Alumni Profile • Frank DeVos '50
How his garden grows!

Frank DeVos“Every year I get bolder,” said Frank DeVos ’50 — bolder, that is, with ageratum and zinnias and nearly every flower in between.

Last summer it was the new coral-melon zinnias he packed tightly among lavender petunias in beds at Shawnee Park Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in southeast Grand Rapids, Mich. “That was a victory. They turned out so much better than I imagined!”

This from a man who has imagined landscapes and handled flowers for half a century. For 48 years DeVos owned Eastern Floral, a flower shop he bought the summer after he graduated from Calvin. A biology major who hadn’t found a teaching job, he had never arranged a bouquet. Within a month he was designing wedding arrangements and funeral sprays. “It was gutsy!” he laughed.

As a boy he gardened at home and didn’t need to be prodded, even to pull weeds. Unusual, he admits. There wasn’t much time for gardening, though, during the decades he built Eastern Floral from a small storefront with a single full-time employee to a multimillion-dollar enterprise of 200 employees in three stores — one of the largest retail florists in the country by the time he sold the business in 1998.

That was the same year his church built a large addition, for which it had no landscaping budget. “There were just these great big old Fitzer junipers catching trash,” DeVos remembered. “They looked like the dickens! I said, ‘Something’s got to be done.’”

Since that day DeVos has devoted himself to making beautiful the grounds of Shawnee Park CRC, and paying for it, too: thousands of dollars over the years, though he dismisses that part with a shrug. Each year he tries new colors and arrangements. “I go through the designs in my mind all through the winter,” he said.

Come spring DeVos watches the weather like a hawk. Sometime after the third week in May he calls out his troops — volunteers who plant, fertilize and water 70-plus flats of annuals under DeVos’ direction. Volunteers weed and water the annual and perennial beds all through the blooming season, too. “I’m so grateful for the volunteers,” DeVos said. “Some even say, ‘Thanks for asking me.’”

DeVos says this is a much easier form of flower business to be in. “I still worry over how things will turn out. But the only critique from the ‘customer’ now is, ‘Wow, Frank, it’s so beautiful! How did you do it?’”

Last summer DeVos’ garden was especially beautiful, thanks to the addition of a redbud tree, a small waterfall and massive stone benches. And of course those coral zinnias. So beautiful was it that the Metropolitan Garden Council of Grand Rapids presented DeVos with its Certificate of Excellence award, only the second time in 20 years that a church garden has been so honored.

DeVos isn’t resting on his laurels, though. He had this summer’s garden designed by early February. “I’m more enthusiastic than ever about flowers,” he said. “It’s the thrill of seeing this cold ground come to life.”