37Floret_Johnnys_Seed-220Every year, the Johnny’s catalog finds its way to the top of my massive pile of catalogs.  Among serious home gardeners and market farmers, Johnny’s is considered one of the most respected sources of seeds, tools and growing information.  Plus they offer a great selection of vegetables, culinary herbs and cover crops.

I’ve been a big fan and loyal customer of Johnny’s since the very beginning of my flower farming journey and was excited to finally see their operation–and particularly their famed trial gardens and plant breeding programs–firsthand.

Floret_Johnnys_Seed-162 Floret_Johnnys_Seed-175
Floret_Johnnys_Seed-204Last year Hillary Alger, Johnny’s Flower Seed Manager, attended one of our Floret workshops.   It was during our time together that the dream of visiting Johnny’s started to take form.  Once we made the decision to head East, Hillary graciously arranged for a deluxe, in-depth tour of Johnny’s operations and fields.  It was a dream tour.  We got to go behind the scenes to see where and how they hand pack each and every seed order they receive, plus see some of the fields where they trial new varieties.

Johnny’s vegetable fields were incredible, but it was the flower trials that had my eye.  And HOLY. SMOKES. the lisianthus trial was absolutely amazing.  I had to virtually pick my jaw up off the ground after seeing all the amazing colors and varieties growing in one place.

Floret_Johnnys_Seed-126 Floret_Johnnys_Seed-134 Floret_Johnnys_Seed-171Chris and I learned so much from their gracious, expert staff about the slow, painstaking process of developing new plant varieties.  The investment of time and resources to develop new varieties is serious business.  Johnny’s use of traditional breeding methods means it might require eight or more years before they can sell the first seeds.

Floret_Johnnys_Seed-298 Floret_Johnnys_Seed-265 Floret_Johnnys_Seed-256I also enjoyed learning more about of the company’s history.  Founded in a farmhouse attic, Rob Johnston, Jr. started the company in 1973 at the ripe old age of 22. Since those humble beginnings, Johnny’s now sells seed to more than 50 countries around the world has grown to be one of our nation’s best loved suppliers of seeds and products used for organic production.  An early signatory to the Safe Seed Initiative, Johnny’s has had a longterm commitment selling only seeds and plants that have not been genetically modified.

Floret_Johnnys_Seed-303 Floret_Johnnys_Seed-182 Floret_Johnnys_Seed-180After more than 30+ years at the helm of the sole proprietorship company, Johnston had the opportunity to sell to outside investors or sell to another company but instead launched the Employee Stock Ownership Trust, which put it on the path towards becoming an employee-owned company.   Since 2012, 100% of Johnny’s shares are owned by employees.

But the staff’s investment in Johnny’s went far, far beyond a financial commitment.  They were all clearly passionate about plants, incredibly knowledgeable about plant biology, gardening, market farming and small businesses;  but what struck me most of all was how happy they all seemed.   It was clear that the staff really, truly loved their jobs.  Every single person we came in contact with had a level of dedication and enthusiasm that was truly refreshing. There’s a lot to be said for living what you love.

Floret_Johnnys_Seed-319By the end of the tour, I had so many new ideas for Floret and long lists of new varieties to add to our own gardens that my head was spinning.  Chris and I both remarked that as our little flower company grows, we want to guide it towards becoming a company as special as Johnny’s.

To say our visit was inspiring would be the understatement of a lifetime. I’m still going over my notebook full of notes and trying to remember all of the special things that we saw, heard and experienced. To know this company is to love it. And if you haven’t had the pleasure of getting to know them yet, then I highly encourage you to reach out. They are truly one of a kind.

Visit Johnny’s Selected Seeds website

17 Comments

  1. Thomas on

    I love to have a cataloge..
    Im inspired of growing on my small balcony all possible vegetable plants..
    I just have tomato plants..

    Thank You so much
    Greetings
    Thomas

    Reply
  2. 2015 The Year in Review - Floret Flowers on

    […] tucked into school we had our first solo getaway in over five years. We headed out east and visited Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Five Forks Farm, I took a class from Sarah and Nicolette of the Little Flower School and we toured […]

    Reply
  3. Joan on

    Love Johnny’s seeds as well! We had a rep visit our new Farmer’s Market this past summer and he was super nice, knowledgeable and helpful when it came to questions about seeds/plants. What a great opportunity you had to visit their place!

    Reply
  4. Stefanie H. on

    Love your new shop items! Are you going to have dahlia tubers available this year? Your flowers are so beautiful! Thanks for all you share!!!

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Thanks for your kind words Stefanie! Stay tuned for some exciting announcements in January regarding dahlias.

  5. Kathy on

    I first ordered seed from Johnny’s in 1978! I have always been impressed by their knowledge (when I call them for advice), their quick service, and their commitment to their customers. I loved learning more about them in your post. Thank you for showing us behind the scenes and confirming what I believed about this great company!

    Reply
  6. Tania Cubberly on

    What an awesome shout out to JSS!! Our farm has been ordering from Johnny’s for 11 years now and they truly don’t disappoint, a true gem! Thanks Erin!

    Reply
  7. Jamie Sammons on

    Love this post! I will definitely have to reach out! They are one of my favorite seed companies. We actually used their hoop bender to construct our new greenhouse. Do they give tours to the public?

    Reply
  8. Kat Vince on

    It makes my heart happy to read these comments! I am blessed to work in both the shipping department and at the research farm on the farm crew at Johnny’s. You are so right….we have an amazing research and breeding team here, people who put their heart and soul into every cotyledon! ;) Happy customers = Overjoyed Johnny’s employees. It is most certainly our goal and our absolute pleasure to produce happy gardeners, no matter how big or small!

    Reply
  9. Laurie | Hedgerow Rose on

    What a great tour! I’ve ordered from Johnny’s for years so this was a lot of fun to get a behind-the-scenes. :)

    Reply
  10. Hillary Alger on

    Erin and team Floret,
    We so enjoyed having you here. You’ve been a tremendous source of inspiration for me. Thank you so much for all your kind words about Johnny’s and all you do for the flower grower community.

    Reply
  11. Caleb Whitfield on

    I love Johnny’s and I look forward to their catalog every year! I’m very thankful for all the growing info they include…the catalog is an invaluable resource that I find myself coming back to all season long. Thanks for sharing the tour!

    Reply
  12. Sherry Shuler on

    I just made my first order from Johnny’s on Tuesday of this week. I ordered a “How to grow Zinnia’s” download from Floret which included the names of several seed suppliers. As I began to look through all my options for ordering zinnia’s and farming supplies I found that Johnnyseed.com was my go to place. I am so excited to start a cut flower farm in the coming year. I am starting with a very small test garden of nothing but different zinnia varieties. The detailed info I got from floret’s how to guide on zinnia’s along with the info about how you use cover fabric on your gardens has given me the confidence to begin. I know that without the resources you have provided I would not even be considering this undertaking. Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Thanks for your comment, Sherry. I’m thrilled to hear you found the growing guide to be useful! Please keep me posted on your progress next summer!

  13. Margaret Thorson on

    We’ve planted Johnny’s seeds for 30 years. I envy you the chance to go see the place in person. Thanks for sharing your trip.

    Reply
  14. Jillian on

    I ordered from Johnny’s this year, & am excited to plant their seeds in the spring. They were really prompt & helpful when I had a problem with my order. Glad to hear they are as nice as I thought.

    Reply
  15. LindaQ on

    I agree about Johnnys! I have purchased tools and seeds from them from the beginning of my magical adventure into flower farming and have never been disappointed. Love the new varieties of cut flowers they are offering this year for us ‘little’ farmers!

    Reply

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