Inside View: July 2007

January 17, 2008
Written by Gary Jones
AAbout 20 years ago, as a new trainee with the Advisory Service (ADAS) in England, I visited a small greenhouse perched on the edge of the east Yorkshire coast. It was some problem with a crop of 4" potted ‘prims,’ the precise issue evades me now. But one thing I still remember vividly: the literally breathtaking fragrance of those stunning plants in full bloom. Smell creates the most long-lasting memory of all our senses. I can almost smell them even now! I had never previously even noticed the ‘added value’ of this under-valued, ‘disposable’ ornamental.

Fast forward to this spring and me sitting here in the drizzly Vancouver spring, dreaming of balmy summer days ahead. I'm wondering how many such plants we miss. Just how do growers keep up with all the introductions each season?

Sales reps: These professionals offer a good way to keep in touch with new, upcoming species or varieties. After all, it’s their job to do just this. But this only gives a snapshot view, from the perspective of one individual company’s offerings. Plus, it might get rather confusing! For instance, Syngenta have recently taken over Fischer, the renowned German breeder of geraniums and poinsettias. But Fischer have a marketing agreement with Goldsmith; so now, do Goldsmith end up supplying one of their competitors?
Ag Ministry advisors: Impartial for sure, but becoming increasingly busy tackling wider portfolios of expertise, and time for variety trials is no longer the priority it was of old.

Grower Open Houses and trial gardens: This is an excellent investment of time to ‘cover off’ new introductions from a range of top breeders. Plus, you get chance to swop news with friends and colleagues. Westcan Greenhouse’s open houses, Mel Sawaya’s container trials, and the Jardin Daniel A. Séguin gardens in Québec, among others, have excellent presentations each year, and all are well-attended by growers and retailers alike.

Study groups: If you don’t have a study group near you, consider starting one. The title might be off-putting, but gather a few like-minded growers (persuade one to facilitate some kind of secretarial service), change the name, and away you go. Meeting regularly at each other’s greenhouses is a cheap but effective way to exchange ideas and work together in the local marketplace.

Trade shows: Another fantastic way to keep up with new varieties or breeding lines. Check the Greenhouse Canada  calendar for a show near you.

Internet: OK, so it had to get a mention at some point. But seriously, get signed up for some great online newsletters, you can snag many ideas from direct mailings. Or take a few minutes (if that’s possible when browsing the web!) to glean ideas from home improvement store websites or other possible fashion setters.

Trade magazines and local newspapers: A tried-and-tested source of inspiration. Check out those glossy, artsy, garden design ‘mags’ over a cup of steaming hot coffee. Your local ‘rag’ often has useful snippets that have direct relevance to your local customers. Plus, it primes you for the questions you’ll likely get asked this week!

Radio programs: Local ‘celebrity gardeners’ often host radio programs. These guys and gals typically have their ears to the ground and know the pulse of local needs.

Association newsletters: Local (provincial) ‘chapters’ of industry associations, e.g., the BC Landscape & Nursery Association, have great newsletters and meetings for members. If you’re not a member of your local association, ask yourself why not and get signed up.

Customers: Stating the obvious, but check out the buzz at your local flower auction (if you have one), with your supermarket buyer, or ask retail customers what new items they’re looking for.

Word-of-mouth: Yeah, ‘networking’. But it doesn’t have to be formal and official, just keep your ears open to new ideas.

Whatever you do, make sure it’s a combination of re-active (what people are asking for) and proactive (coming up with new ideas for customers). Preferably, it will be much more of the latter.

Oh, and whenever you get a chance, take a good and deep breath around those new plant offerings – it’s sure to help you remember those ‘stunners!’

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