Growing Your Container Gardening Business

May 30, 2006
Written by Carla Allen
As interest in container gardening continues to climb, some garden centres and nurseries in Atlantic Canada are modifying their operations to follow the fad. Consumers are drawn to container gardening and pre-planted pots for several reasons – versatility, less weeding, portability and a faster bang for the buck.
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LEFT: Container gardening offers customer versatility, less weeding, and portability. Pots also act as decorative accents in the garden.
RIGHT: As the trend in container gardening continues to grow, customers are looking for unique pots to differentiate themselves from their  neighbours.
As interest in container gardening continues to climb, some garden centres and nurseries in Atlantic Canada are modifying their operations to follow the fad. Consumers are drawn to container gardening and pre-planted pots for several reasons – versatility, less weeding, portability and a faster bang for the buck.  Instant gardens are highly appealing in today’s time-pressed society.

“People want instant gratification in this day and age,” says Jim Spencer, owner of Spencers Greenhouse in

Shelburne, Nova Scotia.  “Most of our customers are people coming for the summer who aren’t going to wait or they are baby boomers or older people and they have enough money to do that (buy planted pots). They don’t want to wait.  They want it right now.”

Spencer plants 12-inch terracotta “deckrows” with impatiens and then lets them get a good start under glass.  The containers are then plunked in the ground for landscape jobs.

“It’s not above ground, it doesn’t dry out as much and it looks like it’s growing there,” he says.  He carries a good selection of pots for the do-it-yourselfers, but grumbles about it. He looks at sales per linear foot – how much money does grass seed make? How much do hydroponics and tools make?  “The markup on pots is so little and they take up so much space,” he says. “Just one alone can take up three linear feet.”

For some owners, like Sue Mosher, shopping for containers and similar hard goods is something they anticipate.  She and her husband Ken own Natural Expressions in Chester, N.S.  In the spring of 2005, her order included five pallets of glazed pottery from B.C. in addition to Scott clay handmade products, wicker, rattan, galvanized steel planters, wall planters, resin, giant fibreglass pots covered in copper, and cradle planters.

“Container planting is so big. We’re going for odd stuff, things that Walmart, Zellers and Superstore don’t have,” says Mosher. 

Natural Expressions makes it a point to include high-end products in their inventory in addition to bargains. Mosher says they are in a good area to move big-ticket items.

Gardening is an important part of life for the affluent residents of Chester and Mahone Bay.
A few miles up the road at Pine View Farm in Bridgewater, Chris and Karen Brown say that pots and containers now account for probably 2/3 of their sales in the line of product that they grow.  The lion’s share of their business is to retail customers. They may go to the chain stores for their bedding plants, but they make a beeline for Pine View afterwards for unique, one-of-a-kind items, including big baskets, mono-planted and mixed containers, which move very well.

“We take a container, look at what we have available in the line of cuttings and stick half a dozen to two dozen cuttings in a container and let it grow out,” says Chris Brown.

Their business offers a wide price range determined by their production cost per foot of window box or inch of container.

“Regardless of what type of container it is we basically work the price the same way,” says Chris.

Pine View Farm is famous for their 24" wire baskets, which are planted top and sides. Of the 18,000 square feet they use for retail, 10,000 of it is for pots and containers, not counting the hanging baskets. This year Chris says it will be a higher percentage because they are doing less bedding.

Karen Brown laughs and replies “Everything!” when asked what they grow for containers. Their mixed containers feature a lot of Fischer petunias including Jamborees and Whispers. Calibrachoa has been their biggest seller in recent years.

“New Guineas still have a really good following. Fuschias are okay, but we probably do more callis than any other single basket in our regular 10" basket. We are doing more and more mixed containers,” she says.

Companion plants like bacopa, ivys, helichrysums, diascia, nemesias, “all that little trailing stuff,” are planted in four-inch pots for customers, says Karen.  Some of the up and coming plants she says that are taking more and more of the annual market share are osteospermum, ageranthemum, and other “daisy types.”

“They are really starting to pick up some serious momentum,” says Karen.

In Quispamsis, New Brunswick, Duncan Kelbaugh, owner of Brunswick Nurseries, says their annual Window Boxing Weekend (this year May 27) becomes better attended every year. Gardeners bring their own containers and window boxes during the weekend for expert advice on planting them. Free potting soil is supplied, but plants must be purchased on site. Design and layout, fertilizers, spacing and maintenance are discussed.

“There’s definitely a greater demand for that type of gardening.  It is becoming a bigger niche,” says Kelbaugh.

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