California Pack Trials .1

– Posted in: Garden Photography, Miscellaneous

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.

look cyclamen
Cyclamen Display at Greenheart Nursery

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.

takii kale
Cut Flower Kale ‘Crane Series’ Takii Seeds

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.

hanging basket
Aromatherapy Basket at Suntory Display

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….

leather girl

More: Pack Trials .2

Pack Trials .3

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

Latest posts by Saxon Holt (see all)

15 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Layanee April 11, 2008, 5:06 pm

That is just what I look like when I garden! NOT! LOL You’ve got to find humor in the absurd.

Frances April 11, 2008, 6:55 pm

HA, look at this you home outdoor decorators, you gardeners can just look down at your dirty hands and keep on walkin’.

Gail April 11, 2008, 7:08 pm

Glitz, drama, cartoon color and sex are happening all the time in my garden;-) … you know those birds and bees, phlox bugs and beetles.


Priscilla April 11, 2008, 8:03 pm

This is very interesting. I wish you could write a book about it so I could read more. I’m very young (21) and don’t know anyone really my age who does like to garden and easily falls into these marketing traps. Where I work as a merchandiser in a big box store, it’s sad to hear people who have never heard of the small nurseries. They believe that all plants come from the big box stores.

It’s interesting how they will advertise these plants now a days. That last photos does not scream gardening to me but fashion shoot. It’s always frustrating to meet the customers that just want a pretty color plant and don’t really care about gardening at all. I don’t think I quite understand how calling someone a gardening could be insulting. Maybe I’m just missing the reason.

jodi April 11, 2008, 11:22 pm

Rant on, Saxon. Gee, if I switch from being a gardener to a yard accessorizer, do you think I’ll metamorphose into that vampirella clone?

I didn’t think so either. And that’s fine with me.
Waitin’ for your next rant with eager, bated breath.

Heather's Garden April 12, 2008, 12:34 pm

I will say that marketing campaign is ridiculous. The way to market to a youthful generation is the advantages of going green. Growing your own vegetables to save money, preserving the planet, etc. and so on. Anyone who would be interested in looking like that woman while they gardened wouldn’t be willing to get their hands, or any other body part, dirty.

Kim April 12, 2008, 11:51 pm

Well, Heather… um… depends on what you mean by dirty! 😉

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I must be susceptible to the marketing, even if it’s not actually directed at my demographic. lol.)

Elly Phillips April 13, 2008, 7:19 am

Great post, Saxon! That woman looks like she just sat on the barrel cactus. I doubt that anyone would “insult” her by calling her a gardener!

Lois J. de Vries April 13, 2008, 9:29 am

Hi Saxon,
After running my own ad agency for 15 years, I can tell you that last photo is selling something, but it ain’t plants. This ?woman looks like The Plant Murderer. What is it she is supposed to be portraying anyway?

Mr. McGregor's Daughter April 13, 2008, 11:22 am

There’s something seriously wrong with our society when “gardener” becomes an insult. I also truly abhor the idea of pre-chosen plants for containers – doesn’t enough of America look exactly the same already? Reminds me of that 60’s song “Little houses on the hillside… made of ticky-tacky…and they all look just the same.” (Don’t you just love being counter-cultural?) And yeah, I always wear my leather jacket & stilettos when I garden.

Carol April 13, 2008, 11:30 am

Wow…I had no idea! Sounds beautiful to see but…they overly complicated. I am such a do-it-myselfer that I cannot imagine all the “ready made” aspects being profitable but..I’m sure they know their demographic.
I see you are on the road for awhile again but when you return drop by for a blog visit.
I have begun chronicling the Spring emergence of the gardens at Emily Dickinson’s House (museum) which is 2 doors down from me.

fsorin April 13, 2008, 6:20 pm

Good to have your voice back on GGW! I concur with everyone else that the woman in the ad looks like she’s ready to attack someone. Unfortunately, as far as paint by number container gardening as well as prepared containers, that has been going on at fine East Coast garden centers for at least the past 5 years. And now even Home Depot has gotten in on the act. I think this type of ‘fast food’ gardening is here to stay….unless we decide to follow in the footsteps of the French…who actually want to have a 30 hour work week and take a month of vacation time! Fran

Bonnie April 13, 2008, 10:51 pm

Fascinating entry! I’m buying Flower Confidential and reading it immediately!

bs May 22, 2008, 3:20 pm

what an awesome post!

i love watching marketing even though it’s depressing sometimes. it feels so circular to me. i’ll just echo what others have said… how can it be an insult to be called a gardener when you’re out buying plants??? and i wanted to thank mcgregor’s daughter for the song lyric. i’ve never heard “little boxes” before! it’s fabulous! it needs a revival for all the people who seek sameness and then wonder where all the excitement is.

Tamara Jansen May 30, 2008, 4:31 pm

Wow! I had no idea there were such amazing conversations about plant marketing going on outside of the actual industry boardrooms. Very interesting to hear everyone’s opinion. From my side, I am one of those nasty growers that serves up the ready made containers gardens but I PROMISE YOU, I look for the most interesting designs and best performing flowers in my designs. I have to assume that the person who buys my product might not know a lot about plants. I try to make a planter that will give a lot of joy to the consumer. In my mind, once the consumer tries “gardening” he/she will be hooked and then will go out and look for the more exotic stuff. That’s where the independant garden centre comes in……he reaps the benefits of the big box stores newly converted gardeners. It’s a win-win situation 🙂

Geez, where did you get the idea a nasty grower is one who provides ready made containers? Sounds like you are assuming your customers, if not already gardeners, are treated like gardeners. The problem with much of the subliminal marketing is it has no respect for real gardeners assuming everyone is affected by the message rather than the product.

Previous Post:

[shareaholic app=”recommendations” id=”13070491″]