Air plants, lantana and new ways of using old stuff; plus please diagnose!

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Ellen Wells Subscribe
YRAs' Tops for the Season
Up in Canada
What Else Did I Include?
Trend: Social Network
AAS’s Herbaceous Perennial Trials
While I Have You …
Finally …

YRA Winners' Tops for the Season

I had a presentation to give at the Massachusetts Flower Growers Association this week. I decided like any good 21st century content provider that the best way to tackle the talk on trends and ideas is to ask others what they’ve seen and heard. Who is hip on trends and has their finger on the pulse of what customers are looking for? Our Young Retailer Award winners, that’s who!

So, I contacted a few YRA winners from the past few years to see what’s selling in their region. Andrea Snelgrove, our most recent YRA winner and the gift shop and merchandising manager for Wingard’s Market in Lexington, South Carolina, said air plants and anything to do with them—vessels to place them in and such—have been Wingard’s top seller so far this season.


Next to respond to my request was Valerie Nalls, the 2015 winner of the Young Retailer Award. She’s at the family business, Nalls Produce in Alexandria, Virginia—and it’s more than just produce (more on that topic to come, by the way). What’s selling like hotcakes outside the nation’s capitol? Lantana!

D.C. is full of hot air— literally. Plus it’s humid. Folks need something like lantana to survive those conditions with dignity—plus it provides lots of color.  

Up in Canada

Our 2016 YRA winner, Will Heeman of Heeman’s Garden Centre in London, Ontario, had one general observation: Young and/or new gardeners are trying new and old favorites in new ways. To back that up, Will points to the popularity this year of oldie-but-goody houseplants—sansevieria, ZZ plants and other low-maintenance houseplants.


He said new and young gardeners are also having fun with edibles. As an example he sent a photo of the one and only thing his wife requested for her birthday last year—a pallet vegetable garden. Second season using it and it’s still going strong!

They don’t sell these but he found the how-to at another garden center’s site HERE. Young folks love creating and using projects like this! Could be a nice workshop topic, don’t you think? 

What Else Did I Include?

Gosh, I covered a lot of trends, ideas and observations contained in 76 slides for the one-hour talk. Again, many were “crowdsourced” suggestions. For instance, Bob Luczai, the local Ball Seed rep and the guy who invited me to speak at MFGA, says sales of 806s continue to decline and grab-and-go items—products customers can decorate patios and porches with— are what folks are looking for. And something as simple as basil in 4-, 6- or even 8-in. pots have been strong (and profitable!) crops this year.


I didn't have a photo of 8-in. basil plants, so here's a photo of the basil in my own community garden plot!

Hey, Chris! I meant to tell you that the tip I crowdsourced from you—the DIY faux brick border along a concrete walkway— got a “Oh, hey, that’s cool!” response from the MFGAers when I went from this:


To this:



Another crowdsourcing source was Ball Horticultural’s dynamic duo Marvin Miller and Bill Calkins. They had taken a tour of a baker’s dozen of retail locations in Massachusetts earlier this summer. What was the one word that described what they saw—besides the wicked-awesome regional phrase “wicked awesome”?

Diversification. Most of the garden retailers they visited had diversified in some way and found an income stream that was different from selling plants. In fact, it may not have involved selling a horticultural product at all! Like what?

  • Mini golf
  • Farmers markets
  • Beer and wine
  • Café
  • Ice cream parlor (in the works)

This reminds me of the visit I made to a Dutch garden center—one location in a chain, actually—several years ago when the manager of the store declared if he didn’t have to sell plants, he’d ditch them all in favor of selling pet-related products.

So, I leave you with this question—one that I actually quote from industry elder statesman Ernest Wertheim: What is a garden center? Will a “garden center” eventually become a department within a larger gift, home, farm and food business? Drop me a line about it HERE.  

Trend: Social Network

We’re on Garden Media Group’s second of seven trends in their 2018 Garden Trends Report: the social network. And they don’t mean Facebook and Snapchat. They mean the garden’s own non-digital social network. The folks at GMG say there is a shift coming in gardening: from thinking of plants as individuals to plants as communities of interrelated species.

They quote former Martha Stewart Magazine editor Margaret Roach as saying plants in combinations “solve challenges that many of us have: beds that aren't quite working visually and garden areas that don’t function without lots of maintenance.” When planted as plant communities, you manage the entire planting, not individual plants.

Selling plants as groupings of plant communities is a smart way to get in on this trend.  

AAS’s Herbaceous Perennial Trials

When I think of plant communities, I think of perennials. So this is a good time to give this reminder from Diane Blazek of All-America Selections: AAS is now accepting herbaceous perennial entries for trialing in their test gardens throughout all of North America.

If you're an independent or corporate perennial breeder or selector, your never-before-sold herbaceous perennial varieties could be entered into AAS’s 2018-2021 herbaceous perennial trial. Over the course of three winters, at least 24 judges will grow them in conjunction with varieties that are considered “best in class.” Will yours win that coveted AAS award? To paraphrase the New York Lotto’s slogan from the 1980s: You can’t win if you don’t submit your entry.

Interested? Then you’ve got to hurry! The herbaceous perennial entries are due by September 1, 2017—just a few weeks away. You can find breeder entry information HERE, and you can find the entry forms at the bottom of that same page.  

While I Have You …

I’m going to take advantage of you, my readers, by asking you a horticultural diagnostic question on behalf of my Long Island-based mother. I’ve received several photos from her today showing me something that is happening to a wide variety of her plantings—dahlias, nasturtiums, gerbera, vinca. Here’s an example:



I’m feeling guilty: When I visited last week, I used a hose-end natural fertilizer that apparently had an expiration date of 2015. But, since I left she had a new round of mulch put down in all of her garden beds.

So, folks—is this my fault or the mulch? Please weigh in!   

Finally …

Next week is the IGC Show in Chicago! I will not be going this year, but my colleague Jen Polanz will be cruising the show floor, looking for the best new and cool items that catch her eye.

Keep ME and JEN in mind if you see something that makes you stop and do a double take. We’d love to know what you’re ordering! And we’ll let our readers know about it, too.  

Thanks for having me in your inbox, friends! Got something to share? Just drop me a line at   

Ellen Wells
Green Profit

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