Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Retail
How We Can Stay Relevant


September 1, 2009
By Brian Minter

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After being on a panel at the recent OFA Short Course in Ohio, discussing the state of the floriculture industry, it’s clear that in North America our industry has been experiencing insignificant growth in recent years, going from approximately 16 per cent yearly growth in the 1960s to one per cent or less growth in the past few years.

After being on a panel at the recent OFA Short Course in Ohio, discussing the state of the floriculture industry, it’s clear that in North America our industry has been experiencing insignificant growth in recent years, going from approximately 16 per cent yearly growth in the 1960s to one per cent or less growth in the past few years.

There are many reasons why our industry is not growing, but the main one, I feel, is relevancy. In fact, many industries in North America are facing the same situation, and it’s not affecting any one demographic in particular. The world has changed dramatically and so have people’s lifestyles, whether we’re talking about the Millenniums, the X and Y Generation or the Boomers, and our industry seems to have become less important in their lives. Ironically, we have so much of what they need in their lives, but we can’t seem to get the right message out in a compelling and meaningful way.

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The Canadian Department of Agriculture, along with the Canadian Nursery and Landscape Association, commissioned a study in 2007 about the value of plants. It specifically used documented scientific studies to review the economic, environmental, health and lifestyle benefits derived from ornamental horticultural products. This report showed how plants can reduce energy costs, both heating and cooling, improve property values, enhance the beauty and aesthetics of buildings and communities and improve privacy and security.

From the environmental aspect, it pointed out how plants could moderate urban heat islands, produce oxygen, sequester carbon and ameliorate pollution. Plants also helped reduce the impact of severe weather and aided with water management and erosion control. They also reduced noise pollution, controlled urban glare and attracted birds and wildlife.

When it came to lifestyle connections, this report scientifically pointed out how plants reduce stress, introduce calming effects, improve productivity and aid faster recovery in hospitals. Plants also improve life satisfaction and well being, increase positive emotions and generally improve the quality of life in urban settings. They also do much more. In a world of ever increasing IT and the pressure to do more, better and faster, thus creating a great deal of stress, plants seem to be an antidote. They help put balance back in people’s lives and provide a sense of comfort and control. They also recharge the senses with fragrance, tactile sensation and beauty.

It’s time to reposition our plants to be more relevant, and we need to do this rather quickly. Vegetables are our current saviour. Vegetable gardening has suddenly changed to food gardening and has now become something that more and more folks are engaged in. This new trend started in spite of us, not because of us. We now need to make it more relevant by featuring funky new varieties like ‘Sun Raisin’ tomatoes that have been bred to produce sun-dried tomatoes very easily. A whole bunch of new stuff is coming out for 2010, and we need to be promoting how they can add new flavours, tastes and culinary value.

The same is true of small fruits and fruit trees. There has been a huge jump in sales this year of everbearing small fruits, especially strawberries, raspberries and flavourful antioxidants like blueberries and blackberries. There is also a growing awareness of the antioxidant value of many other berried plants like goji and goumi. Another popular trend is container grown, espaliered and colonnade fruit trees and small fruits. These are the new health food stores in our gardens.

Outdoor colour will also take on a really new look in 2010. Many of the major plant suppliers have used designers to combine colours for next spring in plant combinations that do well together. The idea is to produce these neat new combinations to the grower, who in turn will present them in many styles for consumers. It’s a designed look that even ‘brown thumbs’ will appreciate and have success with. The idea is to connect people to combinations that add value and appeal.

Indoor tropicals need a new facelift, and although we’ve got some fabulous new long-lived and easy to grow plants like anthuriums, bromeliads, lucky bamboo and orchids, other tropicals, like dracaenas, aglaonemas and philodendrons, they need to be repositioned as therapeutic air cleaners and purifiers. This is their new connecting point.

Shade and flowering trees need a new position as well. In smaller spaces, we have a whole new series of narrow columnar forms that will even fit nicely into containers. Even though they can provide great shade on a patio or in a small space garden, their cooling effect and pollution control offer a more direct connection.

Relevancy is going to be the key driver for our industry going forward, and we must find a way to connect all the benefits of plants to people’s lives. We need to create a culture of plants that is not only relevant but also necessary to their quality of life. Traditional marketing is not how to connect today. We need to learn to Twitter and blog interesting and relevant bits and pieces about plants to value add. As the saying goes: ‘the best time to plant a shade tree was ten years ago – the second best time is today’.