Monday, August 20, 2007

Greetings from Holland!

I had the great good fortune to have been invited by Plant Publicity Holland to visit their delightful country. Specifically, I was invited to attend Plantarium, an annual trade show for Holland's perennial sector (, and tour a few garden centers and nurseries. I am happy to report I have arrived safely and have one successful day of touring under my belt already!

The day started off at the Flora Holland flower auction. I have the stats and figures somewhere in my hotel room, but I do believe they have a 55% share of the flower auction market. If that's for Holland alone or for the world wide market I would have to check. But still, that's a lot of the market, and it's a lot of flowers. They have separate auction halls for potted plants and cut flowers. The logistics are truly amazing. The flow of flower carts is quite rhythmic, and how the cart pushers don't run into each other, I just don't know. Like birds flying in formation. Anyway, here's a photo of the carts flowing in and out of the distribution hall.

After the auction, we traveled to two large garden centers. They can be best described as "destination" home & garden centers. Some quick trends I noted:
-espeliered trees are big here. The choices ranged from small "starter" fruit trees complete with at least one full-sized apple or pear hanging from a branch (!) to large 3-inch caliper deciduous trees like maple. I also noted espeliers used in public spaces, separating shops from public walkways along canals. Fall is the perfect time to plant trees, and an espelier with a fruit hanging from it is a great way to show "hey, look what you can get from this!"
-long colorful plant tags matching the fruit and the size and shape of the container. take a look at this plant tag and tell me you can resist these kids' smiling faces. of course you'll have fun with this fruit bush! the tag practically guarentees it!

-black and white (and grey and silver) are in! other colors too, but i was surprised at how much display space was dedicated to b&w themes.
-asian designs are in, too. and i was reminded that the Summer Olympics are coming up next summer. Start thinking about how you might be able to incorporate China and all of Asia in a display. And look at all the terrific material you have to work with!

The tours were enlightening not just about how the garden centers run their businesses, but also how consumers use these stores. They stores had cafes with really great food and great coffee. The cafes actually had patrons for lunch on a Monday afternoon! And folks were shopping for home decor and plants, coordinating one with the other. It was nice to see how this store fit seamlessly into the lives of their shoppers.

Well, that's it for now! I think I may be having a problem posting photos - looks like they are in reverse order and I'm not sure why. I'll try to get it right tomorrow!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

tags & brochures just a snapshot in time

Listen up, gardeners and garden pros, you both might find this interesting. Yesterday at the MFGA/MNLA Summer Meeting I attended a talk by Lois Berg Stack, a horticulture professor and extension specialist up in Maine. She was giving a run-down of about 2 dozen annuals from her trial gardens that she thought were terrific plants. Her intro slide had a close-up of two annuals intermingled - ageratum and another lesser-known plant. What a pretty and serene combinbation.

Ageratum flowers, she pointed out, will become a tousled browning mess before you can put your camera away, and the other annual will peter out after a few days and really isn't worth its time in the garden. This picture-perfect slide is just a snapshot in time, she said.

Tags and brochures and point-of-purchase materials are wonderful ways to communicate how lovely plants will be in the garden. But those photos are truly just "snapshots in time." Many people coming through the garden center will see the pretty tag, and maybe if they are lucky will see the symbol for sun or shade. Impressed with what the photos promise, they'll place the plants on their carts and take off for home.

The tags will never ever show fading blooms or leaves overcome by powdery mildew or the results of planting full-sun plants in full shade. Nor can we ever expect to see a disclaimer at the bottom of the tag reading "this is only a depiction of the plant when grown under optimum condition by gardening professionals."

So, what are we to do?

Breeders are doing their part by breeding plants that will better resist powdery mildew or be better self-cleaning (meaning, those pesky spent flowers just fall off or otherwise disappear), and the like. Better performing plants have a better chance of actually looking like those beautiful photos.

For those of you making the plant purchases, aim for results like those in the pretty photos. But don't knock yourself if or when it doesn't happen. And your not completely gullible anyway, you realize some marketer is trying to lure you in.

And for those providing the plants - well, you tell me what should be done. I think it boils down to providing the best and most complete information possible. But how can we communicate this to the folks buying the plants?

Any suggestions from either side of the cash register?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

MFGA "Love My Garden" Contest

with all the time and effort you put into your flower gardens, you might as well reap some rewards, right?

the Massachusetts Flower Growers Association is holding its 2nd annual "Love My Garden" contest for Massachusetts residents. The top winner in each of 4 regional districts will receive a $500 gift certificate good at local independent retail garden centers and farm stands. last year more than 100 entries were submitted from 75 communities, with $1500 in gift certificates awarded.

want to enter? you need only submit two 4x6 color photos of their home flower garden and a completed contest entry form, which must be received by Sept. 1, 2007. gardens will be judged on flower and plant variety (they love a mix of both annuals and perennials!), design, overall appeal, seasonal color, and the planting of the flower garden.

you can pick up entry forms at any MFGA member indie garden center or farm stand, or go online to access the form and read all the fine-print details, like being 18 years old and older and so forth.

get gardening and good luck!

Monday, July 16, 2007

water smart!

A notice recently came across my desk about irrigation. July is apparently Smart Irrigation Month. What a good month for it! It's hot and sticky and dry dry dry. Homeowners have their sprinklers on their lawns and gardens, hoping to keep everything green and growing.

Here are a few "smart" watering tips from the Irrigation Association:
Water only when needed: Saturate root zones and let the soil dry. Watering too much and too frequently results in shallow roots, weed growth, disease and fungus.
Consider low-volume drip irrigation for plant beds: Drip allows water to slowly seep into the soil, minimizing runoff and putting moisture at the root zone where plants can use it.
Water at the optimum time: Water when the sun is low or down, winds are calm and temperatures are cool, between evening and early morning to reduce evaporation. You can lose as much as 30% of water to evaporation by watering in mid-day.

For more watering tips, visit the Irrigation Association and click on "Fast Tips."

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

time flies in the garden

you spend some time in the garden and, lo and behold, a month has gone by since my last posting. i've been doing other things, too, but mainly weeding, preparing the garden, and watering. and more weeding. and shopping for plants. and gardening for my parents. here are a few things of note:
-the plants at garden retail look pretty good. even in wal-mart and home depot, surprise surprise. my one shopping experience at wal-mart (with my mom) was ok. a rainy dreary day and everything was wet, and the outside check-out wasn't open, which meant carting wet plants through the store and onto the regular check-out. the cashier didn't appreciate that.
-mulch: i see more and more people purchasing it, so that means they know all the benefits of mulch. however, what's with the colored mulches? i got some for my parents - the first time ever in 50+ years - and my only choices were the big thick wood chunks and a red-colored and black-colored pine-bark mulch. my hands were stained. i just don't think it is necessary to add coloring.
-more on mulch: i LOVE buckwheat hull mulch. it has such a classic, finished look to it. really creates some nice texture to the ground and plants really do jump out against that background. it's not cheap - i paid $17.50 per standard-sized bag (2 cu.ft. i believe), and i got 3 bags. that put a nice 2-inch or so dressing over my 10x20ft veggie garden. i could use another bag. my veggie garden's first year - 3 summers ago - i put down 5 bags worth, and last year I didn't really have to put down any additional mulch (you're right, i didn't turn my soil over the beginning of the second year!). anyway, i highly recommend it if you can find it.
-i spoke with someone the other day about her hydrangea paniculata. her husband had cut down the "bunch of sticks" in early spring because he thought they were dead. they now have a small bush growing with no hope for flowers this year. and i told them don't worry, i bet the garden center has more that will indeed bloom this summer, so why not just replace it? i don't think some gardeners consider that as an option - replacing plants. they'll try to nurse plants back to health meanwhile they have an unsuitable plant in their yard or home. i think of that Lay's potato chip ad - "eat all you want, we'll make more."
-more people need to experience rhubarb!! i have 4 huge plants and i am trying desparately to share it with folks. many people my age never had it. crazy. it's fabulous, especially made into a sauce and spooned over vanilla ice cream. yum.
-marigolds are my go-to annual. i edged my tomato plot with 18 plants this year. i like the safari bolero i think it is, 3 different colors. they did really well for me the last two years, they really fill the gaps well. and they always remind me of the movie monsoon wedding.
that's it for now! if you don't hear from me i'm out watering the garden...

Thursday, May 3, 2007

tech talk: mobile tv

according to a center for media research brief, mobile tv is hot with under 35 males, the typical 'early adopters' of new technologies. who's going to be purchasing lawn tractors and power tools and building decks and all the trappings for their newly purchased first homes? that's right, men under 35. and here's another nice statistic from the report: "Approximately 71 percent of the respondents said that "cost of service" was a top consideration in selecting a Mobile TV service. However, 67 percent of respondents who are interested in subscribing to Mobile TV also said that they would be willing to watch sponsored advertisements in return for free subscriptions."

want to get the word out about your yard-related product? look into mobile tv and you'll hit your target market.

read the research brief: here

Monday, April 30, 2007

on the "horticulture industry"

i've been cruising around some gardening blogs just to see what's out there. under one blog's "manifesto" was listed a suspicion of the "horticultural industry." i've been saying horticulture industry for many years now because well, that's what it is. i'm not going to address the bloggers' "suspicions" about the hort industry - i just want to add a few comments about why something as quaint and relaxing and decorative and recreational as gardening can be said to be an industry.

i gave a brief "welcome to spring" lecture to a group of folks who are in the mental health field a few weeks ago. i was talking with the woman in charge of the institute's seminar series about who i could expect to show up and she mentioned the possiblity of some "consumers" coming in. it took me a second to realize in her line of work consumers aren't gardeners but people receiving mental health services. they may be gardeners, too, actually, but gardeners dealing with some mental health issues.

that got me thinking about the blogger's mention of "horticulture industry." industry, producer, vendor, consumer - it's all the language of business. it may strike some as shocking that mental health is an industry, but it is. and so it may strike others as odd that behind the scenes of gardening there is "industry" going on - people harvesting and selling peat moss; people making pots; people exploring jungles or grasslands for new flowers; people breeding plants to make new and better or different plants; and people growing these plants and selling these plants to gardeners.

maybe what ruffles some feathers is the realization that many of the plants sold today started life in a big "manufacturing plant" -type greenhouse. thanks to henry ford, plants are one of a billion things that can be produced more efficiently and more economically if grown in assembly-line fashion. i'm not going to be elitist about how plants are grown (what goes into them, i'm a little more concerned about). if assembly-line production brings more affordable plants to the folks who might not garden otherwise, then great. hopefully that hanging basket of petunias on the front porch will lead the gardener to explore some more about the gardening world and the really cool things it holds. if not, it's still doing some good by beautifying a home, making the homeowner happy when they see the blooms, encouraging neighbors to think about flowers, and so on and so on. those are all great things and potential starting points for other great gardening possibilities.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Giving Some "Ink" to Flowers

flowers. i love 'em. i'm not what you would call a 'plant nut,' though. i'm a generalist - i know what looks good, i know what does well where, and if i don't know all the varieties of salvia or remember the optimum night-time temps for dendrobiums, that's just fine. i know the right questions to ask and where to go for the info. really, that's half the battle right there.

like it says over in my profile, i'll be posting bits of info that i think are interesting for the whole gardening community - from the folks who are developing the plants, growing the plants, and selling the plants, to the folks who are buying and using the plants. it's my attempt to connect the ends of the daisy chain. i'm giving some "ink" to flowers - the entire realm of horticulture, if i can be so bold - so that "gardening" will continue to be a relevant, important, fun, educational (keep adding your own positive adjectives here) activity in our lives.

with that said, i invite you to keep reading future posts. and please, if you have anything to share, let me know.

i'll warn you right now, i may throw in the ocassional post about my beloved red sox, discuss some outdoor grilling adventures, and other mismatched topics, but i'll try to keep that to a minimum.