California Pack Trials .2

– Posted in: Garden Photography

Where did I leave off ? My last posting California Pack Trials .1 ended with observations of how plants are marketed to the younger generation. I think it was this:

leather girl

Most of the comments I received from my first Pack Trials posting were amused by the marketing photo, assuring me I was indeed observing a new world, foreign to gardeners. One perceptive commenter, Ely said it looked like she just sat on the barrel cactus. Actually she must have stuck her hand on the pole cactus:

leather girl cactus

This seems an appropriate moment to re-interate the theme of my postings: The Camera Always Lies. Depending on how one frames the photo, the photographer can influence the way the viewer sees any given subject. This power of photography is assumed in the advertising commercial world but frustrates those who look at books and magazines and want to believe photos are unbiased.  Anyway, I have ranted in this before and here want to explore how the intentional “lies” of marketing campaigns push the limits a photo’s message.

The California Pack Trials surprised me in the way the garden industry is trying to catch the attention of the younger generation and sell garden flowers. Many big, corporate flower companies realize gardening per se (the way Gardening Gone Wild readers do it) is a small market and are not targeting we gardeners who are already ‘plugged in’. To make money they must sell to a younger generation who want accessories and need to think of gardening as trendy, modern, even sexy.

How about this one ? A naked sumo wrestler (?) napping in a bed of African Daisy.sumo man

I am not at all sure how this sells Osteospermums other than grabbing the attention of those who attend a trade show. Remember, California Pack Trials is not a public event but open to the movers and shakers of the flower industry: breeders, brokers, and wholesale growers. Here Fides, the breeder of ‘Margarita®’ brand of Osteospermum, hopes to convince some big grower that their new flowers are the ones they want to grow.

Like many of you, I am not sure if this works but as a journalist it is fun to observe. If there is continued interest in this line of thought I will post more pictures from Pack Trials, maybe even the nearly soft porn photo of two young women embracing with geranium necklaces.  Hmm, maybe not.  Maybe I should save those photos, maybe there is a new market for this garden photographer.  Forget gardening industry, who has Hugh Hefner’s e-mail?

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)

10 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

our friend Ben April 22, 2008, 4:13 pm

Ha!!! Good one, Saxon! Who knows, maybe Hugh Hefner gardens…

Kim April 23, 2008, 10:04 am

So… I’m supposed to infer that growing said osteo’s will cause muscular, tanned men to shed all of their closes and assume the tornado drill position in my garden? Or am I supposed to think that these “margaritas” are as powerful as the drink, such that they cause naked puking in the front yard?

Hmm…. LOL.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter April 23, 2008, 5:22 pm

I just don’t get it.

Sarah O April 24, 2008, 9:06 am

Y’know, I don’t get this either. I’m 24 and starting a landscape architecture degree in September. I love to garden. Many of my twenty-something friends, both apartment-bound and house-owning, are starting to grow things and coming to me for tips or advice. You know what they call it? GARDENING. They don’t want to manipulate Live Decorating Materials – they want to grow herbs, or veggies, or nice-smelling, old-fashioned flowers.

It just seems like these growers and breeders have a skewed idea of the market. I don’t see how that trendy market they are trying to capture is sizable enough, especially if a recession tightens our belts. Trenditos don’t dig in the dirt (unless they have designer gardening gloves?), and if they hire people, they don’t care if their flowers are called “margarita”.

The surest way to expand the growers’ market is to get back to the days when gardening was part of mass culture – remind people who are earth-conscious or self-sufficient or competitive neighbours that gardening is a great way to accomplish their individual goals.

Sorry for the length!

Sarah – I appreciate a good response.
All growers and plant brokers are not marketing this way and as a photographer/journalist I was attracted to this exhibit that is pushing into new markets. There is however, a concern in the retail nursery business that they need new customers who do not garden but like flowers. You (and your self-selected friends) are not the majority in the big new world of such consumers they believe. I only hope the real gardeners among us will keep nurseries healthy enough so that when the new buyers enter a store to buy instant color they get hooked and want a more sophisticated look all their own.


JT April 24, 2008, 11:15 am

I don’t get it either (as having anything to do with gardening), but can we see more of those photos here? It’s morbidly compelling, kind of like opera. People in marketing and their overwrought librettos of outdoor sexual angst . . . what’s not to like?

Lisa at Greenbow April 24, 2008, 4:59 pm

I sure hope to not ever find a naked sumo wrestler in my garden…or any place else. Good grief. I think these people were simply horny the day they decided on the “theme” of this show. Geez. Maybe they should be working for hotels.

Lisa – wait til you see the cherubs embracing But in all fairness, the show is not aimed at retail customers. It is aimed at wholesale buyers and brokers and some of the plant breeders use the glittzy approach to build a subliminal impression that their new introductions are what’s happenin’. There are so many different Osteospermums and pansies and impatiens and petunias at Pack Trials that the breeders need to create an image beyond just pretty flowers. They are all pretty.


Carol April 25, 2008, 10:13 am

I’m in the garden industry, and there has been a lot of talk about how to draw new customers to gardening. (By the way, I’ve heard no one make the absurd claim that being called a “gardener” is insulting.) So much of American society has migrated to neighborhoods with tiny yards. Drive down any given street, and those who love gardening really stand out because they are so few and far between. So, the industry is asking, what can be done to make gardening appealing?
Another worry is that the general public doesn’t know how to garden. The plant names can be intimidating, there are so many of them, each with different needs. And how many hobbies regularly results in you killing something if you mess up? Or even if you don’t?
So the industry is trying out different ways to first spur the desire to garden, then to educate the new customers in encouraging ways.
I’d love to hear your suggestions. If Chase agrees, I will post them on our industry blog, Open Register.

Carol – Great to have you chime in. I have been in the garden industry for 25 years doing books for Ortho when they were part of Chevron Chemicals (long since Monsanto and Scott’s) and feel I have some experience in the business side of gardening. I am amused at the uber marketing seen at Pack Trials but I understand the industry’s need to capture new audiences and try to make gardening look trendy and easy. I think the marketing of instant color and ready made containers is great for these folks and hope the industry will support the independent retailer who will be sure the customer gets fresh plants and gives them knowledgeable advice.

This will not get those folks into gardening though. But it may actually be great for the industry. If the customer comes away satisfied with color-to-go they will more likely do it again rather than try to grow something themselves, being led to believe they need an expert to do it for them. If this helps build the credibility of nursery professionals it is good thing for the health of retail gardening.

But to spur the desire to garden is another thing all together. I am sure the industry knows that those folks with tiny yards don’t want to clutter them with plants – the need space for patios and kids and many have little time to do anything but water a few pots of instant color. Most will never be gardeners.

The need to garden comes from the love of seeing things grow or the desire to put fresh food on table. These are inner needs of the soul and deep brain, not the needs created by marketing. How we bring out the primal urge to garden is in connecting it with earth and sustainability. This may be a great big “duh” for we gardeners, but for those who are not, they need to realize the connection that humans have with the earth itself and that it is personally satisfying to garden, failures and all.

And most importantly we must capture the kids. Gardening programs in elementary school definitely lead to demystifying the process and outdoor education is vital to connect kids to their local environment. I am sure one of the reason so many Southwest and West Coast gardeners don’t garden appropriately is they did not grow up where they now live or did not get out of town to see the natural beauty of dry summers and native plants.

Well,enough for now – I should have made this a whole blog entry. Maybe I will ….


Oh, and PS I did see a marketing person say it was insulting to some customers to call them gardeners. She was not disparaging gardeners themselves but was referring to new customers to a retail nursery that may know nothing about gardening and comes to buy instant color for their sick aunt or a housewarming present. That customer may be (unfortunately) insulted to be called a gardener when they think of themselves as a decorator accessorizing their living space.

trey May 1, 2008, 10:30 am

As a small retail nursery owner I would disagree that what we “need new customers who do not garden but like flowers.” Not me! I want long term customers who find gardens and gardening sexy. We’re making a big mistake if we believe that the way to new customers, wholesale or retail is a Abercrombie&Fitch kind of sexy.

We should be promoting a different kind of sexy. I would rather see pictures of younger people, sweating in the sun growing their own food. Thats sexy.

The pictures and campaign you see at the pack trails is a perfect example of old media at work. Assumptions of what constitutes sex appeal we’re made. Once again we turn to a Madison Ave.for our ideas. In my opinion there is nothing sexy about the ad campaign.

suzq May 28, 2008, 2:20 pm

Ha ha! Hugh Hefner does garden! I occaisionally watch the E! channel’s “Girls Next Door” and note how lush the gardens around his mansion are.

His groundskeepers are very keen on sustainable gardening and one of Hef’s girlfriends (don’t ask me which one…they all look alike to me!) is interested as well.

Julie April 6, 2010, 3:23 am

I majored in advertising and this is clearly a lack of research! You have to figure out who your target audience is and how they will respond to a message. And if you are going to go the “sex appeal” approach, do it ala Georgia O’keefe or Robert Mapplethorpe’s flower pictures. Those are both examples of sexy plants. : )

Julie – No doubt O’Keefe and Mapplethorpe know how to portray sexy plants, but I think the target audience for these Pack Trials is not the ultimate retail customer but the wholesale buyers who, in this case, are led to believe they are out of touch with the “new” generation. By this advertising, these wholesale buyers are being told that the flowers being offered by this grower will resonate with a new audience. I doubt anyone expects to do this sort of advertising at retail. (hope not !) – Saxon

Previous Post:

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