Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Retail
Going Green- Jan/february 2008


February 26, 2008
By Michelle Brisebois

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Have the plants in your store seen more of the world than you have?
Modern growing and logistical systems allow us to have Zen gardens,
English gardens and even tropical gardens.

Have the plants in your store seen more of the world than you have? Modern growing and logistical systems allow us to have Zen gardens, English gardens and even tropical gardens. The question is, at what price do we get this taste of the exotic? As many consumers are seeing the value in eating locally produced foods, they’re also looking to native plants to populate their gardens. The challenge is to get consumers to look at local plants through fresh eyes.

The strongest trends are generally fuelled by several factors and the trend towards native plants is no exception. Environmental concerns have leap-frogged over health care and the economy, quickly becoming the number 1 concern for most Canadians. Native plants are hardier because they’ve evolved here in North America. They’ve adapted to weather and soil conditions and they’ve come to rely on insects and other creatures that have evolved with them, pollinating them and feeding on their nectar. It’s these adaptations to local conditions that make native plants so easy to grow. From Prince Edward Island, with 640 species of native plants to British Columbia, with more than two thousand, our provinces are rich with opportunities and advantages.

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It wasn’t long ago that a lush green garden was considered a status symbol. Given the fact that 15 of Canada’s warmest years on record have all occurred in the last 27, few people doubt that our climate is warming. We all realize that lush gardens in the midst of drought take extra watering and as we begin to view water as a precious commodity, this practice seems wasteful. Local plants require less watering and as such can play a variety of positions, including as part of the increasingly popular roof gardens. Andrea Martinello, Marketing Manager at NATS Nursery Ltd. in Langley, B.C. confirms how versatile local plants are for gardeners. “This [changing environment] has led us to improve our product lines of drought tolerant plants, which can work well in rock gardens or on rooftops. Creating sustainable ecosystems within your garden will not only benefit your personal space, but nature as a whole by not only requiring fewer inputs, but creating positive outputs in such forms as food, habitat and oxygen.”

It’s a bit of a paradigm shift to get people to think of plants they see in local fields and forests as part of their gardens. We traditionally treat our gardens as an escape away from the mundane things around us. How do we position these plants as something special? Martinello sees native plants as a way to create a bit of “cottage comfort” right at home. “There is a real sense of region with native plants. Imagine walking into your favourite local natural area. It bespeaks of that place. The scent, colours and textures are all distinct. When you love the place where you live, it can become very satisfying to mirror those sensations right outside your door. We go to cabins and cottages to reconnect with nature. If you could have a chair out in your garden to read a book in that sort of surrounding without the drive and property cost, wouldn’t you?

Gardeners and garden centres alike may be concerned that a garden created with native plants will look ragged or uninspired. “We have heard that concern, and NATS strives to educate people to select plant species carefully for their sites. Native does not necessarily mean maintenance-free. It is about creating a grouping of plants that will complement each other in look, create seasonal interest, and be good garden citizens,” confirms Martinello. Companies like NATs, that specialize in wholesale native plants are experts in how to put them together in a beautiful manner. It will be important for garden centres to show consumers how the elements can play off of each other. Consider creating displays in your retail space that do this. Think of how IKEA puts its pieces together to show consumers how it all works – it’s the key to its success.

Consumers are also hungry to hear the “story” around the origin the products they buy. The more highly involved they are in the category, the more they want to learn. Origin is a powerful message as it relates to native plants. The wine industry refers to this as the terrior, which speaks to the type of soil in which the grape was grown influencing the taste of the wine. The same perspective can apply to anything grown in soil and here’s the key issue – this “story” adds value for the consumer and this bodes well for commanding a solid price point.

For those gardeners who are environmentally conscious and looking to support local economies, native plants are a great option. If customers can see how to combine these elements successfully and learn to appreciate their history, then perhaps the garden of tomorrow is already right in our own backyards.


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