From the Editor: Selecting next year’s winners

June 28, 2008
Written by
Forgetting for a moment the achy back from weeding, the early morning alarms to get some watering in before the municipal restrictions kick in, and the constant berating of the family pooch for digging in the beds, plants offer considerable enjoyment.

It all begins with the selection process at the garden centre and the amazing selections of colours and forms, and continues through the summer with a continual display of nature’s palette in your very own yard. Thanks to the many grasses on the market, those gardening displays, backed by a little breeze, now have a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on.

The breeders have done an amazing job. A yard of full sun or complete shade? No problem; they’ve got you covered. Gardening has become almost foolproof.
And who defines flowering winners? The town of Wallace, Nova Scotia, recently celebrated its inaugural Dandelion Festival. According to a Canadian Press story, the dandelion was a natural choice because “they are plentiful this time of year and seem to appear almost everywhere in the village.” One festival organizer noted that “they’re pretty, cheap and require absolutely no maintenance.”

Plants remain popular with consumers. The Harris Poll people in the U.S. have been surveying favourite leisure-time activities for some time. In results between 1995 and 2004, gardening was in a see-saw race with … wait for it … fishing for top honours among outdoor pursuits. Gardening peaked in 1999 with 15 per cent of respondents offering a (green) thumbs up, dipping to six per cent in 2004 and the runner-up award. What’s the lure with fishing?

A 2007 survey by the National Gardening Association found consumer spending on lawn and garden products totalled $35 billion US, an increase of three per cent over spending in 2006. Given our population of about one-tenth that of our neighbour, you can add about $3.5 billion on this side of the border. That’s a fairly large target market. What gardeners increasingly want is something that will perform well even in times of watering restrictions. And they like almost anything new.

Trials and show gardens are your best tools (in addition to your favourite horticulture magazine) for seeing what’s new and holding up well in field conditions. There’s no shortage of regional trials and garden showcases to tour to help you select the market winners of 2009. Among them:

  • Westcan Greenhouses in Langley, British Columbia, and the Vineland Research Station near St. Catharines have been hosting spring bedding plant and poinsettia trials the past few years.
  • Summer trials or show gardens are sponsored each year by JVK, Sobkowich Greenhouses, Sawaya Research Gardens, the University of  Guelph, and George Sant and Sons Greenhouses, all in Ontario.
  • Summer trials are also held at Jardin Daniel A. Séguin (Les Exceptionnelles) at the Institut de technologies agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe.

Grab your clipboard, the GPS unit and the sunscreen. It’s time to do a little homework. There’s an almost $40 billion a year market eager to spend on the top performers.

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