A true rant is about to begin. Oh yea gardeners beware. The camera does not lie. First I apologize to my loyal readers (all 14 of you and you know who you are…) that I have not posted recently. Garden photographers tend to be busy in spring and I can barely keep up with editing last year’s work much less my own garden, tax filings, and blogging. (Also note, we at Gardening Gone Wild try to respond to those who comment; I am hitting the road again in 2 hours and will not look at the blog for a week.)
This should be worth the wait. The California Pack Trials – truly unbelievable if I had not seen it with my own eyes.
The California Pack Trials is an annual event open to the nursery trade to introduce new plants. In my naivité I expected only to see masses of colorful annuals in new shapes and sizes. I did see this and learned so much about the marketing of plants that I want to do a book. If only I could write as well as Amy Stewart I would pick up on her wonderful “Flower Confidential” book and do a whole book on the marketing of annual plants. Actually I must give Amy credit for my interest if seeing the Pack Trials to begin with. Her book opened my eyes to the marketing of flowers, mostly in the florist trade while the Pack Trials deals with marketing garden flowers to nurseries.
I discovered that Amy’s book is quite controversial in the flower industry and several folks I spoke with were very defensive about the marketing of flowers because of what they had heard about the book. Funny, none had read it. And y’know what I think? most of them are not gardeners. They know a heck of a lot more about plants than most gardeners but don’t think of themselves as gardeners. These flowers are items to be marketed.
Nearly all the people I met loved flowers, were smarter than smart, and patiently explained to me the reality of developing and selling flowers to the nursery trade. They don’t quite “get” what gardeners want, but that is not their business really – they are into developing new products for new markets. A place like Takii Seeds will spend years developing new Celosia, or Pansies, or as seen, above wonderful ornamental kale, hoping that there is a market for it. Hoping a plant broker will come through at Pack Trials, get a wholesale grower interested that can sell 500,000 to a retailer like Home Depot.
The scale of selling is phenomenal and I still don’t know how they can make any money and gardeners can still buy a six-pack of the latest and greatest petunia for $3.99 retail. And actually now, I do have an idea of how this works now, because the industry is not catering to the gardener who wants a few sixpacks of a carefully chosen annuals. The industry is selling color to homeowners who want to accessorize their living space. One marketing person was heard to tell a retail nurseryman that they risk insulting their customer by calling them a gardener.
Beautiful displays are everywhere at Pack Trials. Plants are grown out in climate controlled greenhouses so flowers are at a state of marketing perfection. One of the biggest trends is selling the retailer on the idea of ready made containers for their customers who have no time to do their own gardening. Before long we will all be seeing six pack of plants that are six different carefully chosen and researched plants that will work well together. This is not necessarily a bad thing for the industry but it is such a foreign idea to me I am still getting used to it.
The names of the plants is not even important to most consumers anymore. The hanging basket collection above that is sold as a Aromatherapy Basket contains Surfinia, Temari and Violina all copyrighted names for carefully bred types of Petunias, Verbena, and Pansy. If all this works to promote more flowers in peoples lives I will not object. It is fairly obvious that those of us who care about the really truly special plants for own eclectic tastes are in the small minority, and we are all talking to ourselves. Hopefully the mass market will fall in love with gardening and then support the small local nurseries who propagate their own plants and do not depend on what is being developed by the “big boys” of the industry.
What I do not understand and what will be the subject of my next blog (who knows how soon <g>) is the marketing of flowers to the younger generation who apparently need glitz, drama, cartoon colors, and sex to grab their attention. And honestly as a journalist and photographer I loved the high drama displays. So completely unexpected and different. These displays certainly got my attention but I am not sure I want to go home and garden….
More: Pack Trials .2