What does Lane DeVries, president and CEO of The Sun Valley Group, have in common with Elizabeth Taylor, Freddie Mercury, Michelle Obama and Julia Child?
All have flowers named after them.
At this year’s International Floriculture Expo (IFE) in Miami Beach, a new light pink tulip (from breeder and distributor Vertuco BV) was baptized ‘Dutch Lane’. It was the first time in the 10-year history of IFE’s Flower Naming Ceremony that a flower grower was recognized with the honor.
The flower choice was particularly appropriate, given that DeVries was born in Holland and that The Sun Valley Group is famous for high-quality, soil-grown tulips, among other floral products. It also represented an especially rare honor, since the number of new tulip varieties introduced each year is usually quite small — in the neighborhood of two to four.
Borrowing from European tradition, IFE’s Naming Ceremony event recognizes “floral industry pioneers who have made a significant impact over the course of their career.”
That description certainly applies to DeVries, a fourth-generation tulip farmer who immigrated to the U.S. in 1983. His work at Sun Valley began the following year. Rising quickly from grower to operation manager to general manager, in 1991 he bought the company, together with two partners from Holland.
In the ensuing years DeVries rose to prominence, not only as an expert and well-respected flower grower and marketer, but also as an industry leader and innovator. In 2014, he received Floral Management’s Marketer of the Year award in recognition of his efforts to promote Women’s Day as a flower-buying occasion for the entire industry.
In the speech he gave at the Society of American Florists’ annual convention upon accepting that award, DeVries demonstrated his well-known skill with data-driven reasoning: he observed that U.S. flower consumption, according to figures available from the USDA, had increased 64 percent over the prior quarter century in absolute terms, but had actually shrunk by 43 percent as a percentage of GDP.
Cause for concern? No, for optimism: “The American flower industry is ripe for transformation,” said DeVries — who also donated his $5,000 award check, sponsored by Design Master color tool, Inc., to the SAF Fund for Nationwide Public Relations.
A pioneer in sustainability, DeVries led Sun Valley to become the first U.S. farm certified by Veriflora, the first certified by the Rainforest Alliance, and the first farm certified by BloomCheck, the sustainability accreditation sponsored by Certified American Grown.
Likewise, DeVries took the lead with the American Grown movement when Sun Valley became the first flower farm to become Certified American Grown. He is a member of the Certified American Grown Council, as well as a past chair and a Commissioner of the California Cut Flower Commission (CCFC).
During the flower-naming ceremony, DeVries was recognized for being a “humble and gracious person with a continuous positive attitude”— a description that was attested by his response. In his own words:
“As a fourth-generation tulip farmer, this honor is still sort of unreal. It is very humbling to be acknowledged in this way, as I had no idea this was happening. I’m grateful to work with flowers everyday and be a part of the floral industry; we are truly blessed to have this opportunity. I would like to say thank you to the Sun Valley team and our customers, for without these great relationships, none of this would be possible.”
Bruce Wright is a contributing writer for the Society of American Florists.