Winn Soldani's office is his backyard, a sea of blooming hibiscus
plants, some bursting in colorful reds and oranges and yellows with
names like Elephant Ears, Hula Girl and Halley's Comet.
To at least one of his customers, Soldani is the ``Hercules of
For two decades, Soldani has attracted visitors as far away as
Africa and South America to the backyard
nursery of his Pompano Beach home. His computer skills have allowed
him to take business abroad, too, including selling plants to a man
who logged on to www.fancyhibiscus.com
Just as famous as Soldani's plant varieties is the kind demeanor,
honesty and knowledge of the former wine/whiskey salesman. ''They
come to see the flowers, and I just try to make it easy for them,''
said Soldani, 59, who moved from New Orleans to Pompano Beach in
1970. ``I am unabashedly proud that I am a salesman and I'm selling
Curiosity turned into a hobby then into a business. Soldani
attended a Pompano Beach gardening show in the late 1970s and was
turned on to Hybrid Hibiscus. He had already set up a sprinkler system and
was enjoying landscaping.
''Everything we put into the ground started to grow,'' he
said. "and nothing breeds confidence like success.
But after collecting many different plants, I knew it was time to
specialize and when I found out about HIBISCUS, my life changed."
By 1986, when his son, Winn III, had graduated as valedictorian
at Pompano Beach High and his daughter, Melissa, a valedictorian at
Northeast High in Ft. Lauderdale, went away to college, Soldani
jumped into the hibiscus business full time.
He bounces from the backyard to the telephone to the computer,
where he maintains his website. Online, he not only sells over 250
different varieties, but also color catalogues, books and videos.
Soldani sells mostly to collectors, but sometimes to other nurseries
and most of his business is out of state. "You are never a HERO
in your own home town," said Soldani. "An expert is
always someone from the next town".
Business comes via word of mouth, Internet marketing and national
advertising in gardening magazines. Soldani says he has had visitors
to his nursery from 28 different countries plus all 50 states.
Soldani gets his hands dirty at work: He'll do the grafting, the
growing, the packing and the shipping. State Department of
Agriculture officials regularly stop by to issue the required
certificates to ship abroad.
Two weeks ago, he sold six hibiscus plants to Joe and Sandi
Blumenstein of Pembroke Pines.
''The thing that impressed me about him is he spent a lot of time
in there, talking about how to care for them, how they evolved,''
Joe Blumenstein said. ``It was a great experience dealing with
Soldani said more than 3,000 customers are on his mailing list.
Every two weeks, he sends a newsletter and a new picture of a type
''He's just an easy guy to like,'' said Bob Radowiecki of
Hillsboro Beach. ``Anything he ever sold me, he guarantees. I have
spent many hours there photographing his beautiful blooms."
M.E. DePalma, who co-authored A Garden Diary: A Guide to
Gardening in South Florida, gave Soldani the ''Hercules of
hibiscus'' nickname. The spectacular hibiscus pictured on the
cover of her book was developed and photographed by Soldani..
She said Soldani would present lectures at garden clubs and
would ``bring these amazing hibiscus flowers that always made women swoon.''
''The guy knows so much, and he's so irreverent,'' said DePalma,
a Wilton Manors resident. ``He's got a fabulous reputation.''