Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fall in Love (Again)

I have fallen in love.  Again.  Thank goodness!  I feel as if I have awoken from a deep, Sleeping Beauty trance that left me feeling bland, old.  This month's issue of Green Profit, a trade magazine for the retail end of the horticulture industry, features an article that recaps the brilliantly successful pop-up retail outlet my friend Carmen and her company Nectar & Company created this spring.  Carmen had told me about the event's success back in July but reading the article yesterday refreshed my excitement to the point I had to visit the gym for two hours to calm down.  Carmen and her team created a gardening wonderland with different vignettes throughout the greenhouse that appealed to numerous audiences in their Georgia town.  The catch though was these vignettes were not just 'mini departments' within a larger 'store' - each had a story to tell through its strategically picked plant offerings, color scheme, and staging.  At every turn you didn't know what you would discover next; cleverness and creativity was oozing from every inch of the greenhouse.  I remember telling Carmen with excitement "I WISH I had BEEN there!!!".  The creative, stylish, and gardening-made-easy nature of the event energized and engaged customers to return two, three times throughout the weekend, making the event a complete sell-out.

Excitement is the exact feeling missing in the gardening industry right now.  Granted there are some of use with lots of spunk who are making a commotion, but the majority of growers, garden centers, and landscaping companies are one in the same.  Regardless of whether they are locally owned or part of a box store chain, everyone is offering the exact same lifeless plants.  Everywhere you go in the spring it's the same Filler-Spiller-Thriller combination planter, the same purple petunia, the same sweet basil, the same over growth-regulated mum and ornamental kale in the fall - like that Greek yogurt commercial: "plainly plain and samely same."  Makes you want to buy plants, right?  It's a poor business model if you ask me, when the gardening industry is vying for the same dollars we spend on our Starbuck's lattes, music from iTunes, Pandora bracelet charms, PlayStation video games, and annual batch of Titleist golf balls, ALL of whom have marketing campaigns exciting and praising the individuality of their customers.

So what does it take for consumers to "fall in love again" with plants?  Thinking of other things in life I love, the answer lies many times with memories of amazing experiences:

Love for Food: Tojo Sushi Restaurant, Vancouver, BC: My husband Nick cannot visit or talk about another restaurant without mentioning our night at Tojo.  We visited during our honeymoon, were treated like family by Tojo, his wife, and an ensemble of waiters and waitresses, ate like royalty, and laughed the whole night.  An experience we would buy $1000 flight tickets just to eat at the restaurant.

Love for Music: Fifteen years of ballet classes, ownership of every Supergrass album, and attending a Girl Talk concert all revived my love for music at different points in my life.  Whether a song, musical chord, genius Jerome Robbins choreography, or Girl Talk's unexpected combination of vocals from Peter Gabriel with the guitar rip from Space Hog, music invokes memories and experiences that I want to relive again and again.

Love for Fashion: a pair of Steve Madden Herringbone Twill Heels: Countless walks up Libe Slope, a Valentine's Day with best friends, and a drunken walk through 3-ft of snow with Mike and Arnaub, I've worn these shoes so many times I've repaired the heels three times.  If a simple pair of shoes does not render memories for you, or if you can honestly deny your closet holds a dress you haven't fit in since freshman year in college but keep to see if one day you can, perhaps it's time for a life makeover.

Love for a Sports Team: Go Tribe! Go Red!: Reinstated every Sunday with Fantasy Football, every summer with the smell of beer and Nathans hotdogs, every winter with the crisp smell of ice, people will die for their beloved sports teams.  Why?  The thrill of watching the winning homerun/touchdown/goal at the last second, a memory that sports fans retell year after year.

We fall in love with songs we danced to in high school, sweatshirts from our boyfriends, with baristas who make our lattes perfectly every time, and lust over the next ipad.  It's time growers, garden centers, and landscapers evoke the excitement and memories of consumers to help them fall in love with plants.

Plant on,

Song for the Garden (Center): The Wise Guys - Start the Commotion

Monday, July 4, 2011

It's Been a Long Time...

Holy cow, it's been over three months since I last posted - call me the worst blogger ever. Life/work were a bit insane during this time, worthy of at least 10 posts if I wrote about every single plant-related topic. However, I figured I keep things from getting too long-winded and I'd write one instead - consider this the Cliff's Notes edition to my life - and just in time for OFA Short Course starting this upcoming Saturday!

Dear Horticulture Consumers - I'd like my month's worth of sales back. Love, Stephanie
Let's not talk about the Month from Hell now and leave that discussion for a time where we can have a drink (or a bottle of wine. Each.)

"Yes, I have Non-horticulture friends who grow their own plants."
Wendy LaManque - lawyer. Dani Zylberberg - foodie, wine sommelier. Hanna Block - ex-barista, teacher. Tristan Whitehouse - sailing instructor, teacher (ok, cheap point, he's my brother). I was having a conversation with one of our sales reps from a majore brokerage firm about the Edibles trend and whether it is gaining momentum with consumers. Rich made the comment that has been resounding in the industry for the last three years or so: "Baby Boomers are not getting any younger - how is this industry going to survive? It's not like [Gen X/Yers] are buying plants..." Do any Gen X/Yers beg to differ? My response: "Wendy LaManque, Dani Zylberberg, Hanna Block, Tristan Whitehouse. Give them a call and thank them for buying some plants."

My Future Sister-In-Law's College Graduation - Yay Kalee!

Urban Garden Season 2
We received the "Garden Writers" edition of the Hort Courture Sample Pack of plants at work and Lloyd told me I could use them in my garden as long as I kept record throughtout the season of the varieties' performances. Breeding companies like Hort Courture send out samples of their newest plants to growers and garden writers each spring in hopes of getting feedback and publicity. So far the annuals are doing quite well - more posts to follow!

Bucks County Garden Tour
A great girls' day out with Candy and Kristen, we toured the gardens of three houses in Bucks County and Paxton Hill. Beautiful, relaxing, and energizing!

Cornell Reunion - Class of 2006
We broke some reunion records (would you expect anything less from us?), gawked/cried at construction and fences, sang some songs, and drank out of Solo cups on the Arts Quad. It was supurb! Plants WERE involved too, with a visit to the updated Cornell Plantations with its LEED certified headquarters building, and a romantic picnic lunch at the Horticulture Field Trials in hopes of seeing this year's plantings underway.

APGA More! Conference in Philly
The American Public Garden Association (APGA) hosted its annual conference in Philadelphia, a perfect location since the city and its suburbs is home to the greatest number of gardens/arboretums/conservatories per mile than any other city in the country. My company decorated the hotel with mixed planters of some pretty unique and beautiful plants.

My Dad, the Next Charlie Hall
While at home this weekend for the Fourth, I was telling my parents all about this upcoming week as I prepare to travel to Columbus for the OFA Short Course and all that is planned for the trade show booth Peace Tree Farm is having for the first time. My dad is a graphics designer whose company does work for P&G and Energizer and so I thoroughly enjoy talking about market trends with him. Dad's market prediction/conclusion: "In the next few years there is going to be a major shipft in the way retail shopping works; it's starting to happen now. With Gen X/Yers becoming more and more prevalent and active in different markets, decisions are going to become more consumer-driven. [Your generation] is so used to customization - you are going to want to make every product and shopping experience your own." There's your homework friends! I'll be looking forward to your thoughts and comments later this week!

Plant on,

Song for the Garden: Lisztomania - The Phoenix

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The McShamrock Shake of Plants

Having just visited the Philadelphia Flower Show, customers calling me by day to pre-book April/May orders, and browsing seed catalogs by night for my kitchen windowsill garden, I've been thinking a lot about all things spring. I'm on the search for the newest (and most fashionable) style of gardening gloves, sourcing the coolest ornamental grass, and waiting desparately for the country's longest continuously running Farmers Market to reopen. My husband Nick is "getting his Spring on" by looking for solar-powered walkway lights, Woolly Pockets for the deck, and has found his beloved new grill. He too is anxious for the Easton Farmer's Market so he can buy the ingredients for our Easter Lamb Kabobs. Nick and I understand the wait is well worth it, completely necessary, realistic, and logical to the seasonality of produce and plants, having grown up with relatives who own an organic grass-fed beef cattle farm in VT, or in Nick's case right next door to a large dairy farm.

Does the rest of the American public understand why the Farmer's Markets are closed in the winter? Do plant buyers of garden centers realize why basil doesn't grow in January?

We live in a time where technology is king, where an astounding number of foods contain high fructose corn syrup, and the majority of our household items are made outside of the United States. Americans today have grown up shopping for their food at the local grocery store or produce dude down the block from their Brooklyn flat - places where food just magically is always available and always looks the same. My friend Melissa asks "Do kids/adults know that their food doesn't materialize on demand like Star Trek or The Jetson's?"

I think sadly the answer is no. A friend of mine attended the Bucks County Food Shed Alliance meeting last week and was taken back when the consumers at the meeting commented they want a year-round farmers market. Catch: a year-round farmers market supplying tomatoes, peppers, berries, etc. that are all LOCALLY sourced. Unless Bucks County finds a grower/farmer who is interested in growing summer produce in a greenhouse with loads of heat and supplemental lighting during the coldest and darkest months of the year, Bucks County residents might be SOL.

Obviously the solution is to educate the public - adults AND children - about farming and greenhouse growing. The work is hard but the results are well worth the effort. For Pete's sake people, plants are NOT tee shirts that sit on shelves in warehouses, waiting to be ordered and shipped to the grocery or garden center. There is a seasonality, an exclusiveness, a "limited time only" aspect - just the same as one can only get McDonald's Shamrock Shakes in March, or candy corn in October, tomatoes and basil are key components in "Summer Salad" for a reason.

CSA's attempt to teach their members about the work involved in growing, but how many of the members actually put in their required time by the end of the season? Perhaps field trips are a better start. When I was in elementary school my classes went to the Dewitt, NY Wegman's to see trucks delivering food to the stores; we visted the original Hoffman Hotdog factory (back when hotdogs were still considered "food" in the mid-80's); and my Girl Scout troop visited a local dairy farm to milk cows. If you're a grower, invite the local Boy Scout troops to tour your greenhouse and have them pot up some petunia starts. If you're a mother, suggest to your child's teacher they take a tour to a local farm. For my garden center peeps, work with the local school district to start a children's garden. And in the meantime, get excited for Spring!

Plant on,

Song for the Garden: Pumpkin Soup - Kate Nash
Song for the Seedlings (AKA Plant Wannabes): Summer Girl - Beck

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Let's Hear It for the Rookie Gardeners

With Valentine's Day just around the corner, it would obviously be appropriate to talk about cut flowers, flower arranging, ways to drop hints to your significant other that you want flowers, or helpful hints on how to help cut flowers last longer, but I decided against it. Sorry, Charlie Kremp.

Two weeks ago I attended the American Nursery & Landscape Association's (ANLA) NEW (!) Management Clinic. This was NOT your ordinary horticulture industry conference, were one listens to keynotes every morning at 8am, followed by a number of same-old-same-old education sessions on leadership skills or profit margin analyses. The NEW (!) Management Clinic was incredibly energize, educational, fun, tech-savvy, contemporary conferecnes filled with speakers who were not afraid to tell it like it is. By the end of the week, Gen Y-ers were texting with Baby Boomers their new ideas for retail displays, and I'm sure Mark Zuckerberg's Data Miners discovered a flood of new Fan Pages for landscape designers and garden centers. Needless to say, I'm pumped for Spring 2011.

What does this have to do with Gen X/Y Gardeners? You are all a part of an incredibly important group of consumers whom some at the Management Clinic came to recognize as "Rookie Gardeners". You might be a Rookie Gardener if:

a. You think you lack a "green thumb", or might even say you have a "black thumb",
b. You know the location of the local garden center, but have never gained the courage to visit in person (websites are a start, but don't count as a 'visit'),
c. You think the "local garden center" is Home Depot, Lowes, CostCo, or Walmart,
d. Read Martha Stewart Living and/or visit public gardens, admire the beautiful plants and flowers but think "I could never do that" or "Where do I even BEGIN?!", or
e. An ensemble of All The Above.

Fear not. Rookie Gardeners are a team of many, and there are garden centers and florists in your neighborhood who want to help you. Rookie Gardeners are surprisingly also Seasoned "Localvores" - you know the best restaurants in town, buy birthday gifts from the artist and jeweler down the street, and can be seen every Saturday at the Farmers' Market. Where does one begin to find the best local garden center or florist if one only knows the Box Stores? Running a Google search for "Easton, PA garden centers" does not yield the best results - half of the stores I know aren't even listed. You might have driven past a store a few times, but do you remember the name to find their website ("Honey, what was that place called? Posey Place...? Posey Pods...?")? Here are some suggestions:

- Visit and download the iPhone app. It's a great resource for not only plants and gardening how-to's, but also provides a search for local garden centers by zip code.
- Visit Today's Garden Center and check out their list of Revolutionary 100 - these are the Best of the Best stores across the entire US.
- Contact your county's chapter of Master Gardeners, or chat with the women at your church - chances are they know where to get "the good stuff" and might even invite you to their next garden club meeting.

This Valentine's Day I encourage all of the Rookie Gardeners out there to use your localvore skills and visit a local florist or garden center. Check them out - see what they're list, introduce yourself (yes, put down the smart phone and say "Hi, my name is ___, I'm a Rookie Gardener."), and ask what's in store for Spring. Let them know you're new at gardening, and ask how a Rookie Gardener can get started on a kitchen herb garden. Pick up a couple succulents - they're SUPER easy to grow, as long as you have light and don't water too often. Chances are, you'll learn something new and you'll be on your way to becoming a Major Leaguer.

Plant on and rock on,

Song for the Garden: "Let's Hear It for the Boy" - Deniece Williams

PS: I want to make baseball tees that read "Rookie Gardener" on the front - who's with me?