When Neil Diboll, UW-Green Bay class of ’78, started his business selling native prairie plants and seeds in 1982, he found he couldn’t give them away.
His product, he knew, was excellent. What was missing, though, was the recognition by the general public that prairie plants could be both functional and beautiful. Thus began a career that, 25 years later, continues to highlight the importance of both good business practices and the education of a market.
“Although we sell plants and seeds, our most important product is education,” says Diboll, an internationally recognized expert in ecological and natural landscape design, and owner of Prairie Nursery, Inc. out of Westfield, Wis. “We saw an immediate increase in our sales when we added high quality color photos and detailed planting instructions to our catalog. This provided our customers with a road map for successful prairie establishment. Coupled with speaking engagements around the country, this helped to bring these plants out of the shadows and into the gardening world.”
Popularizing native plants and natural landscaping styles is a major source of gratification for Diboll, as is growing an organization and helping his associates to grow both professionally and personally in their jobs.
“But the most gratifying part of my work is hearing from our customers who love their prairies and prairie gardens,” he says. “This provides me with the inspiration to go to work every day, to help people to restore their little corner of the Earth.”
More business and organizations are raising the bar on expectations for success. They are operating on principles of the “Triple Bottom Line,” where success is determined by economic, environmental and social success of a company or organization. The timing couldn’t be better for Diboll.
“We work with a number of forward-thinking corporations that want to save money and the environment by planting sustainable, low maintenance native landscapes,” he says. “Since prairies require no regular mowing, irrigation, fertilizers, insecticides, or fungicides, and few if any herbicides, their annual costs and “life cycle costs” are a fraction of a traditional lawn. The annual savings are significant, and add up over the years. Not to mention that the prairie is a functioning ecosystem that supports a diversity of plant and animal life, while lawns are basically two-dimensional green deserts.”
Diboll, an Environmental Sciences major, worked for the United States Forest and Park Service in Colorado and Virginia, and was the manager of UW-Green Bay’s Cofrin Arboretum for two years before starting his prairie business.
Well-published in his area of specialty, Diboll has been an invited speaker across the country and around the world. He is a consultant to entitites such as the Zoological Park of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Among his clients are the Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits golf courses in Kohler, Alliant Energy headquarters in Madison and the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.