Xera Plants, Inc.

Twenty years ago, back when it was somehow still possible to conduct business without an online presence, Paul and Greg started in the business of growing plants for wholesale markets in the Pacific Northwest. Eventually, they expanded to retail, which catapulted Xera into the online world via Apple iWeb.

Paul actually did a pretty good job wrangling the website for several years even as iWeb became (quickly) obsolete in the mid-to-late 2000’s. But three things happened over the next several years: Xera’s catalog of offerings continued to expand, Paul continued to write about plants, and social media exploded with online communities of gardeners and plant lovers hungry for interesting new plants and instructions on how to grow them.

By the time I met Paul in late 2017, iWeb had been unsupported for like 8 years, and he was well aware that a publishing tool originally intended for vacation photo albums wasn’t giving him what he really needed: the ability to create and then easily maintain an extensive online catalog of over 1000 plants, with growing information and pictures of each one.

iWeb was designed for online photo albums, but was impossible to use to create a comprehensive online catalog.

So, we rolled up our sleeves. With WordPress, a custom post type “Plant” and several custom taxonomies that would help gardeners and designers filter the catalog based various attributes of plants, I set up the basic architecture, and we let the design sort of fall into place around that.

I am a staunch advocate for UX and I really wanted Paul’s content creation and editing experience to be as fluid as possible for him. He’s a prolific writer, having written several books about gardening and plants, many magazine articles, blog posts about particularly the intersection of gardening and weather/climate, and of course, every single plant description for the many hundreds of plants Xera grows.

A developer can actually do a fair amount to influence what content creators experience in the WordPress dashboard, from creating instructions to changing what columns appear in post lists. I added all these columns for the various taxonomies associated with Plants for easier filtering in the admin area:

wordpress admin area screenshot
Customized columns in the posts lists can help make content easier to manage.

Of course, we need something like that, perhaps even better, for the front end users. Use case scenario: I’m a gardener and I want to brighten up a dark, shady part of my garden. Could I filter the catalog for evergreen plants with silver leaves that grow in shade?

screenshot of filter results page
Yes! 5 plants that are evergreen, have silver/gray leaves, and grow in shade.

This taxonomy term filter functionality is provided by a free plugin called Beautiful Taxonomy Filter, which appears to be very well-documented, although it is written and maintained by one developer and there is no paid version. Normally I am uncomfortable about relying on 3rd-party software that is entirely 100% free, because that generally means the developer or developers don’t have a financial incentive to maintain the software or provide support. But in this case, with 6,000+ active installations and about 93% of ratings giving 5 stars (96% giving 4 or 5).

In 2020, we adopted Gutenberg.