Perspective & perseverance

2019 Horticultural Industries Leadership Awards - Alan Jones

Alan Jones of Manor View Farm uses a broad worldview and steely will to steer Manor View Farm to success.

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Alan Jones, Manor View Farm

Born in London and fond of using quotes from the legendary prime minister Winston Churchill, Alan Jones is a quintessentially British plantsman. He will occasionally jokingly refer to his current country as “the colonies.” John Clark and Dennis Hendrix, the two men that partnered with Alan to buy Manor View Farm, will joke about the past history between the two countries. Despite Alan’s British sense of humor, they have formed a strong bond that has ensured the success of Manor View Farm.

Working for the Queen

In England, it’s customary for agricultural and horticultural students to get some practical experience before heading off to college. Alan had always been interested in plants. He even organized greenhouses while in high school, which he says “was probably unusual for a high school student.” Alan gained two years of horticultural experience by working at The Royal Gardens, Windsor Castle, and The Savill Garden and Windsor Great Park.

Built by William the Conqueror, Windsor Castle has been the home of British kings and queens for nearly 1,000 years. History oozes from every corner. Alan worked in a Victorian greenhouse complex and walled garden that supplied the palace with plant material — from bouquets for a state dinner to houseplants. He lived on the castle grounds with his fellow students.

Growing plants for a palace at The Royal Gardens was different than working at The Savill Garden, a woodland garden in Windsor Great Park, a large park connected to the castle grounds.

“We bumped into the royal family from time to time,” Alan says. “The Queen would be out riding horses, so you’d come across them. She would expect you to have a conversation with her, even if only briefly.”

“You’d see the Queen Mother coming through The Savill Garden when she was out exercising her dogs. She’d always stop and talk about the plants and ask questions about what you were doing.”

Alan enjoyed his experience at Windsor Castle and it solidified that horticulture was the right career for him. He also got the benefit of receiving a Christmas card (and a Christmas pudding) from the Queen.

A journey to the colonies

After he graduated from Pershore College of Horticulture, Alan went to work for Oakover Nurseries in Ashford, Kent. Tom Wood, Oakover’s owner, introduced Alan to The International Plant Propagators’ Society in 1979.

However, Alan’s eyes were wandering across the sea. His maternal grandmother was born in the U.S., and through that family connection, he was related to Lib Flemer, the wife of Bill Flemer III, president of Princeton Nurseries in New Jersey. Bill was a very influential leader in the U.S. nursery industry, who served as president for numerous regional and national associations and was credited with 62 tree and shrub introductions. Alan had met Bill a few times when he visited England. After finishing college, Alan spent six weeks crisscrossing America on a Greyhound bus. He stayed with the Flemers in New Jersey, visited some other relatives near Boston, and traveled across the country to the West Coast, stopping at nurseries along the way.

His visit gave him some in-person knowledge of the U.S. nursery industry and strengthened his resolve to make the move. In 1984, Alan emigrated to the U.S. and went to work for Bill. Princeton Nurseries has a long history. It was established in 1913, shortly before World War I, before growing to become the nation’s largest commercial nursery.

While at Princeton, Alan was initially involved with propagation and container production. But by the end of his time there, he was a vice president of the nursery and involved with all aspects of production at the Kingston, New Jersey, location.

A new beginning

After 10 years at Princeton, Alan left in 1994 to join Manor View Farm in Monkton, Maryland. The 100-acre nursery grows a wide range of finished B&B trees and shrubs, and propagates a wide selection of potted shrub liners for sale to growers.

John Clark had been at Manor View since 1988, and was one of the people who interviewed Alan for the job.

“We were looking for someone to run all of our growing production operations and Alan certainly fit the bill,” John says.

Manor View was just starting its own propagation liner division, so Alan’s experience as a propagator at Princeton Nurseries as well as his knowledge of field growing made him an ideal candidate.

“Princeton was Princeton back then,” John says. “We were very small. We felt really fortunate to get Alan at that time.”

The Patterson family sold Manor View Farm to Alan, John and Dennis Hendrix in 2007. Alan’s leadership was evident then to his partners as well as his employees.

“He has more energy than anyone I’ve ever met,” John says. “I’ve never known him to be tired. I don’t think he sleeps at all. And his energy level, it influences everybody. It inspires us all to do a little more, you know, it just creeps into every fiber of everybody here.”

“He is a mentor to all of the folks in our propagation unit as well as those in the yard and field departments,” Dennis Hendrix says. “During the past recession, Alan’s guidance with cost control certainly helped keep MVF afloat during tough times.”

Rocky roads

Alan faced his most daunting challenge when the 2008 economic recession hit just one year after he purchased the nursery.

It was a stressful time. The three co-owners had borrowed heavily to purchase the business. Now, its sales had dried up as customers cut back on landscaping projects. But not only did the nursery survive when many others did not, Manor View Farm didn’t lay off a single worker.

“Alan was truly an inspirational, motivating force in holding everything together through a deep recession,” John says. “We kid him about being British and the ‘stiff upper lip,’ but it’s what got us through the really bad times.”

Alan says the survival was mainly due to prudent “belt-tightening and having one of the best teams in the green industry. A very supportive and understanding wife and family also helped.” Everyone took a pay reduction. The owners led by example, taking larger reductions than everyone else.

There was a silver lining of sorts. Manor View Farm was able to take the lessons learned from the recession and incorporate them into everyday business practices. In trying to cut costs and become more efficient, Alan and his team looked very hard at what they were doing and why they were doing it. They were able to reduce waste in several areas.

“We had to become very lean,” Alan says. “Winston Churchill once said, ‘You never waste a good recession.’ As we moved forward, we took advantage of what we learned during that period.”

In describing the mindset needed to endure a recession, Alan offers another quote often attributed to the WWII-era prime minister.

“‘If you’re going through hell, just keep going,’” he says. “You’ve got no choice, really. The alternative is not encouraging.”

It took nine years for sales to recover to pre-recession levels and today, Manor View Farm is doing well. The nursery celebrated 40 years in business in 2016.

Alan started a family in the U.S., as well. His wife, Kyle, is American and Alan’s son Colin grew up around the business. His other children — Ian, a civil engineer, and Megan, a supply chain management specialist — also worked at Manor View during summers and weekends, but decided other careers were more to their liking.

“For as long as I can remember my dad has always been involved with activities that I was involved in,” Colin says. “Whether it was helping drive a truck and trailer to all the Boy Scout camping trips or going to the local tennis court to help me practice for a few hours, he was always willing to spend time with me. More recently, it has been helping to learn the workings of the business and industry. We have started going to more industry events together so I can learn and meet more people.”

London-born Alan Jones leads Manor View Farm. The nursery grows a wide range of finished B&B trees and shrubs, and propagates a wide selection of potted shrub liners for sale to growers.

Forging connections

From a young age, Alan has been keen to get involved with industry associations. He learned useful skills and forged connections that helped him when he was just beginning his journey. And like those before him, Alan has taken up leadership roles and helped others along their paths.

“It was instilled in me from Tom Wood and Bill Flemer that if you take from the industry that you should give back to the industry,” Alan says. “To quote Sir Winston Churchill: ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’”

Alan has joined regional, national and international associations, including the Maryland Nursery, Landscape & Greenhouse Association, on which he served on the legislative committee. The MNLGA presented him with its Professional Achievement Award in 2014. At the national level, he served in several capacities for the American Nursery and Landscape Association, which was the precursor to AmericanHort. He served on the ANLA Standards Committee, as ANLA Senate representative for Maryland and a contributor to the ANLA New Ideas Session. He’s currently a board member for the Horticultural Research Institute.

Alan is a very active member of the International Plant Propagators’ Society’s Eastern Region. He has served on the board of directors and served as president in 2002. In 2000 he was elected a Fellow of IPPS — Eastern Region and received the organization’s highest honor, the Award of Merit, from Eastern Region IPPS in 2011.

The IPPS motto is ‘to seek and to share,’ and its members’ willingness to do just that is unique to the horticulture industry.

“I don’t know many industries where your major competitor can be one of your best friends,” Alan says. “There’s not many industries that will share information about what you do and how you do it.”

Even if it is proprietary information, the diversity of the industry means it’s not always easy for someone to copy exactly what you’re doing. They might be in a different part of country with a different climate, different soil, or use different media.

Alan Jones guided Manor View Farm through the recession without any layoffs.

Alan’s time with IPPS provided him with unique opportunities. He suggests any young nursery professional should ask lots of questions and travel as much as possible.

“Meeting nursery people from around the world certainly influences your thought process and your views of the industry, because you have a wider perspective of how the industry works,” he says.

He has served on the IPPS International Board for 12 years and as chairman for the past four years. He’ll retire from the International Board this year. As part of the International Board, he was recently invited to speak at conferences in China and India promoting the formation of new IPPS regions. His son Colin says the 2019 IPPS International Tour may have been the first time he ever took any time off in May — let alone a two-week trip to Australia.

John says the time Alan spends working for the good of the industry, outside of what he does for Manor View Farm, has helped benefit the company.

“He is known nationally and internationally,” John says. “I’ll joke with him. When he travels he gets to go to New Zealand, Australia and India. When I travel, I get to go to Tennessee, North Carolina and Oregon.”

Education of both customers and team members is important to Alan and the annual Manor View Education Seminar, now in its 20th year, has allowed him to bring many unique international and national speakers to Maryland for the first time.

“We had a feeling that if we can educate our customers, the benefit to Manor View is that they buy more plant material, and the right plant material,” Alan says. “By understanding what to buy, how to design and how to handle plant material, their customers will be happier because there won’t be so many failures. Everybody wins through education.”

The American Landscape Institute is another interesting educational initiative that aims to provide leadership and training to the next generation of horticultural professionals. Two years ago, a group of landscape and nursery companies based in the Baltimore, Maryland, area created this concept to help find a local solution to solving the skilled labor shortage.

Alan joined ALI as its vice president because he saw the idea's potential as a “learn to earn” program. The apprentice-like structure allows students to work four days a week, then attend community college classes for one day a week. In May, the Maryland Department of Education gave ALI an award for cooperation between education and industry.

Alan has encouraged some of Manor View’s younger people to serve on the board of local associations.

“It does take time away from the business, but the industry needs to speak with a sound, solid voice, particularly when it comes to political issues,” he says.

Playing politics

Immigration reform is the most significant political issue for nurseries, because without an actual labor force the industry would be in severe trouble.

Alan has worked closely with Craig Regelbrugge, AmericanHort’s senior vice president of public policy and government relations, for nearly 30 years on the issue.

“We’ve long encouraged every horticulture industry business to take the time to make political outreach and education part of their business model,” Craig says. “Alan has done this, and doubled down, literally, both in Maryland where Manor View Farm is located, and across the border where he resides in Pennsylvania.”

One of the first political fundraisers Alan attended was for the late Arlen Specter, U.S. Senator for Pennsylvania. During introductions, the famously quick-witted senator asked, “Do I detect an accent from the Empire?”

“He had no idea if I was English, South African or from Australia or New Zealand and he didn’t want to embarrass himself,” Alan says.

After Alan explained that he was from England and that he had just become a citizen a few months before, Specter added, “You mean you are at this meeting and you didn’t vote for me at the last election?” Alan replied he did not, then held up his check and said “But I have one of these.” The senator replied, “Well, you’re welcome at this table anytime.”

Craig considers Alan a friend as well as a powerful advocate in the realm of federal and state politics and policies.

“His ‘accent of the Empire’ can be a conversational door-opener, and being an immigrant himself lends personal perspective and a story regarding the important contribution immigrants and temporary workers make in our society,” Craig says. “He is credible, diligent and persistent, taking the long view about winning the support of a politician, rather than writing someone off after one difficult meeting. Truly, one who walks the walk!”

Alan encourages nurserymen to participate in congressional visits or organized fly-ins because it helps them understand why resolving an issue like immigration takes so long.

“We’ve had some congressmen visit our nursery so we can explain to them the importance of our Mexican and Hispanic workers, help them understand what it’s like for them to go through the visa process, and some of the issues they face while they wait for their visas,” he says. “It certainly helps getting to know those people, because then you gain easier access to them.”

In the last two years, many of Manor View’s landscape customers did not receive the workforce they were expecting. Many of them come to Alan for answers about H-2B, because even though he’s only been a U.S. citizen since 2005, the dual citizen knows American politics better than most.

“Not a lot of people take the time to do the industry work,” John says. “He’s a good person and a great leader and a tireless worker for the industry. We certainly would not be where we are without Alan.”

Although challenged by labor, weather and the economy, Alan sees a bright future for Manor View Farm. He also feels fortunate to work in an industry he enjoys.

“If you’re passionate about what you do every day, life is much more enjoyable,” he says.