Times are changing at CanWest 2018

What not to miss at this year's CanWest.
September 25, 2018
Written by Gary Jones
We're now well into the season of trade shows and exhibitions - opportune to take a look at what is on offer at the 2018 ‘CanWest Hort Expo’, (Sept 26-27, Abbotsford, B.C.). This event is billed as ‘Western Canada’s premier horticultural trade show, connecting buyers and sellers throughout Canada and the Pacific Northwest’, and the organizing association (BCLNA) sure do a great job (special thanks to Karen and her team).
Over the years, the educational program has developed into what is now something not-to-be-missed if your business operates in the landscape, nursery or garden centre areas. So, a browse over the workshop, seminar and symposia topics gives a high-intensity spotlight on what’s currently new and important to those industries. (Are you like me, in that calling horticulture ‘industry’ just somehow doesn’t sit quite right?)

Among the hugely diverse range of topics this year are some of the usual, essential ‘suspects’, such as trends in plant/flower colour (not just green), new varieties, marketing trends, pest management and the importance of water (or lack of) in garden design: managing storm water at one extreme and designing drought-tolerant gardens at the other, with designing bubbling water features somewhere in there too.

Being a Brit, I’m used to garden centres being much more than just a plant shop, and in reality are a ‘day out’ destination. My second job in horticulture was in a garden centre which has now become a destination centre, with copious coachloads of visitors constantly arriving throughout the day. Others have developed around an up-scale shopping experience including clothing, garden furniture, books, crafts and such like together with restaurants, play areas for kids, even petting zoos and full-on pet supplies retail. So I’m not surprised to see one speaker encouraging Canadian garden centre operators to consider such options.

A few other topics caught my eye as indicators of where we’re heading. Sometimes a little unexpectedly. For example, one recurring theme is that of getting back to nature, as in the sessions on ‘Fertilizing for the environment and container’, organic soil management, and Egan Davis’ seminar on ‘Planting Design Patterns Based on Observing Wild Plant Communities’. By the way, if you’ve never been blessed to be part of one of Egan’s talks, get along sometime even just for the pictures – he’s a truly gifted photographer as well as wonderfully engaging speaker and passionate and knowledgeable plantsman.

Then there are presentations related to an issue that all of horticulture and agriculture seems to grapple with constantly, namely labour. Talks on effective leadership and how to properly on-board new employees to help them stay reflect this perennial challenge.

Of course, the gardens themselves are the focus of a number of presentations, reflecting the reality of modern living in areas of high land costs and smaller yard space. Vertical (food) gardening is now becoming a topic of interest, especially here on the West Coast, and consumers are keen to try to grow their own fresh vegetables and herbs at home. There’s also a workshop on intensive backyard food gardening being offered at VanDusen Botanical Garden (Vancouver Parks Dept.) this fall, which is expected to fill up fast.

Most of these subjects are not out of the ordinary, and provide a health check of the vital signs of the sector. But even garden centres and landscape exhibitions and educational programs are not excluded from the ‘M’ word these days. At least three sessions relate to marijuana: ‘Scientific basis for producing high quality and yield cannabis’, ‘Cannabis and the workplace – Ag Safe’, and ‘Weed 101: Understanding the Market & Profiting from It’. With presentations such as these, clearly the garden centre industry has evolved into so much more than it used to be. If you missed the event this year, be sure to add it to your calendar for fall 2019 – who knows what the topics might include by then.


Gary Jones is Co-Chair of Horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langley, BC. He sits on several industry committees and welcomes comments at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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