Reinventing Summer

May 26, 2007
Written by Brian Minter
Changing weather patterns have created some new realities on how and when we do business. On the West Coast, March has become another month of winter, being replaced by June in terms of sales. Summers have become warmer and drier, shifting more folks outside and into patio living.
54Changing weather patterns have created some new realities on how and when we do business. On the West Coast, March has become another month of winter, being replaced by June in terms of sales. Summers have become warmer and drier, shifting more folks outside and into patio living.
The outdoor room has also become a reality across the country, and it is fast becoming the new entertainment, cooking and leisure living centre. This outdoor living lifestyle has created a huge opportunity for garden accessorizing.

There has been tremendous growth right across North America in container gardening. The home improvement sector and the discounters, like Wal-Mart, usually have fairly good container inventories but they are often low end, basic fare that looks pretty tired by early summer. The opportunity for garden centres lies in the presentation of fabulous ceramic containers planted with stylish, heat-loving new plants.

Stunning containers featuring new ornamental grasses, such as miscanthus Gold Bar‚ or the “wow foliage” of the Carolina Series of ipomoeas, purple setcreasea, dramatic Persian Shield‚ sun tolerant coleus and the new perillas, will quickly find their way onto summer patios. There is also a huge trend towards using tropicals and ceramic pots of colocasias, bananas, alocasias, and the new cannas will also turn heads. Dramatic or simply themed rock pots or low bowls of the all-new echeverias, sempervivums and aeoniums should disappear like magic. Large specimens will also dazzle and inspire. With some innovation, summer container sales should sizzle.

Huge flowering summer perennials are also a big hit and will boost summer sales. Three and five gallon Echinaceas in all the new colours, like Sundown‚ Sunset‚ Sunrise‚ and Twilight are quite remarkable. Rudbeckia Goldsturm is quite stunning as well, providing long and easy colour. Spanish lavender in pots is huge right now, especially the new Anouk variety from Holland that blooms all summer and is hardy to zone five. Many innovative growers are timing spring perennials, like delphiniums, lupines and Asiatic lilies to bloom in July and August.  It is like starting a new season, and it re-inspires customers looking for a fresh new look.

Summer grasses in ceramic pots are very popular too. All the fabulous new pennisetum and miscanthus varieties have a great summer following. Small plants are not where it’s at; rather, huge plumes that dance in the summer breezes are what folks are missing on their patios and in their gardens. Even 7, 10 or 15-gallon containers are not out of the question. It is also important to grow large annual Purple Fountain grass and the new varieties of pennisetum, in particular Prince‚ and Burgundy Giant. They will truly steal the show.

The antidote for summer heat is water, and patio ponds are the order of the day. Low ceramic bowls or wine barrels filled with water hyacinths, lilies and tropical cannas and colocasias create huge opportunities for sales. Small pumps, gurglers, spitters and bamboo deer scarers create added interest and sales. Where ponds are neither practical nor wanted, vanishing water features with basalt water gurglers create some fabulous higher end sales opportunities. Water is magical, inspiring and profitable.

As an industry, we should be on the leading edge of the environmental movement, and selling large calibre trees ready to plant around folks’ patios should be a natural. The cooling effect alone from Mother Nature’s living air conditioners should be enough to seal the sale, not to mention the carbon credits. Well presented around our stores, larger trees can be a great opportunity, especially if you have an arrangement with a local landscaper to install them.

By mid-summer, most hanging baskets are looking stressed. When the summer travel season begins, and friends and relatives come to visit, many people are looking for a quick fix or a change. Having fresh, new heat-loving summer baskets is a great way to be a local hero and make your customers look good. Create easy to maintain and beautiful baskets by using heat-loving combinations of sweet potato vines in all their new colours, and for sun: trailing petunias, arctotis, and gazanias. And for shade: coleus, plectranthus and silver dichondra.

By creating these opportunities for summer sales, and at the same time by developing some great display merchandising, something else happens; your store becomes a summer destination. Folks have another reason to visit your store and a place to bring friends and guests.  We have had great success with summer, and it just gets better and more fun each year.

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