Succulents are fighters—and that makes them good business. At least, that’s what Jared Hughes hoped. While working at a nursery in 2008, he discovered a few succulent leaves that had fallen and taken root in the gravel. Like sea stars that grow entire new bodies from broken arms, these plants had an evolutionary will to survive. A college student at the time, Jared saw dollar signs in that tenacity. He figured it would be easy and affordable to grow enough plants to sell at farmers markets.
Jared named his budding enterprise Groovy Plants Ranch, a nod to succulents’ 1970s ubiquity. He lined market tables with red, yellow and green plants and decorated with kitschy touches like a succulent-filled guitar. “Customers were drawn in by the crazy, almost alien shapes,” Jared recalls. He had no idea another tide—one fueled by Instagram—was about to roll in.
At Groovy Plants Ranch in Marengo, Ohio, Jared and Liz Hughes trim the greenhouse roof in sedums, whose name derives from “sit” in Latin. Sedums grow low and look nice spilling over a container or wall.
The succulent family encompasses jade plants, aloes, yuccas, snake plants, hens-and-chicks and a hundred more funky little plants you’ve never heard of. They’ve always been a favorite for the plant-challenged because they require little water. But they’re also lookers, with sculptural forms and irresistible personalities. That combo of ease and visual appeal makes them popular with millennials. So succulents went viral. By 2016, Groovy Plants Ranch had not only set roots, but sprouted new limbs—a greenhouse, an online retail business, and a retail store in a 150-year-old schoolhouse just north of Columbus, Ohio.
When customers pull into the parking lot, a monstrous rock garden greets them, a showcase for giant agaves, flowering yuccas and mounds of colorful stonecrops. Nearby, rosette and flapjack succulents fill containers by the school’s brick wall. Green and purple sedums spill out of repurposed gutters stretched along the cashier stand. In the greenhouse, customers gush over mini jelly bean sedums and 6-foot cacti.
Spread across 2 acres, Groovy Plants specializes in succulents and houseplants but also sells vegetables, mums and other seasonal favorites.
Black-eyed Susan vine and Christmas lights climb up a cereus cactus. Cereus work as houseplants, but eventually require trimming for height.
All told, Jared and his wife, Liz, stock about 350 varieties and 20,000 plants, an extraordinary collection that lures visitors from neighboring states. “The original idea behind Groovy Plants was to sell unique plants,” Jared says. “And that’s still what we do. We breed or find succulents that no one else has.” He notes that the biggest surprise for most people is that many succulents are hardy, meaning they can be a part of your outdoor landscaping. Growing a new plant from a fallen leaf is one thing, but surviving a Midwest winter? That’s the very definition of a fighter.
To learn the Hughes' tips on growing succulents, visit our Succulent Care Guide.