Newspaper article -  Miami Herald  May 4, 2003

Text of story below--a few customers nominated me for the story--as someone they liked to do  business with. Mucho "Thanks".

Posted on Sun, May. 04, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
A passion for hibiscus

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 hibiscus.''

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 in Bahrain.

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 hibiscus.''

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 him.''

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 of hibiscus.

''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.''