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Inside View: November 2013

November 6, 2013
By Gary Jones


Before getting into what’s “trending” with perennials, let’s ensure we’re all talking the same language.

Before getting into what’s “trending” with perennials, let’s ensure we’re all talking the same language. Recent conversations with people in the industry made me think there was room for ambiguity. So here goes … 

Perennials – In the most literal sense of the word, these are all plants that live for more than two years. However, in common use, it most often refers to herbaceous plants, evergreen or deciduous, and “sub-shrubs” (also called bushes, not usually growing more than two metres  tall, for example, lavender or sage).


“Perennials” rarely refers to plants with permanent aboveground (woody) structures.

Shrubs – Usually woody and distinguished from trees by their height (less than six metres) and their multiple stems. Shrubs are plants that do not normally develop a single, dominant stem within 1.5 metres of the ground.

When a large shrub becomes a small tree, it is mostly to do with it having a single stem or not.

Woodies – Shrubs and trees, and sometimes palms … just for fun.

So with that cleared up, a tour of the CanWest show in September revealed some trends in the gardening world. Some are new, and some we’ve seen for a few seasons now.

Without a doubt, the single biggest trend is the constant demand for “instant” gardening. Consumers want huge, showy potted flowers that feature waves of vivid colours or attractive leaves the moment they’re taken home. People don’t want to wait for small plants to grow.

Many customers are at an age where they are “downsizing” or they’re just so busy that they’ll pay the grower for his time to grow the plants. Others are apartment dwellers with small balconies who still want to own plants. We’ve done a good job of helping these people realize they can have a garden in their 26th storey condo. But in the process, have we helped set expectations of “instant gratification?”

That’s not really a problem, as long as Mr. Grower can guess two years ahead of time what will be the “in” colours or leaf shapes to meet this demand.

Up there with “now” is “easy.” The names of new products say how much we recognize this: “Bloomin’ Easy” (plant collection), “Clean ’n Easy” (rose collection), and “One” time-release fertilizer that helps you “feed your plant for months with one easy application.”

All these great new products were showcased at CanWest. And of course, “easy” is a great way to sell.

But, I wonder in the process of stressing “easy,” are we devaluing our products? If it’s so easy to grow, why does it cost that much? Along with “easy,” one grower at CanWest said that people want “low maintenance,” and in particular more drought tolerant plants.

Tall, columnar plants are popular for their architectural statement. They’re bold and eye-catching. Similar effects are there with new colourful plants, such as sedum ‘Pure Joy’ or spirea ‘Ogen Mellow Yellow.’

Well, it’s not expressed as such, but one grower said that his customers are willing to pay more for an item that holds the promise of future reward. An example of this would be adding value to a basket arrangement by including perennials that “promise” a second chance of enjoyment if planted in the garden once their indoor time is done.

Perhaps you’re thinking these trends are not all that new, and that you’ve seen them before. That may be true. But what’s new is the speed with which these trends change or come anew. Several growers (immediately!) replied that they’re sure this need for speed is driven by the instant “phone app” generation.

Young people are so used to getting instant answers from their smartphones that they expect this in all other areas of their lives.

When asked “what’s new,” one grower replied that “new is a phenomenon – new lasts an hour before the next new thing. New doesn’t last any more. How do we keep up when new products take seasons to develop?”

Put another way, one grower replied, “Trends? Trends means people always asking for what you don’t have.”

Hmmm. ■

1 Barbara Findlay Schenck, at

Gary Jones is chair of production horticulture at the School of Horticuture, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langley, B.C. He serves on several industry committees and welcomes comments at

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