Pierre Bennerup

Owner, Sunny Border Nurseries in Kensington, CT

Biographical Sketch
Pierre Bennerup is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Sunny Border Nurseries, Inc. of Kensington, CT, the largest producer of finished, perennial plant containers in the northeast. He is also a partner in Sunny Border, Ohio, Inc. of Jefferson Ohio. Sunny Border grows more than 3000 varieties of plants and sells more than four million pots from its two locations. Mr. Bennerup also owns Comstock, Ferre & Co. in Wethersfield CT. Founded in 1820, Comstock is the oldest continuously
operating horticultural company in the U.S.

Bennerup is a past president of the Connecticut Horticultural Society and founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the Hardy Plant Society and was its first president. He is one of the co-founders of the Perennial Plant Association and its first elected president. In 2000 he received the Grower of the Year Award from the American Horticultural Society. In 2001 he won the “The Gustave Melquist Award”, Connecticut Horticultural Society’s top honor.

Presentation Summary
Our family has produced perennial plants since 1929. Today, Sunny Border is one of the larger nurseries in the country, covering the Northeast and parts of the Midwest and South. We export plants to Japan, South Korea and other countries. A significant proportion of our plant propagation is through tissue culture, much of which we have done offshore. Tissue culture is fast and new plant materials grown this way can be easily shipped in test tubes throughout the world. With tissue culture, it takes us half a year to grow the same amount of plant stock that it would take 20 years to grow using traditional propagation methods. All together, we sell 5,000 different kinds of plants.

We are in our fourth year of establishing what have become known as green roofs — low-maintenance plantings installed on flat roofs in order to provide environmental benefits. Our entry into this segment began when we were called on to provide sedumsto Weston Solution, Inc. a Fortune 400 company that does environmental remediation throughout the country. We soon discovered that we could deliver green roofs to the job sites ready to install. Last year, we did $1 million in green roof business.

Since weight is an issue, we use as a growing medium expanded clay or shale which is heated until it “pops” like popcorn, becomes porous and holds a great deal of moisture per pound of weight. We grow the plants offsite in modules and deliver them to the job site but do not install them on the roofs since that aspect of the job falls heavily under the purview of OSHA and the unions.

Plants that lend themselves to green roofs are primarily succulents — sedums, several species of prickly pears, hens and chicks and some ornamental grasses. One of our early jobs was this roof at Boston City Hall (slide) which was about half an acre. As you can see, we can use sedums to get a variety of colors…greens, reds and various hues of gold. This green roof weighs about 12 lb. per square foot, so it is not very heavy.
This past year we did a 2 ½ acre green roof at the shopping center in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. After finishing the job, we learned that no one except people in airplanes would get to see it.

While aesthetic value is one reason for doing green roofs, it is not the primary one. The environmental benefits they provide are significant. Green roofs take a lot of carbon dioxide out of the air and put oxygen back in. They absorb pollutants and lower the ambient temperature of the air in summer. They retain water from thunderstorms and thus reduce the impact of run-off into storm drainage systems. Since they don’t absorb the sunlight like a tar or membrane roof would, they save on air conditioning costs and reduce the air turbulence that rises from tar roofs near airports during warm weather. The Army reports that a green roof we did at Tobyhanna Depot saved them 40 percent on air conditioning costs the first year. At that rate, it only takes about three years to pay for the installation.

Many green roofs have walkways and picnic space so people can go up on the roofs and enjoy them. Two or three acres of green roof provide a lot of walking area. In general we don’t use tall plants because of the weight. This year we did about 35 jobs and as you can see from the slides, we provide quite a variety of patterns and color variation. Once green roofs are established, they are maintenance free. Because tenacious plants are used, they do not require watering, mowing or fertilizing. Much of the pioneering work on green roofs — also known as “live” roofs — was done in Germany. There are green roofs in that country that are over 50 years old.

In an effort to provide wide-ranging views and perspectives regarding the practice of and issues surrounding agriculture, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (PSPA) seeks speakers representing a variety of perspectives. The statements and opinions they present are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the views of PSPA.