Frans Peters, Sure-Gro & Kew

Frans Peters senior passes at age 89; Sure-Gro, a company whose products most gardeners in Canada purchase; the Chelsea Physic Garden and its Canadian connection; and some middle east influence at Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, England.
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

April 18, 2010

Above, Frans Peters (photo courtesy the family) and three shots from our recent visit to the Getty Centre in Los Angeles--these are a tease to a future item on our visit to the gardens there in late March; author photos. Below, two shots of the evergreen sidra tree (Ziziphus spina-christi). Photos obtained from the Web, with the final one credited to Yuval.

This week I have a real ‘mixed bag’ of topics!

I’ll start off with brief news of the passing of an old friend, Franciscus Lodewicus Johannes Maria (Frans) Peters senior, the founder of Humber Nurseries in the Toronto area. Mr. Peters passed away on Saturday April 10, at the age of 89. He was indeed a very clever nurseryman, lover of plants and gardens and force in the nursery business over the past 60 plus years. I have not had an opportunity to draw together all of the information I wish to write about him, so will hold off for another week or so doing that. Meanwhile, my sympathies to the family there that I know, beginning, of course, with his wife, Sibylla Dorothea, and sons Frans G. and Guy, and sister Astrid. Astrid was not involved in the business, although I had met her on a couple of special occasions at the nursery. Farewell gallant spirit, Frans!

* * *

Last week as well came news that the Sure-Gro company has new owners yet again! The history of buy-outs is too long to repeat here, but suffice to say Spectrum Brands of St. Louis, Missouri purchased the entire company in April 2004 and subsequently were bought out by Rayovac Corporation of Atlanta just eight months later in February 2005. Then, just three months later again, Rayovac changed its name back to Spectrum Brands. Then, in November 2005 Spectrum sold two divisions (the manufacture and distribution of controlled-release nitrogen fertilizers and other professional turf products to high-end markets [i.e. golf courses]).

John Hill, who was CEO at the time the company was sold (he has been around the company for decades, going back to when it was known as Hillview Farms, headquartered in Woodstock, Ontario), remained in charge of the total Canadian operation, but in late 2005 moved with about 200 other employees to the buyer: Agrium Inc. Though Agrium’s head office was in Calgary, the operation of the consumer brands remained at new headquarters in Brant-ford, Ontario.

The Sure-Gro company's consumer brands include Hillview, Green Earth, Pickseed, Oseco, Plant-Prod, So-Green, Vigoro and Wilson. When the present-named company was set up at the end of 2007 its Canadian consumer products business was sold to private investment group RoyCap Merchant Banking and Halifax-based Clarke Inc. This month, Clarke Inc. agreed to sell Sure-Gro to Riviérè-du-Loup, Québec-based Canadian consumer products distributor Premier Tech for $13.5 million in cash and debt. Premier Tech is best known in Canada as manufacturer and distributor of Myke natural Mycorrhizal fertilizers and soil additives.

That was a considerable gain for Clarke Inc. as the late-2007 acquisition price was just $5.8 million, and the recent transaction was for $13.5 million ($10.4 million in cash and $3.1 million in 8% notes maturing in October 2012.

At this point, I have not learned whether or not John Hill is still involved but I assume he is for the present time.

* * *

One of the first botanical gardens I visited in London, England, decades back, was the Chelsea Physic Garden, lo-cated not too far from Chelsea Royal Hospital, the site on which the annual Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show is held.

According to Horticulture Week Daily, Sir Hans Sloane (1660 - 1753) is best known as the founder of the British Museum but there is an even older historic institution that owes its existence to him.

In 1722, Sloane allowed the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London to rent their Physic Garden site at Chelsea, which he owned, for just £5 a year as long as it remained for the study of useful plants.

It is largely due to Sloane's bequest that London's oldest botanic garden, originally founded in 1673, has survived. During Sloane's lifetime and throughout the 19th century, Chelsea Physic Garden was one of the most important centres of botany and plant exchange in the world.

To celebrate the 350th anniversary of Sloane's birth Chelsea Physic Garden is devoting its 2010 programme to all things Sloane, ranging from the culinary and cultural to the botanical and medicinal.

A major part of the Garden 2010 programme will include a Jamaican Garden. Sloane was one of the earliest Western scientists to visit the West Indian island and wrote 'Voyage to Jamaica' an important natural history about it, the first volume was published in 1707.

There is a Canadian link to the Chelsea Physic Garden in that Allen Patterson was the Chelsea garden’s director up to the early 80s, when he was chosen to be the new director of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton/Burlington effective in 1981 as I recall. I visited him in his home within the garden in 1981.

* * *

While reading about the Chelsea Physic Garden in Horticulture Week Daily this week, I noted a second mention of a new temporary exhibition (which will likely lead to a more permanent exhibition in the future). It is a simple white exhibition space featuring panels of plant species mentioned in the Qur'an (Koran) has been opened at Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew by HRH the Prince of Wales.

The Qur'anic Garden Exhibition has been created as a symbol of collaboration between Kew Gardens and the state of Qatar, from where some of the plants originate. The temporary garden exhibition, which includes a central fountain surrounded by four olive trees as well as displays of sweet basil, date palm, barley and henna, aims to highlight issues of sustainability.

As well as opening the exhibition last week, Prince Charles planted an evergreen sidra (Ziziphus spina-christi) tree sapling with Qatari royal Sheikha Mozah in a symbol of cultural and research partnership between the UK and Qatar. The launch of the exhibition also marked the signing of a letter of intent between Kew and the Qatar Foundation, of which Sheikha Mozah is chair, to work together.

Kew will conserve the seeds of plants from Qatar in its Millennium Seed Bank for future research. Kew director Professor Stephen Hopper said that the exhibition and partnership were part of plans to broaden the gardens' appeal. “Kew can always do better at broadening the audience that experiences the site,” he explained. “It is really important to celebrate at this level an international relationship.”

He added that Kew was "negotiating" with other countries globally on similar partnerships.

The exhibition comprises plans of the proposed Qur'anic Garden in the City of Doha that was launched by Sheikha Mozah in September 2008 when she planted its first tree--also a sidra.

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