There are very few people in the green industry who have never heard of Lake County Nursery in Ohio and even fewer who have never heard of the legendary Jim Zampini, who owned and operated that nursery for 50 years. Since his passing, his daughter, Maria Zampini is well on her way to becoming as legendary as her father.
She will be the first to tell you that she was inspired by her father and that not everyone is as lucky as her to have had a parent as a best friend, role model and mentor which is extremely important in the nursery business. His encouragement helped her to push “the glass greenhouse” for women in the industry. As proof of that “push” Maria was the second woman on the board and first president of the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association (now known as the Ohio Green Industry Association) in its 100-year history. She currently serves as the president of GardenComm International and in 2022 she was asked to join the Board of Trustees for the Horticultural Research Institute.
Like so many of our ancestors who emigrated to this country, both the Italian and Hungarian sides of her family worked in horticulture. Her grandfather Felix Zampini started what would eventually become the family business. Maria’s father strongly encouraged her not to go into the business because it was not an easy path to follow in life. Well, that didn’t work. Maria decided to attend Pennsylvania State University and received a B.S. in horticulture then took additional marketing courses from Lakeland Community College. She also furthered her professional development through the Dale Carnegie Course and becoming a class assistant for a number of years.
She spent a number of years working at Lake County Nursery, when her dad, Jim, decided he wanted to spend his remaining years doing what he loved to do most which was breeding and selecting new plants. [On a personal note, he once spent almost an hour on the phone with me telling me about Malus cultivars and which ones were good for espalier. There is a spectacular espalier surrounding his former office.] So he and Maria left the family business and started UpShoot LLC, a boutique horticultural marketing firm that specializes in the sales, licensing and marketing of new plant introductions. It also provides a marketing service for gardening related products for both the trade and consumer audiences. They are also now a partner with Spring Meadow Nursery in bringing the Proven Winners ColorChoice flowering tree programs to the market. She loves the diversity of her job because each day is different from the next. It can go from working with a breeder, to writing a newsletter for a client, attending a trade show, learning about new plants, new technology or new production methods. And that doesn’t even cover half of it for her daily interactions with different clients and organizations.
So what does she envision for the future of the industry? “The only thing I would add or emphasize is that right now is ‘our time,’ so to speak,” Maria says. “Now is the time for us to get a premium for our product (people are learning it is a necessity and not a luxury) and if we as an industry don’t take advantage of this opportunity, we’ll have missed it. I am optimistic for our future in the fact that the younger generation is learning about gardening and sustainability, the effects of global warming and it is becoming a part of their culture and fabric of life (i.e. plants are a necessity not a luxury).”
She is glad that she is seeing women making gains in the green industry because they were once few and far between and usually in a retail situation. But now, she sees them in managerial and owner positions.
And of course the apple never falls far from the tree. Her son, Robert currently works for Fleurizon. Her son Jacob works in another industry but his young son is already taking an interest in plants.
Sid Raisch, longtime business strategy advisor through his own Horticultural Advantage firm and chief strategist of the Garden Center Group shares his thoughts on Maria:
“Maria Zampini is one of the most well-connected people I know in the industry, bringing together breeder, grower, retailer and garden influencer communities,” Sid says. “Her efforts with new plant development and marketing have been instrumental and continue, going well beyond the legacy of her late father, Jim Zampini.”
Ryan McEnaney, marketing and communications manager at Bailey Nurseries, also has known Maria for many years.
“Since the beginning of my career, Maria has played an instrumental role as a mentor, colleague, and friend. Her innate ability to create those types of relationships immediately speaks to how she’s so successfully made her massive stamp on the industry. As a multi-generational family member in the industry, Maria has forged her own path to make a well-earned name for herself with a sense of curiosity, purpose and intentionality. Her positive outlook, generosity of spirit and deep sense of purpose makes her a remarkable human being in addition to a remarkable professional. Her leadership and progressive approach are inspiring and sets her apart as a true icon of the horticulture industry today.”www.upshoothort.com
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