By Morris Bryan, Inventor of the Tower Garden
In 1974, I graduated from The Georgia Institute of Technology like the majority of the men in my family – my grandfather, father, two uncles, and three brothers – with a diploma I thought would change my life, but it wasn’t until that summer when I visited my mother in Athens, GA that I would stumble upon the beginnings of my true passion.
As we reminisced and she congratulated me on my hard-earned degree, I looked through her window into the backyard and saw flowers and vegetables growing out of concrete blocks and pipes and stacked terra cotta pots. Even though I had spent the past four years studying engineering, the landscape appeared entirely alien and almost mystical. My mother credited the growing systems behind her flourishing garden to her friend named Michael Dillon of Flowers, Inc.
Not long after, I met Michael at his nursery and our friendship sparked instantly. In addition to his innovative mind, I admired his foresight and the convictions that fueled his “towers.” Long before climate change and sustainability became a major global concern, Michael believed that the world was running out of usable land for crops and that future human survival depended on growing food differently or as he saw it, vertically. Together we made hydroponic towers from pots, concrete, used tires, garbage bins, and anything we found that we could stack and plant.
It’s important to note that while Michael introduced me to the concept of hydroponic growing, the practice itself was not new. However, what made Michael’s approach unique was the way he utilized existing structures as vessels and modified contemporary fertilizers by crushing them into extremely fine particles and put them into solution. He documented his nuanced approach to hydroponics within “The Dollars and Sense of Tower Gardening,” a text that became my lifeline to a new way of thinking about gardening. Michael passed away in 1987 but I would continue to carry the impact of our intellectual companionship and his vision for the rest of my life.
Although by that time tinkering with towers began to take on a smaller role in my life as I devoted myself to the family business of textiles, I never stopped growing and so too did the hydroponic industry. Companies like American Hydroponics, General hydroponics, and others evolved and released new and exciting growing systems and nutrient solutions that were ready-made for the consumer. The network of hydroponic engineers expanded internationally with the Dutch and Israeli markets leading the way. Hydroponic nutrient quality improved dramatically, and indoor gardening became popular thanks to the equally overwhelming rise in marijuana use.
Amidst these swift and vast changes, my life continued to evolve as well. In 1991 my daughter Samantha was born and not long after we moved to Anderson, South Carolina after selling our family textile business. There, I began working on a new type of vertical gardening system and this product would become the Tower Garden as recognized today. Samantha was the creative catalyst I needed. She would wander into the garage to inspect my latest prototype, shake her head with the finicky disapproval of a preteen. I took these rejections, although playful, to heart and stayed focused on improving the Tower until I finally got a nod of her head. With the support of my family, it was then I knew the tower was ready for the market.
I applied for a patent on the Tower Garden on August 11, 2004. I also applied for the trademark “Tower Garden” at the same time. I was successful in selling the Tower Garden to the local market, mostly in Greenville, Spartanburg and Anderson, SC. After selling a few hundred units, I enlisted Bloomington Wholesale Garden Supply or BWGS as the exclusive distributor of the Tower. They gave my invention great exposure and enabled me to participate in the indoor gardening expos held in San Francisco, Tampa, and other cities. It was there that I made many friends in the hydroponic industry and established valuable relationships that I still maintain today.
Shortly after I filed for my patent, J.B. Jones, my friend, fellow hydroponic enthusiast, and technology director at the Fayfard horticultural media company, took some information on the Tower to a seminar he planned to attend at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. When he returned, he informed me that a person from Disney was there and requested additional info on the Tower. That person was Tim Blank. It is important to note that I had filed my patent prior to Tim Blank having knowledge of the existence of the Tower Garden.
In late 2004, I sent a Tower to Tim at Disney World where it was displayed in the entrance to Epcot. This gave me a huge boost of confidence and faith in my idea that propelled me into the next few months as I continued to sell towers with BWGS and through my own personal efforts. I spent several weeks traveling throughout the South selling Tower Gardens to hydroponic retail stores and making numerous invaluable and lasting friendships that reminded me of my time with Mr. Dillon.
After almost 2 years from the 2004 filing date, the Tower Garden patent was issued to me on June 6th, 2006 (patent # 7,055,282).
I did not hear from Tim for 2 years. Then, in early 2006, I received a phone call from Tim Blank, and he stated he had left Disney and had started a new company called Future Growing where he would be interested in being a distributor of the Tower. I agreed and Future Growing replaced BWGS as the exclusive selling agent for the Tower Garden. As is the case with most distributor/manufacturer relationships, Future Growing requested that changes be made to the Tower Garden, based on consumer feedback. Several modifications were made, and some were denied due to expense or feasibility. Future Growing continued to be the exclusive selling agent for the Tower Garden and was successful in generating sales and increasing the visibility of the Tower.
In 2010, I realized that for the Tower Garden to be a commercial success, I needed either a huge influx of capital or to sell the patent to an entity that could provide higher volume distribution channels than Future Growing was providing. By chance, Future Growing was introduced to the Juice Plus Company located in Collierville, TN and the sale of the patent occurred in 2011. I became the manufacturer of the Tower for Juice Plus at my facility in Anderson, SC and produced 30,000 units until they requested assistance to transfer the manufacturing to their own facility in Memphis, TN.
Now, with tens of thousands of distributors and an established place in the wellness industry, Juice Plus has been able to provide the critical mass necessary to carry the Tower Garden forward into the future driven by the same values that inspired its humble origins.
The long yet rewarding journey of the Tower Garden and the continued encouragement of my family and friends have stayed my inventive spirit and I have now received three additional patents on new hydroponic growing systems: The Solar Salad®, the Solar Salad®Pro series, and a modified Tower Garden for Juice Plus issued in February, 2019. In addition, I have continued to refine and develop the Tower with the additions of the Micropot, the grow clip, and the plastic dolly which I created and designed with Juice Plus.