MARYVILLE, Mo. — They grew up decades and an ocean apart, one just outside St. Joseph in the 1930s and one in Bavaria, Germany, in the 1970s. It might seem like an unlikely pair, but Don Hollingsworth and Juergen Steininger share a passion for innovation in cultivating plant varieties.
Throughout the 1990s until 2013, Hollingsworth operated the business on the southeast end of Maryville where he sold potted and wholesale peonies and ran an online and printed catalog.
Hollingsworth began breeding cattle in the late 1940s after studying agriculture at the University of Missouri. Early in his breeding career, Hollingsworth said he didn’t see a great enough opportunity for him to improve livestock the way he would have liked. Coming up with new plant varieties, Hollingsworth said, was more appealing.
Limited to his backyard, Hollingsworth began experimenting with ornamental perennials, but several species of flowers, such as daylilies and irises required too much money to buy into state of the art equipment for the breeding business.
“An opportunity to do peonies came down the road that didn’t cost a lot of money because the person with the stock was dispersing it and wanted the work that had gone into it continued,” Hollingsworth said. “That’s what determined what I spent my time on.”
By 1967, Hollingsworth delivered his first set of crosses. Hollingsworth grew peonies outside Kansas City on borrowed land from retired gardeners and older gardening enthusiasts in the late 1960s into the 1980s, and he moved the plants to his current residence in 1985.
As Hollingsworth was literally growing his retail business, Steininger was 14 in Bavaria working an apprenticeship to become a certified greenhouse operator. When he received a stipend from the state of Ohio, Steininger moved to the United States for a foreign exchange program at Ohio State University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
In Bavaria, he’d been involved with horticulture since he was a child. His family had lived in Bohemia, now the Czech Republic, until the Iron Curtain pushed them into the mountains in Bavaria. Despite the circumstances, Steininger said it was a beautiful setting. His parents, and his brother and sister are nurses.
Photo credit: Jennifer Ditlevson Haglund