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Hot Plant Picks 2008: Seasonal trends in plant sales

March 26, 2008  By Michael Lascelle

We are essentially a ‘green’ business, and by that I mean that plants are the heart of the garden centre trade.

Sempervivum ‘Sir William Lawrence.’

We are essentially a ‘green’ business, and by that I mean that plants are the heart of the garden centre trade. Box stores will always be able to sell dry, storable goods (i.e., fertilizer, pots, packaged soils) at a lower cost than independent retailers but plants are perishable, require ongoing care to look their best and take a lot of space – space that most box stores limit to some degree. So I believe that a superior plant selection (coupled with good customer service) is our most valuable asset in regards to attracting new customers. That being said, we still need to pay close attention to our clients’ expectations and find new plants to entice our frequent shoppers. With that in mind, here is a quick review of trends I have experienced and also anticipate in seasonal plant sales.

Spring Picks
I have just three words to describe what I think will be the hottest spring plant for years to come, and that’s hellebores, hellebores and more hellebores. Few genera have garnered such interest as far as breeding programs are concerned and these plants have held their high market value over time, so the profit margins are good. Starting with the early white blooming Helleborus niger (and the earlier flowering ‘Praecox’) and ending with the apple green flowers of Helleborus foetidus in May, there are literally months of potential sales while these plants are in bloom. Last year ‘Ivory Prince’ (syn ‘Walhelivor’) and the H. argutifolius cultivar ‘Silver Lace’ were highly sought after, followed closely by many of the Helleborus x hybridus lady series, with ‘Blue Metallic Lady’ and ‘White Lady Spotted’ taking top honours. The double-flowering ‘Mrs. Betty Ranicar’ is also in high demand and we should see the introduction of several more double cultivars, including the ‘Double Vision’ strain and ‘Swirlin’ Skirts’ (green and white, with purple spots). 

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An outdoor fusion pot with bromeliads, croton and asparagus fern.   Euphorbia lactea ‘Cristata’/Crested Elkhorn.
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Helleborus x hybridus ‘White Lady Spotted.’   A mixed selection of Heuchera, Tiarella and Heucherella foliage.
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Selaginella ‘Frosty’/decorated Christmas fern.
  Combination planter of red poinsettia and Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost.’

Summer Loving
Expect to see a lot of outdoor fusion pots and hanging baskets composed of brightly coloured foliar houseplants and exotic-looking hardy plants. This trend is going to be reinforced by Heritage Perennials’ introduction of the ‘Haute Couture’ line to Canada this summer.

Succulents, both hardy and tender, are also enjoying a strong resurgence in popularity. In fact, last year’s top-selling perennials in the nursery I manage were Hens and Chicks or Sempervivum but instead of the ordinary green, red and
cobwebs types, we were offering a myriad of named coloured varieties. Echeveria and Aeonium were also in high demand, much in part to their ease of care in regards to infrequent watering.

Although packaged summer bulbs and perennials are usually sold in spring, the Van Noort Bulb Company Ltd. has revitalized these products with their ‘Colourful Companions’ line, sold under the Florissa label. Essentially, these are just previously available plants packaged together in colour blends such as ‘Fireworks Festival’ (double Aquilegia mix), ‘Copacabana’ (pink and white Eucomis) and ‘Flaming Desire’ (orange and red cactus dahlia) that make the choice much easier for the gardening consumer.

Autumn Harvest
It might surprise you to learn that the fastest-growing market in fall plant sales is not autumn colour nor spring bulbs – it’s actually perennials, grasses and evergreen shrubs for cool weather containers. The credit for this phenomenon goes to Proven Winners and its ‘Fall Magic’ line, which has captivated the gardening consumer and opened the potential for a whole new market. Don’t get me wrong – this company isn’t reinventing the wheel, it’s just found innovative ways to promote previously available plants (which they have been tested for quality) in order to appeal to the average gardener. With a plant line ranging from multi-coloured Heuchera, to jet black Ajuga ‘Black Scallop’ and the wispy golden variegated foliage of Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ – there is something here to suit any gardener.

Winter Wonderland
The introduction of Selaginella ‘Frosty’ as a holiday-season plant a few years ago was a complete departure from the usual Christmas fare of poinsettias, paperwhites and amaryllis. Also known as Christmas fern, this plant offered delicate club moss foliage of green and cream, which was easily adapted to suit any décor. These were primarily marketed in decorated four-inch pots (in a variety of colours) that could easily fit on the living room mantel or be incorporated into an indoor planter. This past season it was companion planters of red poinsettia and the delicate white blooms (almost like baby’s breath) of Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ that really stole the show. Proven Winners was also behind this ingenious plant combination and I would expect to see a lot more of this versatile Euphorbia in our spring and summer planters. Another Euphorbia that caught my eye this past winter was Euphorbia lactea ‘Cristata’ or Crested Elkhorn. This unique and easy-to-care-for succulent resembles brain coral and comes in many colour varieties. It was marketed locally in small ceramic containers resembling natural rock and was top-dressed with varnished pebbles, making it a very desirable package for impulse houseplant sales.

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