Meet the staff of HostasDirect, Inc. & IDeal Garden Markers

Tom Carlson

Tom Carlson, Founder/Owner 

HostasDirect, Inc and IDeal™ Garden Marker's entrepreneurial owner, 58 year old Tom Carlson, is an avid gardener and a hosta lover. A 19-year member of the American Hosta Society and Minnesota Hosta Society, he is a frequent speaker at garden clubs. Tom worked his way through school by providing gardening services and developed a passion for hostas and most plants. 

A 15-year veteran of the business forms, label, direct mail and the printing industry, Tom started Innovative Printing Corporation in 1988 and later invented, manufactured and licensed four of his identification card products to two printing corporations in 1995.

In 2010 Tom invented the IDeal Garden Marker, a breakthrough in garden marker technology and has additional garden marker designs in the hopper.  In addition, HostasDirect related business, Ideal Garden Markers, is soon completing a new cloud based design online engraving and labelling application that will allow customers from any where in the world to design customized engravings or labels.  It will be used for plant identification markers and other engraving applications.   

Tom, who is 6' 7", played basketball for Gustavus Adolphus College where he received a business degree in 1977. He took a brief detour from business in 1978-79 to play professional basketball in Germany and Sweden, before getting into the printing industry from 1980 to 1995.  He started college as an environmental studies major, and remains passionate and committed to helping solve environmental problems.   

Tom says he wants to be of service by:

  1. Helping environmental problems through education on HostasDirect's videos, blog, website and enewsletter and selling low-cost plants that helps the environment, including the bees, birds, butterflies and more.
  2. Solving the problems he has encountered in gardening and offer those solutions and ideas to the public via HostasDirect's e-newsletter, blog, video, power point presentations and websites.
  3. Via offering the very best hosta, heuchera, heucherella and other plants and garden marker stakes, nameplates, engravings, labels and pens to the public at low-prices.
  4. Providing very innovative services including online design and ordering options for engravings and labels through the business.
  5. Helping gardeners maximize their garden's potential by offering great information via videos, blogs, enewsletters, websites and power point presentation so gardeners can easily make their best decisions.
  6. Providing detailed plant databases such as HostaSearch(TM) and HeucheraSearch(TM) that allow hybridizers, gardening enthusiasts, customers and the media to research plants and by their unique characteristics with an easy-to-use customized search engine loaded with valuable information and pictures.
  7. Creating as many decent paying jobs as possible.
  8. Creating valuable work and internship experiences in internet marketing, sales, horticulture, and computer sciences.
  9. Being an honest, trust-worthy supplier, citizen and employer.


Joseph Husby

Joseph Husby, Senior Vice President

Joe has been our Senior Vice President at HostasDirect since the age of 17. That seems very young to have that title, but it is well deserved for he is such a key part of our company. Owner Tom Carlson says, "Joe is the most amazing guy I have ever met." Joe was valedictorian at Roseville Area High School in the class of 2007. He graduated from high school with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Joe then graduated summa cum laude with high distinction from the University of Minnesota in the Institute of Technology Honors program. He is a Computer Science major with Math and Business Management minors. Additionally, he went 16 straight years with perfect attendance in school (he missed one day in Kindergarten but subsequently never missed a day of school or class in college)!!! Joe is well-versed in every aspect of computer technology, including computer repair, software programming, web design, database management, networking, security, and everything else.

Here are some of his achievements, which benefit HostasDirect and its valued customers:

  • Built both the Hostas Direct and IDeal Garden Markers websites from the ground up
  • Custom programmed online software to design your labels and engraved markers
  • Manages all of the systems that keep the website, office, and shipping operations running
  • Constantly tweaks and improves our websites
  • Customized our database of over 7,000 hostas, along with Jeff VerSteeg, Pat Mora, and Luke Weinhagen
  • Improved our customer service operation
  • Monitors all website security systems including the shopping cart and payment systems
  • Created the information sheets with pictures that we sell online and can be printed at our customer's location
  • Improved our credit card system
  • Improved our shipping label & software programs
  • Created internal reports
  • Originally designed our e-mail newsletter
  • Provides good decision-making and leadership skills
  • Takes photos and video for the website

Joe has also built his own website of his family's beautiful garden. In addition, he is heavily involved with computer operations at his church. In his free time, Joe is a unicyclist, outstanding saxophone player (he plays in the Minnesota Gopher basketball pep band and the St. Anthony Park Community Band in the Twin Cities, MN), an actor, and has his own computer consulting business where he has over 50 customers. You can often find him working on HostasDirect projects well past midnight, including weekends and holidays.

Though very driven and a hard worker, Joe is still humble and a lot of fun!  He cracks us up!


Mary Alexander

Mary Alexander

We are very fortunate to have Mary Alexander on staff at HostasDirect. Mary lives across the street from owner, Tom Carlson. Her husband Jon, an engineer at 3M, is a former high school basketball teammate of Tom's. Originally from Michigan, Mary was a top student majoring in math at Alma College where she met Jon. Mary and her family have trained over 30 service dogs for the physically disabled, deaf or hard of hearing with Can Do Canines Assistance Dogs ( She has also been involved with helping autistic children and her kids' schools.

Mary has three children, two in graduate school and one working for Target. Son, Chris, graduated from lllinois Wesleyan in 2008, William Mitchell College of Law in 2012 and now is a practicing attorney. Daughter, Jennifer, graduated from The College of Saint Benedicts in 2010 and is in a Ph.D program in physics at the University of Iowa. All three have worked for HostasDirect to earn money for school and other needs.

Working with plants is a passion for Mary. She has created beautiful gardens of her own. Mary is involved with almost all aspects of HostasDirect including: selecting the plants we sell (we do it as a team), business strategy, proofreading, and the very important job of caring and shipping our plants.


Volunteer Staff:


Peter Kelley

Peter Kelley

Peter Kelley joined us as a volunteer during July of 2014. Peter has an intense passion for hosta, gardening, and plants in general. At the time of this writing Peter does not have just one favorite hosta; he has 308 favorites!

He has impressed us with his intuitive mind; and how fast he has grasped complex business problems and solutions. His starting responsibilities include:

  • Blogging and Guest Blogging
  • Pinterest Social Media
  • Website Content Management

Owner Tom Carlson says. “You have impressed me with your brains, character, passion, business intuition and knowledge, experiences, determination, computer skills, blogging and writing abilities, ideas, caring, politeness, and much more ... and even the pizza you made was good!

His education ranges from Commercial Art at what used to be the Minneapolis Technical College, to independent education learning about slide presentations, and database development. While his primary OS platform is Macintosh, he also has some competency with Windows. He has a diverse background having worked in non-profits, education systems, and living in a housing co-op for 20 years.

Previous Staff:


Laura Nelson

Laura Nelson

Laura is originally from Barrington, Illinois. She was an intern for us between her junior and senior year while she was at the University of Minnesota - Carlson School of Management. Now, we are fortunate to have her full time. She is the key person in a wide range of activities, including writing, editing, research, business analysis, improving and optimizing our website, marketing, advertising, public relations, customer service, trade shows, SEO (search engine optimization), Google AdWords and managing our retail operation. She also knows many software packages, including In Design and PhotoShop. She has personally made many wonderful improvements to our company. She played club volleyball at the U of M, is a budding golfer, and is a huge University of Minnesota Gophers and Chicago Cubs fan. In working here, she has become exceptionally passionate about plants. You may have seen her as the lead story of the WCCO news during the winter of 2008 being interviewed about mass transit at the U of M or helping out with promotions at University of Minnesota sporting events. She has a great sense of humor.


Chris Alexander

Chris Alexander

Chris has been working for HostasDirect since its inception as he lived across the street from Tom Carlson. Chris graduated with a double major in chemistry and business from Illinois Wesleyan in 2008 and started William Mitchell College of Law in the fall of 2009 and is now a practising attorney.  Chris has been involved with our computer operations, photography, video, retail sales, customer service, and engineering.  He can do just about anything and as a weight lifter, does our heavy lifting.


Jeff Versteeg

Jeff Versteeg (HostasDirect alum)

While the 6' 6" Jeff was a senior at Northwestern University in Roseville he custom programmed our shopping cart software to integrate with our HostaSearch™ database, server, and about 9 other pieces of software. It was a huge, complicated project. Jeff rose to the challenge while still a student! Jeff was both an Academic and Basketball All-American at Northwestern College in Roseville, graduating in 2005. After graduating he passed up foreign basketball opportunities to work at KPMG LLP. Jeff's sister, Pam, is married to Matt, Tom's first cousin's son.  Jeff is married to his college sweetheart, Whitney, and they had a baby in 2009.


Danielle Dykema

Danielle Dykema

Danielle is a senior studying plant genetics at the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, just one mile from our headquarters. In her spare time, Danielle worked at the Unniversity of Minnesota doing research in barley.  She is now working on her PhD in plant genetics.  She has also worked in shipping and plant research.


Pat Mora

Pat Mora, Database Creator

Pat Mora, a hardworking, knowledgeable and generous hosta lover, is the researcher and founder of our search engine and database. A past President of the Kansas City Hosta Society, and a frequent visitor of many garden tours and conventions, Pat has made an enormous contribution for gardeners worldwide through setting up and developing her database. Pat is the recipient of the 2005 Presidents Award from the American Hosta Society.

Since 1994, Pat has been collecting and entering data into her custom-designed computer software. The HostaSearch™ Database and Search Engine can organize tens of thousands of pieces of data about hostas that can be searched by a computer. In other words, you can find a needle in a haystack. When there are over 6,100 different hostas with an abundance of different plant characteristics, this database is a wonderful development. If you are looking for particular characteristics, simply select your options from one or more of the 70 categories and click search. Like magic, all of the hostas meeting that criteria show up on your screen.

Pat hopes her database and search engine can help gardeners in a variety of ways. Gardeners can select their plants intelligently to fit their special needs, learn more about the wide variety of fun and beautiful options for hostas; hybridizers can use this database for their development efforts, and researchers can use the database for genetic uses for disease resistance and more.


Carrie Austin & Cory Thomford

Carrie Austin & Cory Thomford

Minneapolis Home and Garden Show 2005

Carrie graduated from University of Wisconsin-Stout in 2009 with a major in golf course management, following in the footsteps of her father, Scott.   After living in Whitefish, Montana, for four years, she is back working in the Twin Cities and helping our Minneapolis Farmers Market Annex operation. 

Cory graduated from the University of Minnesota in Mechanical Engineering in 2009 and does Resarch & Development for a medical device firm in the Twin Cities.


Bill & Andrea McKee

Bill & Andrea McKee

Posed here with H. 'Fatal Attraction' in 2004.  

This couple keeps work fun with their great sense of humor.

Bill formerly managed probation officers in St. Paul.   He is also a well-known and highly respected basketball coach presently coaching women at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Twins' Joe Mauer, American League Most Valuable Player and batting champion, and the NBA's Pat O' Bryant were lucky enough to play for Bill when he was their high school coach at Cretin and Blaine High Schools. Tom Carlson was Bill's assistant coach for one year. Bill was starting guard for the the famous St. Thomas basketball teams in the early 70s and then coached at St. Thomas College, Cretin, Blaine, Anoka Ramsey Jr. College

Andrea is a master organizer.   The only trouble is she organizes by throwing your things away! Guaranteed a laugh a minute but watch your stuff!

Both have very helpful in a variety of ways to HostasDirect.


Allison McKee

Allison McKee

Bill and Andrea's daughter in 2004 here.   She is now a sophomore at Bemidji State University where she plays on the women's varsity basketball team.  During the summer of 2012 she worked in our pick and pack packaging operation.


2005 Twin Cities Home & Garden Show

The Minneapolis Home & Garden Show, 2005

One of our first shows, and we and our visitors had a blast! From left to right, Carrie Austin, Cory Thomford, Tom Carlson, and Mary Alexander.

We try to keep FUN a high priority while we work and visit with customers. After all, gardening should be FUN and FRIENDLY.