Ball Celebrates 100 Years By Catherine Evans

Balloons, smiling faces and beautiful flowers welcomed us to the 2005 Ball Customer Day held in honor of Ball's Centennial Celebration. The event, held July 29, 2005, drew approximately 3,000 people to West Chicago, Ill., to tour the newly renovated gardens. This year marked the unveiling of the new Ball trial gardens, which have been renamed The Gardens at Ball.


The day started out with tours of the new gardens and continued with seminars and interesting places to visit. The seminar topics included Ball's new independent retailer programs; a presentation by author Pam Duthie about her book Continuous Bloom and Continuous Color; landscape architect and Ball garden designer Doug Hoerr; a container gardening demonstration, including Ball's Plant By Numbers method; a presentation by author Denise Adams about her book Popular Plants of the Past for the Present; and a discussion from Pizzo and Associates about the Ball ecological restoration project. The crowds for these events, especially the container gardening seminar, were huge, and people were very interested in learning more about each topic.

There were a number of places to visit other than just the gardens. Visitors toured an All-American Selections trial garden that Ball has been a part of for years. A little building on the property housed photos and memorabilia from Ball's past as well as some written history. There were equipment demos, greenhouse structures, a Kids Korner (which included children's activities), a merchandise tent, the Ball Bookstore and even exhibits from organizations like America in Bloom and Garden Centers of America.

Growers and retailers walked around the newly revamped grounds with huge eyes and got tons of ideas to take home. Not only were the seminars educational, but the gardens themselves also showcased interesting combinations and design ideas. The new Gardens at Ball are a perfect place to show off the Ball plant material.

The Gardens

A few years ago Ball decided it was time to revamp its 71?2-acre trial and display gardens for the Centennial Celebration, so in 2004 Ball closed its trial gardens and started the demolition work. For more than 70 years, the Ball Gardens have been the evaluation and testing grounds for plants from all over the world. The gardens began in 1933 as a row trial for seed varieties and have grown to include more than 3,000 varieties and 1,200 containers. According to Ball, "This next generation of the Ball Gardens is designed to inspire our visitors as they compare products in a new and innovative setting and to spark creative ideas for home garden and commercial settings."

The gardens looked beautiful. There were numerous displays, themed gardens, container gardens and more; it seemed like the flowers never ended. Ball enlisted the help of landscape architect Doug Hoerr to totally redesign the Ball Gardens. Hoerr redesigned Chicago's Michigan Avenue (a.k.a., "The Magnificent Mile") as well as a number of other projects in Chicago.

Ecological Restoration Project

Ball Horticultural sits on property that used to be mostly prairie land and wetland. In 2003, Ball teamed up with Pizzo & Associates, Ltd. to build a 28-acre ecological restoration project on the southwest corner of the West Chicago property. According to Ball, all of the invasive plants have been removed and replaced with native ones, wildlife habitat has been restored, eroding embankments have been stabilized, a wetland has been restored and walking trails have been created. Ball is looking ahead in hopes of returning the land to what it was before the first European settlers arrived as well as playing a key role in improving water, air and soil quality.

Ball created two miles of wood-chipped walkways through the project so people can walk through and see all of the changes taking place. Thanks to informational signage, visitors can easily identify and understand the invasive removal and native plantings. A nice clean up of the land has been done, and even bluebird, wood duck and bat houses have been installed to attract local wildlife.

Ball's History

Though Ball has been around for quite some time, few know all of the interesting details of their 100-year history. Ball has been working hard to put everything together for its customers, employees, consumers and the industry to make sure they all understand the importance and origin of this successful horticultural company.

In 1905 George J. Ball, after working for many years for commercial florists, decided it was time to branch out on his own, hence Ball Seed Company was born. He developed a reputation as a quality cut flower wholesale grower, all while experimenting and hybridizing with different plants.

As the early 20th century was blooming, so was Ball. Between 1920 and 1930 George was breeding and developing a number of noteworthy varieties including the Ball calendula. Soon he became a well-known plantsman by writing articles and books and giving plant advice to people all over the country.

In the 1930s George developed seasonal catalogs and traveled the world looking for new plants. Ball established its first sales team with George's son, George Kruse Ball. In 1933 The Ball Trial Gardens were created.

In the 1940s three more of George's sons joined the business, Vic, Bob and Carl. George came up with "Short Courses" to help the industry stay up to date on the latest research and trends. However, the decade ended on a sad note for Ball with the death of George J. Ball on Sept. 10, 1949.

When the 1950s hit all of the brothers took different roles at Ball and grew a company that became known for its customer service and sales force. The first Ball Field Day debuted in 1953. Also in this decade the Sweet Sixteen promotion debuted, making it one of the first consumer brands in the industry.

In 1962, Ball acquired PanAmerican Seed, and Dupage Horticultural School was launched in 1963. In that time, Ball figured it should broaden its product range and purchased Petoseed Company, a specialty producer of vegetable seed. By the 1970s, under the presidency of Carl Ball, Ball grew into 18 specialized breeding, production and distribution companies all over the world. According to Ball, Ball Seed emerged as the largest horticultural seed house in North America.

In the 1980s and early 90s Ball worked on the grower, producer of flower and vegetable seed and the ever-expanding plug market. Soon, with the development of tissue culture, Ball FloraPlant was born to feed the vegetative market. In 1995 Anna Ball took over the newly named Ball Horticulture Company as the third-generation family member.

The 2005 Ball Customer Day was a success. Everyone we talked to seemed very pleased with the plant materials, display gardens, seminars and helpfulness of the Ball staff. The weather was perfect, the number of attendees was impressive and everything seemed to go off without a hitchÉespecially the barbeque lunch. Congratulations to Ball on its first 100 years, we are looking forward to what the next 100 years brings.

Catherine Evans

Catherine Evans is associate editor for GPN. She can be reached by phone at (847) 391-1050 and E-mail at [email protected]

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