Grower Profile: Angelica Cretu
How long have you worked at Costa Farms?
Annuals and perennials are two different animals. How does that affect your job?
In Miami where we grow annuals, you plant 20 plants, you grow 20 plants, and at the end you get 20 plants to send to the market. It’s a different mindset with perennials. We have them longer on the farm and we need to make sure that they can survive summers and winters. Summer survival is as important as winter survival for southern regions with high relative humidity and high temperatures. In some cases, we use both locations (Miami and Trenton) to produce perennials, such as hostas. We have room in Miami during winter, so we transplant and grow them here, and later send them to Trenton to finish them, or we send them direct to the stores.
When (and where) did you become interested in plants?
Gardening was always around me and I was involved in helping from very early age. I grew up in a small town in Romania where my parents kept vegetable and flower gardens. My father harvested his own vegetable seeds, produced the seedlings, and then transplanted them in the garden. I helped him along the way. When I was about 10 years old, I became responsible for our flower garden. I wasn’t big, but I was very proud of it. I did everything—from propagation to watering to pulling the weeds.
What’s your favorite part about your job?
I begin my day seeing the plants in the garden. In the morning, the colors are stronger and they are facing the sun. It’s a great way to start the day and consider myself very fortunate to have this job. I get to follow plants through every stage: seeds or URC (unrooted cuttings), propagation stage, container stage, and test gardens where we evaluate garden performance. During each of these stages we collect information. In the garden, we collect data and take pictures every other week; this information goes on the R&D website (it's open to anyone -- http://rd.costafarms.com -- so take a look.) My favorite stage is the Trial Garden, which allows us to get to know the plants better: Some of them do best in early spring, others in mid or late spring. Not all plants are the same. With all this information we can make good decisions on what to add to production to make sure consumers are happy.
How do you decide how to use the plants in the display gardens?
We have two gardens: Season Premier (from December to end of May) and Ultimate Plant Showdown (from June to September). For the Season Premier garden we ask the plant breeders (sponsors of the garden) to send us everything new for this year or for the upcoming years. Generally speaking 40 to 45 percent of what we have in the garden at the Season Premier is new and not yet for sale on the market. So the decisions on what will be shown in the garden are made by the plant breeders. When we get the new items, we evaluate the following: propagation, finished production and garden performance.
Can anyone see these plants?
Yes! The Costa Farms Trial Garden is open to the public and we host events such as Season Premier in January and Open House in August. We have large groups of customers, plant breeders, and students coming to see these new plants in South Florida.
What are your favorite plants?
I’m attracted by very bold colors. For annuals, I like petunias, calibrachoa, dianthus, vincas; it is difficult for me to choose just one. I’m also attracted to tropicals, such as orchids, which we grow attached to trees here in Miami, hibiscus, and mandevilla. I like colorful foliage too: I love the leaves of croton, heuchera, heucherella, hosta, and coleus, just to name few of them.
If you could be a plant, what would you be?
I think I would like to be a rose. They are perennial, colorful and enjoyable as cut flowers, container plants or in landscape. They very versatile and on top of everything they are fragrant. You invest in roses, and you will have them for a long time and they become your friends.
What is your horticultural background?
I have a degree of agriculture from Romania. I came to the United States as an intern at Hermann Englemann Greenhouses, and then became an assistant grower of indoor foliage. In 2009 I got my MS at the University of Florida, working with Dr. Paul Fisher. My first job at Costa Farms was as Research & Development (R&D) manager. I was in charge of the trial garden and data collection. As the department grew, I changed position to work with confidential trials and few years later I became R&D director for annuals and perennials.
How has your job changed how to you look at the world?
I travel to different locations and countries to see plants: California, Chicago, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, England, Holland and Denmark. In Florida, we look at a product in a certain way. For example, we use tropical hibiscus in the landscape and large patio containers we enjoy it over the summer, but it is a perennial plant in Miami. In Denmark, hibiscus is a potted plant and Danish people decorate with hibiscus at Christmas. They enjoy it for 2 or 3 months and throw it away. We also work with breeders from Asia; and it made me aware that even colors are cultural -- for example, the Japanese love pastels. In Miami, bright and bold are popular, and it is related to the culture and the environment. Seeing plants in other cultures changes your mind about them. It helps you think out of the box.