Family’s roots run deep in North Hills garden business
When Costa Farms gardening expert Justin Hancock referenced a variety of snake plant ( sansevieria) named ‘Hahnii,’ it hit me: “That’s named for the Hahn family.”
The Hahns’ garden business in the North Hills dates to the 1920s.
Lou Hahn, 72, current owner of Hahn Nursery in Ross, has fond memories of his grandfather, Sylvan Hahn, who registered at least 20 plant patents, including azaleas, lots of ivy, coleus, a hydrangea and four sansevieria cultivars.
“My grandfather was one of the early pioneers in developing this business and he loved it morning, noon and night,” Hahn says. “He worked seven days a week.”
The four bird’s nest snake plants ( sansevieria trifasciata) Sylvan Hahn discovered include ‘Silver Hahnii,’ ‘Green Hahnii,’ ‘Black Hahnii’ and ‘Gold Hahnii.’ All four are dwarf varieties and are still popular in the trade. In fact, the gold variety can be seen in a planter at Phipps Conservatory’s Tropical Forest. The other varieties can turn up just about anywhere, including grocery and discount stores.
All the plant patents came from selected mutations. Sylvan Hahn had greenhouses in Shaler, Canonsburg and Mississippi. When discovering something different growing in consort with common varieties, he would pull it aside to judge if it was worthy of being a new cultivar.
It’s always special for Lou Hahn when he sees the houseplants for sale.
“It’s a thrill and a marvel,” he says about stumbling on to the plants.
He remembers his grandfather and extended family potting up thousands of their sansevierias in ceramic dish gardens, which were sold to flower shops all over the country before World War II, creating one of the earliest houseplant trends.
Although Sylvan Hahn had only a third-grade education, he was a brilliant marketer, a talent he inherited from his mother. The two had a successful truck farm on Cemetery Lane in Ross during the 1920s, moving to Shaler in the 1930s and expanding to four locations, which eventually evolved into mostly retail businesses. The family grew fields of potatoes and beans to help the war effort in the 1940s, in turn getting gasoline rations to keep the retail end alive.
When he was 18, Lou Hahn’s first job was working as a buyer for his family’s nursery. He has spent the rest of his life in the business he learned from his grandfather.
“I wouldn’t be in the plant business without him,” he says. “I enjoy it. You get to work with a lot of great people, see great things and do great things.”