Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Poinsettias Are Kinda Lame

This is the first holiday season in a long time that I have felt downright depressed, and it's a shame when from Thanksgiving to January 10th is my absolute favorite time of year - holidays, birthdays, Advent, parties, pretty SNOW. Even though Marketplace Morning Report keeps telling me that retails sales are up and therefore consumers are indirectly communicating they are tired of the sluggish economy, all I'm hearing are complaints, disappointments, and an overall lack of excitement - pure torture for an extrovert like myself.

"Well, poinsettias are... well... kinda lame."

That's what one young Gen-Y consumer said to me last week. To be honest, she has a point. Poinsettias in the classical sense have become lame - your generic red and white 6" poinsettias from a box store just don't cut it anymore. Granted one can argue that a red poinsettia isn't just "red", as there are dozens of red varieties in different shades, but to the consumer (and honestly, in the end she's the only one who matters) red is red. Obviously the consumer needs something different, and in recent years there have been huge strides in poinsettia breeding to bring new colors - marbles, speckled, variegated, bright pinks. However, you won't find these colors at a box store, you'll find them at a locally owned, independent garden center, which is desperately in need of your business. Tell them you didn't want a plant from a box store and they'll take you in as family.
"But the wire is showing... the bracts don't meet in the center. I don't get it - I can't work with this - I can't sell this."

A florist called me early one morning in regards to the new Poinsettia Wreath Topiary we had delivered the day before to the store. The wreath is the newest topiary shape for 2010 at work, and being in its experimental year there were some kinks to work out. Yes, the two plants trained along a central wire hoop don't meet in the center to create a fully closed wreath shape. So you turn lemons into lemonade - decorate the wire and add value to the product. Other customers of ours sent in their photos of the wreaths with the wire covered in greenery and fabulous gold bows. One mentioned she let the consumer pick and choose their own decorative additions to match the color scheme in her living room. The holidays are for decorating your living space so you can enjoy it with family and friends when the weather is downright crappy outside. Bring the beauty of the garden INSIDE and inspire your customers with YOUR passion - using beautiful plants to beautify homes. That IS why you're in the floriculture business, right?

There is one comment that has been a beacon of light, hope, and happiness however. Quite possilby the one event that keeps putting a smile on my face is a phone conversation I had with my brother in early December. We chatted about gift ideas for our parents, and about my boss' appearance on The Martha Stewart Show on November 30th. Martha had invited us back for a second visit this year, and wanted to see all the new poinsettia colors and topiary shapes we specialize in for the season. The show's segments were posted online the following day, and my brother had shown them to the students in his after-school program to teach them about poinsettias as part of a holiday themed afternoon.

"[Lloyd] did a great job and my kids really liked the show! We all, myself included, had no idea about the cyathia and bracts, and one kid said he'd check his mother's plants that evening since she purchased them on Black Friday at Lowes."

This was killer! My brother, teaching his 6th graders about plants, and he's not even the gardener in the family! His students getting excited about PLANTS and wanting to go home and tell their parents about what they'd learned. Absolutely killer! Take that, industry folk who think the horticulture industry is making its way to the trashcan!

The excitement my brother and his students had is what I'm talking about. Plants, gardening, and the Christmas Season should not be about commercialism and making money, complaining about the weather and how it's snowing (people, it's winter, it's supposed to snow), complaining about poinsettias and the overall lack of diversity and inspiration in Holiday plants, or seeing who can sell the most pionsettias at a specific price point to meet a predestined profit margin or percentage sell-through. It's about being excited for the beginning of winter, wanting to spend time with family, taking a break from work, hosting wine & cheese parties with friends, burning fires in a fireplace, catching snowflakes on your nose, dancing like the Charlie Brown characters in the movie, laughing when your sibling calls you and cries with joy "IT'S A ZEPPELIN!" Pure joy and sharing that joy with others. That's what the Christmas Season, and gardening, in my mind is all about.

Plant on and rock on,

Song for the Garden: "Skating" - Vince Guaraldi Trio
Photos taken by LRT

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Gen. X/Y Urban Garden Part 2

It's been just over a month since I planted the vegetable and herb garden out on my patio/glorified fire escape and I thought I'd fill everyone on the successes and challenges of the garden. Here's the overview:
Best performers thus far: sweet basil, green onions and tomatoes.
Doing so-so: radish and peppers.
What happened?!: cilantro.
Some challenges:
1. Heat. On one side its been great to have the sun shining on a daily basis, but after working in a greenhouse all day, there were definitely a few days I came home and realized that I had completely forgotten to water the plants! Just look at the radishes in the photo that have curled up and died, burnt to a crisp. One thing to keep in mind is to water early in the morning. Think of water as the "breakfast of champions" for plants. Having moisture available first thing in the morning helps jump-start photosynthesis after the evening hiatus. Watering in the middle of the day can also burn the leaves if water droplets are left on the leaves.
2. Poor germination. The cilantro we purchased didn't germinate, even after the two week period that is normally required for the herb. I sowed some new seed just last week, so we'll see how that turns out. Proof that over seeding is never a bad thing in container gardening, and that reading up on your varieties beforehand can be helpful.
3. Pesto is hard to make by hand. Don't try to make pesto with a hand chopper that you have to power by hand. My OXO chopper is now dull from all the pounding and chopping I did to make 1/4 cup of pesto last week. I immediately that night went to Bed Bath & Beyond that night and purchased the food processor I had on our wedding registry. This kitchen essential can't wait til October.
How are other gardens going? A customer of ours has developed with us an "herban garden" urn to sell this summer at their store, with provides 5 different culinary varieties of basil in an 8" rice hull urn. Hanna, my friend in Nashville who has become pretty successful at tending her heriloom begonia and growing herbs from her kitchen, planted some peppers and tomatoes pretty late in the season (end of May/beginning of June) as a trial to see if the plants will still bear fruit in time for summer. I've spoken with some gardeners who have been testing the Topsy Turvy Tomato Grower - I still don't think it works, but if it get's people to start gardening I suppose it's a start. Have successes or challenges of your own? Let me know!
Plant on and rock on,
Song for the Garden: No One Does It Like You - Department of Eagles

Friday, June 4, 2010

Lancaster Farms' Julia Loves Plants

Quite possibly the most amazing marketing plan a garden center or greenhouse could ever have - employing your children to talk about your wonderfully beautiful plants. Now, who says young people don't like to garden, or that Social Media isn't for Baby Boomers? When I have a daughter, I only pray that she's as interested in plants as much as Julia and me!

Lancaster Farms' Garden Tour with Julia

Plant on and rock on,


Monday, May 31, 2010

The Gen. X/Y Urban Garden

What is it about growing your own garden that is so enjoyable? Is it being able to see the end result of your hard work? Is it the contrast between a garden's beauty and the harst environment of city life? Is it the genes of my NH farm-raised grandmoster that's showing and making me itchy to get my hands dirty? I think it's a mixture of all the above.

This year marks the first summer I have a space to my own where I can plant a garden. University housing wasn't ever too keen on me installing a window box outside my 4th story apartment in a brand new building. For better or worse, I now live in a city apartment where the only green space to my name is a 3 sq ft patch of compacted dirt below a city-planted maple tree. So I decided with my limited space to try one of the few options city dwellers have - container gardening.

My fiance and I are fortunate enough to have a nicely sized fire escape that has become a "backyard". There were many sources of inspiration: Marty, one of our building mates, who has created his own garden out his bedroom window, the Philadelphians I work with every day who are constatnly looking for new ways to get plants into the hands of their neighbors, and the success of the vegetable garden my parents grew last year. So last week I stopped by a local garden center to pick up some essentials: a sizeable container to get the peppers and tomatoes started, smaller bins for the herbs, seeds, plant tags (I went for the au-naturale look of wooden stakes), organic soil, and an empty tonic bottle I used as a watering can.

I decided to grow green onions, green peppers, non-heirloom tomatoes, radishes (essential for tuna sandwiches!), cilantro, and sweet basil. I also have a Kentucky Wonder bean plant and spearmint (essential for mojitos). I kept away from the heirloom tomato route as the varieties can be finicky to work with, and I didn't want to go overboard in the first year here.
Throughout the planting I had an absolute blast! I felt like a kid again, as if I was working on a Girl Scout merit badge or something for the Skaneateles Junior Garden Club. Wat was even more gratifying was that within three days the radishes started to sprout. Got to love instant gratification!

Here are some helpful tips I've picked up along the way:
1. Make sure you purchase enough soil. I bought one small bag thinking I'd be ste, but there's a good 4" of space between the edge of the pot and the soil line.
2. Purchase containers with holes in the bottom, or drill your own! The tin bins are cute but don't drain well.
3. Read the directions on the seed packets. There is helpful info about how deep to plant the seeds, and the spacing requirements after the plants are established.
4. Over seeding is great. It eliminates any worry you might have about the success of your efforts.
5. Check out your garden daily. Make sure it's got enough water, admire your work, and talk to your plants. Research (and Myth Busters my fiance notes) has suggested that human speech has a positive effect on the health of a plant. Plus you'll get some nice oxygen in return.

I'll keep everyone posted throughout the summer with the progress of the Gen. X/Y Urban Garden.

Plant on and rock on,

Song for the Garden: Miss Broadway - Glass Candy

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Too Cool for School

So many times I have heard from friends, old residents of mine (while I was an RA and GRF at Cornell), and people I've met through travels "I love flowers but I don't really know what to do with them." I always respond by telling my friends that it's okay not to know, as arranging flowers for a vase can be pretty simple if you let the flowers "speak" for themselves. I find that if you have an eye for design or at least an eye for what looks bad, you'll know when an arrangement looks well put together. Still I think my zen outlook towards flower arranging comes from the fact that I was in a junior garden club when I was young, and flowers have been a part of my life for over 20 years. For others, designing with flowers doesn't come that easily.

There is a solution out there for those of you who have friends or you yourself are newbies to floral design and arranging: Little Flower School of Brooklyn, NY. Nicolette Owen and Sarah Ryhanen are two close friends who have come together for their love of plants, education, and everything beautiful to help Gen X/Yers like us without a single sense of design skill but plenty of desire to learn. Based in Brooklyn, Nicolette and Sarah have set up a shop and a number of in-house classes on a plethora of plant topics, including winter-happy plants and succulents, to flowers for Mother's Day, to a very special Cherry Blossom event. Their designs are absolutely divine, and their personalities are the cutest - I'm sure they are some of the best floral design teachers around!

Check them out at their own blog, Sarah's blog, and Nicolette's site for a listing of classes, dates, and topics - there's 3 spots left for the Cherry Blossom event! And if you're ever in the neighborhood or attend one of their classes, be sure to stop in and tell them Stephanie sent you and says hello!

Plant on and rock on,

Song for the Garden: Jackhammer - The Spinto Band
Photo Credit: SR, 2010

Monday, March 1, 2010

Begonias 'R Us

Happy March, faithful readers!

For those of you who have access to tv during the day or TiVO, be sure to check out the Martha Stewart Show tomorrow, March 2nd, for what is sure to be an educational and entertaining segment on Heirloom Begonias with Martha and Lloyd Traven. Traven, owner of Peace Tree Farm, a certified organic wholesale greenhouse in Kintnersville, PA has been collecting and sharing heirloom begonias for most of his life, and oddly enough, Martha Stewart shares this same passion with a man who could EASILY pass for Jerry Garcia.

For us Gen X/Yers, Martha might not be the hippest girl on the block, but we must admit she has a nack for a sophisticated style that is unpresidented, even if it's borderline obsessive when it comes to perfection. However, begonias are quite hip and "retro" as they envoke memories of our childhood visits to Aunt Jeanie's farm house in VT. Grandma's plants are cool again as we all seek to keep a grasp onto our most cherrished elements of our childhood. So even if you don't know a single iota about begonias, check out the show on tv or online - these plants are totally deserve their 15 Minutes of Fame!

Plant On and Rock On,


Song for the Garden: Fables - The Dodos
Photo Credit: LRT, 2009

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It's 2010 and This Plant Needs a Drink!

So it's 2010! Woo, Post Aughties!

However, with the end of the Holiday season brings some sadness - no more parties, all the decorations are taken down, trees are stripped of their lights and left for dead at the edge of the street, and poinsettias are thrown into the compost. For anyone living on the eastern seaboard (or nearly anywhere in the United States for that matter) lately it's been freezing cold for nearly the last week. January seems to rip the fun out of everyone's lives, and it can become quite the bland and bare month - all of the plants we used to decorate with for the Holidays are now gone.

Cheer up! There are some fun indoor projects one can partake in one wintery weekend to bring some life, color, and fragrance into your home with plants.

Grab the gin, this plant needs a drink!
Bulbs can be "forced" to grow before spring indoors with a little TLC and alcohol - yes, alcohol. As they grow, paperwhites have the tendency to lose their luster in the blossoms and become top-heavy. A study done at Cornell University found that by watering with small amounts of gin (in addition to water), paperwhites can stay crisp white and nicely kept. So when you're out getting some pebbles or potting soil to plant your paperwhites, be sure to stop by the Wine & Sprits store for your plants. While you're at it, be sure to reward yourself with a Gin & Ginger for a job well done!

It's (not quite) Shake n' Bake, and I helped!
From the smallest apartment to beauteous mansions, herb gardens are the perfect addition to every kitchen, whatever the size. Herbs are fairly easy to grow, so they are great for gardeners with any skill level. Seed can be found at any home improvement center, along with your potting soil and pots. Target has some all-in-one kits with some pretty chic containers to keep your herbs looking hot.

Winter is a popular time for garden centers to host educational seminars or hands-on learning sessions to get gardeners excited about spring. Dickman Farms in Auburn, NY is known for hosting session on creating your own evergreen wreaths from old Christmas trees. This month terrain at Styers in Glen Mills, PA is hosting sessions on creating your own terrarium. Visit your farvorite local garden center to see what events are being held to entertain us this winter. While you're at it, pick up those paperwhites - your house will be happier with the lovely fragrance, and you'll be happy with your plant project and martini!

Plant on and rock on,

Song for the Garden: Foux Du Fa Fa - Flight of the Conchords