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From the editor: Buying more plants and garden plant trials July 2015

Growing Plants with Greater Confidence

June 9, 2015  By Dave Harrison

Why don’t more people buy more plants? And taking it a step further, why don’t some people buy any plants?

We know what these challenges are – they’re hardly new in the industry – but efforts to overcome them have been largely ineffective. As an industry, we need to do a better job of communicating with consumers.

In my extensive – yet informal – studies on the topic, I’ll frequently ask family members and friends about their gardening or plant gift-buying habits. In almost every instance, when I ask why someone isn’t “into” plants or gardening, they’ll sum it all up as follows: “It’s pointless. I can’t grow anything. It will just die.”


Bingo.Too many people feel there’s no point in gardening because it’s beyond their capabilities. They’ve had horrible experiences in the past, such as bringing home a wonderful hanging basket that barely lasted the week. Granted, they probably didn’t do a good job in watering it, but maybe they didn’t know how much or when to water, or whether the occasional splash of fertilizer might do the trick.

As Melhem Sawaya pointed out in this month’s recap of his tour of the California Spring Trials, the industry can’t afford to market less-than-premium products. Gardeners are always asking “what’s new,” so they can plant it out with the expectation they’ll have flowers identical to the label or bench card. But what if that new variety hasn’t been thoroughly tested to determine the optimal crop recipe for growers? A weak plant doesn’t stand a chance in the home of the average consumer.

It’s all about providing consumers with the assurance their plants will do okay with a reasonable amount of TLC.

And that’s where garden trials come in.

All-America Selections is the most prominent of these programs, and has been quite effective in both trialling new varieties and in helping market those winners. If you’re a consumer worried that anything you try to grow will only become unintended “groundcover” over time, that AAS designation suggests you have a better than average chance of succeeding.

The annual Sawaya Container Gardening Showcase held near Simcoe, Ont., displays the garden performance of the most popular varieties, as do the annual University of Guelph plant trials.

The same holds true for Les Exceptionnelles in Quebec. Varieties are judged first by consumers, and then by a panel of experts, with the winners announced each year. If you’re buying plants, you’d want to stock up on as many “Exceptionnelles” as you can, to improve your odds of having Master Gardeners peer admiringly over your fence to view your garden.

The industry needs to use the existing trials program to boost garden plants, and should develop a new program to cover houseplants.

Plants add much to our lives. They’re food for the soul, as many have said. And more people will buy more plants if they’re confident they’ll be successful. We have to support the programs in place, develop new ones currently lacking (houseplants or cut flowers), and vigorously promote them in the marketplace.

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