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Looking for stocks that bloom. Start in your own backyard.

The idea was to “celebrate” our forced Spring in the country by planting one cherry blossom tree. It would flower every Spring, reminding us of 2020.

The idea morphed into four trees, none of which are cherry blossom — because “it’s too cold up here.” And we now have a planting beg thingee. where we can grow tomatoes, basil, cilantro, thyme, parsley and a zillion flowers whose names I can’t remember. I think these are peonies. Nice? Susan picked them this morning.

The key is to start with daffodils because the marauding, hungry deer don’t like them. I’m learning.

We, of course, don’t go anywhere anymore. So we notice the turkeys, the deer (and their cute babies), the squirrels, the chipmunks,  and the birds persistently making nests where we don’t want them. Their regular presents soil the pristine nature of our solitude.

As if the “country” didn’t have enough soil — my God, it’s everywhere — we’ve taken to buying more of it. It seems a frivolous purchase — akin to buying another laptop I don’t need or another tennis racket I really don’t need.

The latest dirt arrived yesterday:

Which got me thinking. You know where this is going. Thank you Peter Lynch.

Sadly, like most of my brilliant “thoughts”, someone else has already been there. Long before me.

I’ll come back to SMG in a moment.

Here’s why you don’t want this Virus

Courtesy the Economist’s detailed article on

The paths of destruction
How SARS-CoV-2 causes disease and death in covid-19
There are direct routes and indirect ones

Read the full, depressing Economist article here. 

P.S. There won’t be a second wave. There’ll just be a continuation of this horrible one, which seems to be getting worse in a bunch of states like Florida, Arizona and Texas.

The good news is that we have discovered a drug which gets covid patients out of  the ICU faster. The drug is called dexamethasone. If true, this is huge.  A big part of the optimism for stocks and the economy.

Back to Miracle-Gro

On February 1, 2005, the New York Times published this obituary. It’s not anybody’s obit. It’s full of wisdom and warmth. Please read it. If you ever had doubts about making  your own fortune or making the world a better place, Hagedorn’s life will dispel them. Enjoy:

Horace Hagedorn, who applied Madison Avenue wizardry to the new plant food his wife named Miracle-Gro and sold it to just about every one of the postwar suburbanites who yearned for a green thumb, died yesterday at his home in Sands Point, N.Y. He was 89.

The cause was pulmonary fibrosis, his son James said.

Miracle-Gro, which produced the world’s biggest cabbage, cantaloupe and dahlia, soon became as familiar a sight in the American backyard as the station wagon in the carport. The gardening business is now estimated to exceed $35 billion in annual sales, and Miracle-Gro’s share of the home fertilizer market is estimated to be about 85 percent.

Mr. Hagedorn orchestrated the growth of his product like the marketing genius he was. He hired a Norman Rockwell colleague to paint homey advertisements, and the actor James Whitmore, whose gnarled face suggested a trustworthy farmer, for television commercials. The $100,000 prize he offered for a tomato of world record size was conditional on the use of a certain plant food.

The green-and-yellow package he commissioned became so famous that other companies, including AT&T and Hyundai, used it in ads for their products. Mr. Hagedorn charged them nothing as long as they spelled Miracle-Gro correctly.

“He was a huckster,” his son James said with cheerful affection, “one of these, like, carnival salesmen.”

James said that his father was also a sophisticated, hard-driving businessman. When the Scotts Company, the huge garden products concern, merged with Miracle-Gro in 1995, most news reports said Scotts was absorbing the smaller plant food company. A year later, Horace Hagedorn told The Wall Street Journal that he had actually acquired Scotts by insisting on an all-stock transaction.

The deal left the Hagedorns the largest shareholders, with 42 percent of the company and 3 of 11 board seats. Horace was vice chairman and James was president. (James is now also chairman and chief executive.)

“The truth of the matter is, Scotts didn’t buy Miracle-Gro,” Horace said. “The truth of the matter is, we bought Scotts.”

Tadd C. Seitz, the interim chief executive of Scotts at the time of The Journal article, grudgingly acknowledged that the deal was far from a swallowing of Miracle-Gro. “More than perhaps people perceived in the beginning,” he said.

Mr. Hagedorn, a multimillionaire, drove a Gremlin for many years, and said he owned three suits and two pairs of shoes. He gave tens of millions to children’s charities, and got special attention when he supported the education of 50 poor Brooklyn schoolchildren, with the goal of sending them to college. About 85 percent are going to college, and Mr. Hagedorn recently offered a sixth-grade class in Columbus, Ohio, the same deal.

Horace Hagedorn was born on March 18, 1915, in Manhattan, where his father was a real estate speculator. He earned a business degree from the University of Pennsylvania and began his working career selling advertising time on radio. He then produced a radio drama, “The Big Story,” a crime-drama series.

He moved on to a small Manhattan advertising agency around the time he had a conversation with Martin Small, the celebrated advertising man credited with inventing roll-on deodorant. Mr. Hagedorn said Mr. Small told him he would tell him, in five words, how to make a million dollars: “Find a need, and fill it.”

“I said, ‘Marvin, that’s six words,”‘ Mr. Hagedorn said in an interview with The Washington Post in 2002, “and he said, ‘So I lie a little.”‘

On day in the mid-1940’s, Otto Stern, a German-born nurseryman from Geneva, N.Y., walked in the door in person and asked to buy advertising time on the radio program “Rambling With Gambling” on WOR-AM in New York, one of the top shows there for many years. Mr. Stern hated to use the telephone because his thick accent made it difficult for people to understand him.

Mr. Stern sold plants and trees by mail, and they were arriving in pretty bad shape. Both he and Mr. Hagedorn hit upon the idea of fertilizer, and happened to read about the work of a Rutgers University professor, O. Wesley Davidson, an expert on raising orchids. They hired him as a technical consultant to develop a water-soluble fertilizer.

The ingredients were not entirely mysterious , because sellers of fertilizers are required to list the percentages of nitrogen, phosphorous, potash and other trace elements. But the dry product, easy to ship and store, is mixed with water, and the wetting agents and other ingredients are secrets.

“We were in the right place at the right time,” Mr. Hagedorn said in an interview with The New York Times in 1993. He cited the rise in home-building after World War II and a consequent demand for garden products. Also, Mr. Stern’s mail-order nursery business already had many eager customers.

Mr. Hagedorn’s wife Peggy came up with the name Miracle-Gro, and the company was founded in 1950. The next year, Mr. Stern and Mr. Hagedorn each put in $2,000 to buy a full-page advertisement in The New York Herald. The ad Mr. Hagedorn wrote was sprinkled with scientific phrases about things like radioactive isotopes and promised luxuriant plant growth. Within three days, they had made 10 times what the ad cost.

After four years, Miracle-Gro’s sales had passed $500,000 annually, and Mr. Hagedorn decided to leave a successful advertising career to work full time on Miracle-Gro. He bought out Mr. Stern in the mid-1980s, a couple of years before he died.

Mr. Hagedorn’s strategy was to advertise on television, sell through the emerging new hardware store chains and find a better way to apply the product than the original method of mixing a tablespoon of green granules with a gallon of water. His employees came up with a device to dispense the fertilizer through a garden hose.

Mr. Hagedorn did not veer from his own expertise, doing marketing and sales for Miracle-Gro and farming out manufacturing, packaging and distribution to smaller companies. He thus created what might be one of the first “virtual companies,” that is, companies that essentially exist to be successful brands, his son said.

When Mr. Hagedorn merged his company with Scotts, he had already given much of its stock to his children. He took the $50 million he personally earned from the sale to set up a charitable trust. Among many gifts, most to children’s causes, were contributions to Hofstra University’s school of education, which is now named for him, and to Adelphi University’s business school, which also carries his name.

A little more than a year after his wife Peggy died in 1984, Mr. Hagedorn was looking at the personal ads in a local paper when he came across one placed by a woman who liked to read seed catalogs and sail, his other passion. He answered on Miracle-Gro stationery, and he and Amelia Maiello, a prekindergarten teacher, later married.

She survives him, along with his son James, who lives in Sands Point; his other sons, Peter, of Sea Cliff, N.Y.; Robert, of Seattle; and Paul, of Atlanta; his daughters, Susan Paterson, of Boulder, Colo.; and Kate Littlefield, of Princeton, N.J.; 22 grandchildren; and 5 great-grandchildren.

For all of his success elsewhere and no matter how much Miracle-Gro he lavished, Mr. Hagedorn could never grow a tomato in his own garden that weighed more than three pounds. The world record is 7 pounds, 12 ounces.

Today will be our 95th tennis game.

This was our 92nd. It’s a serious challenge to balance all those used balls.

Our next challenge is to photograph the bear who’s roaming our neighborhood. Everyone has seen him (or her?), except me.

Today, I’ll go out with some bells and pepper spray.

Keys to better Zoom calls

Yesterday we did a Zoom AGM (annual general meeting) for our NYC Apartment building. It went well. Susan and I read books to the grandkids over Zoom. It’s really fun. Four keys to better Zoom calls:

+ Get yourself a decent lavalier microphone. I bought one for $40. Click here.

+ When you buy this one and fill in their warranty card, the company will  send you this Y-connector. Now you can plug a microphone and a headphone in. And that’s really good. You can finally hear and they can hear you. It’s crystal clear.

+ If you’re using a Mac you should be able to connect Bluetooth headphones, like the Apple AirPods, which are really good.

+ You also need to tell Zoom what you’re using. Look at the sound button on the bottom left of your Zoom screen and click the arrow. Then choose what you’re using. Real easy once you know how.

Stocks — the same old suspects

Why be smart? A handful of wonderful stocks are roaring: Apple, Amazon, Shopify, Alibaba, Square, Salesforce (CRM), Facebook, Adobe, Twilio, Trade Desk, DocuSign and Zoom. Why own any others? I do like Generac, makers of the best emergency generators.  They’re advertising on CNBC.

The birds

Michael Crichton wrote a book called TimeLine:

An old man wearing a brown robe is found wandering disoriented in the Arizona desert. He is miles from any human habitation and has no memory of how he got to be there, or who he is. The only clue to his identity is the plan of a medieval monastery in his pocket. So begins the mystery of Timeline, a story that will catapult a group of young scientists back to the Middle Ages and into the heart of the Hundred Years’ War.

I remember when the scientists got back to the Middle Ages and into the heart of the long war, the thing they noticed was the complete lack of birds in the forests. No birds. The locals had eaten them all.

It’s freaky after all those years to remember the lack of birds in Crichton’s story. Now, today, in this pandemic, we love our birds and visit their nest daily:

I sincerely hope Zuck registers four million new voters. I just saw his plan scrolling across CNBC.

See you tomorrow, or so. — Harry Newton






One Comment

  1. johnjplummer . says:

    Hey Harry, you should watch this on YouTube. Dr. Zach Bush MD – BEST VIDEO I’VE WATCHED THIS YEAR BY FAR! it’s long but great. you could jump in at around 22 min. in or watch the whole video. Link