In Memoriam — Montrose ”Monty” D. Justice
An outstanding Kentuckian and Rosarian has left his gracious mark on gardens – and farms – all over the world. Monty Justice, who was described as an inventor, tinkerer, evangelist and prankster, passed away surrounded by his family at his home in Louisville, Kentucky on February 6, 2012. Monty had also been described with adjectives such as creative, determined, passionate, competitive, generous, devout, devoted, talkative, tireless, fun, instructive, inspiring and larger-than-life. His most frequent descriptor, however, was as the creator of a unique plant food formula now known as Monty’s Plant Food.
He was loved for being a tireless coach of generations of children’s basketball teams, an avid tennis player, and an active member in the recreational and choir programs at Crescent Hill Baptist Church for more than 25 years. Monty, his wife Becky, and their daughters, Debbie (Stephens) and Jennifer (Merrick) have all been members of Hurstbourne Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky where Monty sang in the choir, coached children in Upward basketball and directed others in the maintenance of the grounds about the church. Becky remains a member at Hurstbourne.
Born and raised in Crescent Hill in Louisville, Kentucky, Monty attended Barret Middle School, then Male High School. While at Male he was known as one of the “Three Musketeers” with his good friends Bob Lehman and Jack Miller. They earned the moniker through their hijinks at school. Monty’s father, Monty and both his daughters all graduated from Male. Monty’s granddaughter is currently a sophomore there.
Monty joined the Navy in 1945, and trained at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station outside Chicago, Illinois. Shortly after Japan surrendered, Monty was stationed in the Philippines under a commanding officer who wanted a championship table tennis team. Seeing that the team did not have guard duty, had easy duty in the base post office and had the prospect of steak instead of Spam if the team won its weekly match, Monty was motivated to join the team. The team traveled to nearby islands and eventually to Okinawa where Monty placed 6th in the Southwest Regional Table Tennis Championships. Monty also sang in an a cappella choir on base.
After returning from the Navy, Monty enrolled at the University of Louisville where he attended the Speed Scientific School for 3 years. Prior to graduation, he changed his major and was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree from the School of Business. Upon graduating, he worked as an inventory control clerk at Tube Turns, a metal manufacturing company in Louisville, Kentucky. He became Materials Manager before taking early retirement in 1985, at the age of 58, ending his 32-year first career.
The origins of Monty’s interest in roses
In 1962, at the age of 35, friends gave Monty a 25 cent ticket to the National Rose Show in Louisville. Monty was not going to let a 25 cent ticket go to waste, so he attended the show. That rose show changed his life. Unable to see roses in a garden setting at the show, Monty asked where he might see some. He was directed to the residence of Mrs. C. T. Corn.
Monty’s visit to Mrs. Corn’s was an awe-inspiring experience. The long driveway and well-manicured lawn paled by comparison once Monty pulled around the side of her house to the sight of over 2,000 roses in bloom. Monty had long ago learned that if you volunteer to help someone who is successful, you can learn much and eliminate the many pitfalls encountered when you try to learn things on your own. Naturally, Monty volunteered to help care for Mrs. Corn’s roses. Mrs. Corn and Monty became close friends as he spent many years in her garden learning how to care for roses from Mrs. Corn and from Charlie Dawson, the man who had designed, landscaped and planted Mrs. Corn’s inspirational rose garden. Mr. Dawson was not only a local Rosarian, and founder of the Louisville Rose Society, but he was also recognized nationally and was the winner of many gold medals for his roses. Monty continued his rose gardening hobby after work and on weekends for years.
Monty’s Second Career
After Monty retired in 1985, Charlie Dawson, having recognized Monty’s gift for rose care and knowing that Monty was not ready to really retire, encouraged Monty to start his own rose care business. He also referred Monty to a few friends. These referrals became Monty’s first six rose care customers. Sadly, Charlie Dawson died two years later. Monty, with his equally practical and hard-working son-in-law Dennis Stephens, continued to build this rose care business by word of mouth.
So it was that Monty’s Rose Care, LLC was formed in 1991.Through much hard work, many shovels, rakes, clippers and thorn pricks, the business grew to where Monty’s Rose Care maintained 160 gardens. While most of these gardens were residential, Monty’s also cared for Gainsborough Horse Farm’s 800-plant rose garden in Versailles, Kentucky and Overbrook Horse Farm’s gardens in Lexington, Kentucky, where D. Wayne Lucas trains horses.
Monty Justice was an active member of the American Rose Society and the Louisville Rose Society for over 40 years. He was a rose judge at the Kentucky State Fair and numerous regional and national annual rose shows every year. Monty truly personified one of the principles of a rose society, to educate and interest others in growing and showing roses.
His namesake rose, “Monty’s Joy”
One of the rarest of pantheons, populated with royalty, composers, designers, authors, playwrights, movie stars, saints, Greek goddesses and the like, is that of individuals or fictional characters with rose cultivars named after them. Monty is one of the few mere mortals to ever have a rose named after him. In the 1990s Monty was honored when his friend, Whit Wells, who has hybridized roses in Tennessee since the early 1970s, named a mini-flora rose, “Monty’s Joy,” after Monty.
How did Monty’s Joy Juice come about?
Monty wanted the gardens that he cared for to be the best, even though only a little time was spent every week or so to care for them. He also wanted to compete favorably with top exhibitors. A good friend and
top exhibitor in Tennessee said to him ”Monty, you’ll never consistently achieve this until you feed your plant leaves with a liquid fertilizer, as well as the soil.” Monty then set out upon what would turn out to be a 2-year journey testing special nutrients he added to a popular liquid fertilizer. Very good results were achieved during the course of the first summer. However, 75 of 300 rose plants in Monty’s own garden died that winter. Monty determined that the acidic base material of the liquid fertilizer had changed the pH of the soil, making it impossible for the roots to take in the elements needed to protect the roses from the cold of winter. Finding a pH-balanced fertilizer seemed impossible. Finally, an unlikely long-distance call to a man selling fertilizer to farmers in Indiana turned out to be the answer that only God could have made possible; he had a pH-neutral material.
Combining his rose-enhancing nutrients to this new base material provided the desired results. This formulation had very low salts, and with the addition of other proprietary products, it did everything Monty had hoped for. Monty’s rose customers noticed the difference his “Joy Juice” made on their roses and began asking for the product so that they could begin using it on their other plants. Because his son-in-law Dennis Stephens had grown up on a farm in Bourbon County, Kentucky he began experimenting on his father’s tomatoes, sweet corn, beans, other garden crops and tobacco. He, too, noticed incredible results when using Monty’s Joy Juice.
Monty’s Plant Food Company
Monty’s Plant Food Company began not as a company, but as a passion to find the best quality plant food and a desire that everyone using it would be successful. Monty was looking for a balanced pH product that would not add salts to the soil, while still maintaining excellent nutrition for his own roses. The problem was, such a product did not exist in the early 1980′s. Instead of giving up, Monty decided he would just invent one. And, he did.
Created in his own home, Monty’s Joy Juice, as his daughters called it, soon became the joy of gardeners across the Kentucky community where he was born and raised. As word spread, demand grew. Monty soon found himself bottling his product in one-gallon recycled milk jugs and delivering them to customers across the mid-South from the trunk of his car.
The initial days of the company were truly a family business, with his wife and children helping with mixing, packaging and distribution. As reports continued to mount about the success of Monty’s on agricultural crops, Dennis Stephens, along with two other businessmen, convinced Monty that it was time to take the product to an even larger audience. Monty’s Plant Food Co., Inc. was formed in 1997. Shortly after, an article in the Louisville Courier-Journal Newspaper by columnist Byron Crawford told of the remarkable results obtained by users of Monty’s Joy Juice. This article created an immediate demand in the marketplace. Gone are the days of mixing the product on the back garage apron, but that same family atmosphere and commitment to value and excellence remain as the firm foundation upon which the company rests
Today, marketed as Monty’s Plant Food, the product which began with one man just “looking for something to do” after retirement, is now the basis of an organization with multi-million dollar sales both domestically and internationally. One farmer in his second year as a Monty’s customer says, “I don’t know what it is, I can’t explain it, but it’s doing something. Just look at that field.” He points to an irrigated field of corn, “They told me I couldn’t raise corn this far north, and now my neighbors are asking me how they can do it.” Many of Monty’s customers say the same thing over and over, “I don’t know how it works, I just know it does work.”
A Media Favorite
“Shy” is not a word that was ever used to describe Monty Justice. Words like ebullient, effusive and enthusiastic were more common. Monty always had a story to tell or a lesson to teach. Retired Courier-Journal columnist Byron Crawford and gardening columnist Diane Heilenman frequently featured Monty in their columns, telling his story, quoting his wit and wisdom and sharing his vast knowledge about rose care and gardening.
Life after 60
In 2004, Monty was chosen along with 45 others from across the U.S. as one who was successful in starting a business after 60. Pat Kellerman featured these individuals in her book Starting Over – Reinventing Life After Sixty. Monty’s advice, both from his life and as described in the book, was “to work on whatever you’re doing until you do it very, very well. Then give it away. The secret is in doing for others, not keeping it for yourself. The pleasure is in the giving.” Anyone who knew Monty Justice knows that these are words he lived by.