- Tell us something about yourself, your background:
I grew up outside of a small town in southern Illinois in a house that sat in the middle of a corn field with some woods around. I spent quite a bit of time occupying myself in the natural world and gained a real appreciation for nature that has lasted my whole life. My parents worked odd hours and I spent quite a bit of time with both sets of grandparents, who were excellent with the landscape, had extensive gardens and lived very close to the land. I gained a real fascination for all living things and that fact is the underpinning for my adult career and leisure time pursuits.
- Tell us about the products you invented with a brief explanation:
My first patent, almost 30 years ago, was for a plantable concrete retaining wall module and I went on to build a manufacturing and distribution company around those patented designs. I loved the retaining wall market segment, and I was very early into the green building aspect of it, perhaps too early because we would not have survived as a business other than the fact that the blocks were also very economical and very structural. At that time nobody was really seeking a plantable retaining wall but once many saw the living aesthetic, they were hooked. I continued to innovate in that market segment and brought out several more plant-based building systems. Eventually the green roof and living wall markets caught my eye and I was eager to jump in for some new green building challenges. I licensed a vertical Living Wall system from Canada and started selling and installing those living walls in the United States. It was a great system with a great track record at that time but as an inventor, I was always looking at what could be done better and more cost effectively. I began keeping a list of product attributes I would want in a product that I might design someday. Circumstances became favorable a few years later, enabling me to focus on that list and to create a vertical Living Wall product of my own design. Our Varden Vertical Garden line of products is my design for which I was recently awarded patents in the USA and several other countries.
- How/Why did you start inventing. What set you off?
When I was young, I used to invent things to solve the problems I had, mostly with clothing or devices for hunting and fishing but I always liked the problem resolution aspect of it. Innovating was very gratifying, and I was able to create an item that really worked a few times. In college, even though I thought I wanted to be a doctor, I would still tell people that I hoped to be an inventor someday. In those days it seemed to be too hard to plot my own path and it seemed easier to get on a prescribed career track than to say that I was going to invent things for a living.
- How did you get from idea to finished product?
Traveling in Europe with a backpack after I graduated college really lit the fire underneath me to start inventing. I saw so many ways that Europeans integrated plants into their landscape and in proximity with the spaces that they inhabited. They grew plants every place they could grow them, and I knew that was something that had to come to the United States. Fast forward and all my years providing structural retaining walls that grew over with plant material taught me a lot about what it took to provide elegantly designed living building systems.
When I got a look at what was going on with green roofs and the emerging vertical living wall market, I knew that was someplace I wanted to be, and I knew I had something to offer. Once I got a taste of that market it was easy to see that many of the products were overly complicated, very costly to install and then still did not focus on the main issue which is plant culture and plant health. Living walls must be alive and most of the products that I found in the marketplace just were not very good at the living part. Meeting a fellow inventor and successful businessperson in Rod Tyler of Filtrexx International was a big turning point in the second phase of my career.
Rod and I had a chance to work together in increasing the product offering at Filtrexx and in the process of working with him as a consultant, I developed a real admiration for his great invention in his GardenSoxx product. I was fascinated with the way it contained growing media to create fantastic plant culture in so many ways.
I quickly began thinking in terms of utilizing sock mesh to contain living wall growing media and ways that I could secure it on walls in vertical applications. I knew if I could get all the design factors to line up, that we would have a great addition to the market. Plant culture was a shortcoming of many of the living wall systems already in the marketplace and I knew that the use of large volumes of growing media, contained in breathable sock mesh, was going to give me excellent plant health and to me that was the main part. I was fortunate to come up with an elegant tray system for carrying the soil filled mesh tubes and for securely attaching them to a wall. That is the basis for the patents received thus far. The system continues to impress me and what I love most is that when in the hands of skilled practitioners, whether that be horticulturalists, gardeners, or urban organic growers, they always show me attributes of the system that I never knew were there. It is very gratifying to see what skilled creative people can do with my simple inventions.
- Let us know of useful resources that helped you i.e. Books, websites, software etc
I have relied on collaboration with people for most of my help. Of course, there continues to be a wealth of information on the webs to help hone a product and make sure that there is a good market waiting for it if the price is right. Since we specialize in green building products that grow plant material as part of the facing, we must be concerned about environmental impact, recycling, and plant culture. For almost all of that, I have long-time friends, business associates and business collaborators that I bounce things off once I am ready to unveil something new. It is the human factor and the interactions that I get to have that make this the most fun and I think provides relevant products that function well in people’s lives and in spaces that people inhabit.
- Where are you with your products?
We have completed R&D and initial field testing of all our current products. They are selling and performing well in the market. With everything working well, now we are in a phase of raising capital to add more members to our team and create a solid marketing budget. I have always said that people cannot buy a great product unless they know it exists and where they can find it. At this point, good product design has given us solid product performance at competitive prices so now we just need to get the word out. We interface with specifier’s, contractors, and designers through our verticalgardensupply.com website and we sell our Varden kits and all of its accessories directly on the website.
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