California Pack Trials .3

– Posted in: Garden Photography

Pelargonium Necklaces:

I didn’t mean to shock you gentle garden readers with such a shocking (oh, shocking!) introduction. But if you have followed my other photo postings from California Pack Trials you knew this was coming. .1 post The marketing of plants is no different than anything else these days I suppose, it just doesn’t seem it will actually work judging on the response we have received on this thread. Then again, readers of garden blogs are not the target audience – we are already gardeners.

I suppose I promised this one as well after my .2 post selling osteospermums:

Enough of this; and now lets move into the truly sexist marketing as opposed to marketing with sexual overtones.

These banners were hovering above one of the vendors at California Pack Trials:

“she Looks . . . she Shops . . . she Buys . . . ” and:

” . . . he Pays” . . . . and don’t they both look like gardeners?

This particular vendor was not actually a plant breeder but a marketing group for retail nurseries. It was here I overheard a marketing specialist telling a potential retail nursery customer “Don’t call your customer a gardener – you may insult them”. These folks want retail nurseries to be lifestyle centers for shoppers accessorizing their lives.

My Pack Trials rant is done, the photos tell the story and I thank Amy Stewart and her wonderful “Flower Confidential” book for inspiring me to learn more about the business side of the flower industry.

I went to visit Amy last week and to see Sun Valley Floral Farm which she featured in the book. They are planting tulips now for late summer delivery. And I thought those Whole Food tulips we see in August came from Chile. I will post on that soon, but I must reveal the truth about Amy.

Suitable to her postings on the Garden Rant blog she rants in her own garden:

Lest any of the Gardening Gone Wild readers think there is any hint of bad blood with the queens of garden blogging I must say Amy is vivacious, smart and gracious. But she posted a photo of me on her site a while back and this is payback. The photo of me she posted was incorrect, we know The Camera Always Lies – I am the guy on the marketing poster above.

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

Frances May 30, 2008, 7:01 am

HA, great sign, Amy. I love it. I thought your photo on the rant piece did look exactly like the marketing photo, BTW.

Umm, Frances just which of the marketing photos did you think was me? As Jim, in the next comment notes, there are two different men in the two different posters and I must say after the photo of me that Amy posted I felt like the sumo guy and wished I looked like the pretty boy

Jim May 30, 2008, 7:38 am

Would you be pretty boy with the credit card apparently handy or be the naked guy in the fetal position? Or is that a before and after?

I’m not sure the implied lesbian pairing would make me buy a plant, but if there was a video…

Speaking as a guy in advertising, I do think the imagery is a stretch for marketing gardening material. It does grab your attention though. But, if every advertiser was out there to just grab attention, all ads would look like perfume ad imagery, which these do.

Oh my gawd !, you’re right, there are two guys ! Silly me to think everyone would think I was teh pretty boy….
The imagery is a stretch but remember it is not aimed at the actual retail consumer but at trade show attendees to make them think the industry is sexy. And that is the shame of it all; it demeans the customer who is not even present to defend themselves

Thanks for the comments

Les May 30, 2008, 8:26 am

All of the green industry trade magazines suggest that garden centers should marketing a lifestyle using words like relax, renew, rejuvinate, etc…, or worse yet with concepts like the above. These same voices say to avoid talking about such things as biology, NPK, soil and please do not use any latin names. I think most people come into garden centers looking for plants, and they appreciate knowing what it takes to grow their plant. If garden professionals sell quality plants and give useful information – the customer will be successful. Let some other business use lifestyle marketing.

I think it is valid for the garden centers to look for new revenue streams and I have no problem with gardening being a lifestyle concept. But the glitz lifestyle is not the one I think will draw garden customers. When I see these high key type of advertising I automatically assume the product is overhyped and too expensive. It makes me uncomfortable to even go in stores like that. With my beat-up jeans and dirty hands I don’t want to see either the naked wrestler or the pretty boy.

Gail May 30, 2008, 8:49 am

It’s quite amazing that we aren’t gardeners and now we go to Life Style Centers…I do love her fabulous manicure and of course we wear our pearls and diamonds when we garden… the marketers idea of a 21st Century June Cleaver.

The sign is perfect and I must go check out the Rant post again.

Maybe the new garden center could offer manicures for gardeners who surely need it (or are beyond hope)>

our friend Ben May 30, 2008, 5:03 pm

Geez, Saxon, if it hadn’t been for Jim’s comment, I’d have assumed some insane marketer decided to put a crumpled piece of raw liver with the osteospermums, not a naked guy! Guess the “sperm” part of “osteospermum” was just too much for them…

But what explains pelargoniums paired with the girls?

Tamara Jansen May 30, 2008, 5:19 pm

Being a grower who has someone attend the California pack trials annually to seek out new and exciting product, I find your blog fascinating. I thought I was the only one who noticed how stupid the marketing provided by the breeders was! They are trying to help us “sell” our flowers with all these glitzy posters and I am really wondering if the grower/retailers are buying their marketing. Do you realize that they charge us growers extra pennies per cutting to pay for this outrageous marketing?

A couple of years ago Ecke made a poster of a lovely new variety of Poinsettia (I forget which one) and charged the growers 50 cents extra per cutting. What did the grower get for 50 cents? One poster for every 10 cuttings (or some silly quantity). I wonder what happened to all those posters? I have never seen one in the store or propped up on someones dining room table behind their lovely poinsettia.

I assure you, I did not purchase any of that EXCLUSIVE poinsettia offering. Instead, I sold fabulous red poinsettias in a wonderful gift packaging that was ready to enjoy the moment you bought it. And the consumers bought them in multiples because, not having paid a premium for the poster, I could offer them at a wonderfully affordable price.

Where do the breeders get their marketing people from? Whoever they are, they are not gardeners.

Hey Tamara, thanks for chiming in. The marketing at Pack Trials is aimed squarely at you growers to make you think their product will make you feel hip. It may not affect you personally but if the buyer for Home Depot thinks some new Pelargonium will connect them with the “in” generation then they will order that pelargonium not the nearly identical one from the next breeder. The marketing people are trying to make the buyers feel cool for buying the coolest plant.

I need to say thought that not all, not even most breeders, are using these marketing gimmicks to attract buyers. Some use real science and truly new plants to attract customers, which is what I actually expected having read Amy’s book. One vendor had a display of their propagation techniques with various temperature controls and night light flashing that helps them deliver more robust plants in off season.

Oh, and one more thing since you sell poinsettias. The newest gimmick is selling two inch plants in tiny ornaments meant to hang on the Christmas tree…

Mr. McGregor's Daughter May 30, 2008, 5:59 pm

See, this is the kind of stuff that has made me lose all respect for marketing & those who work in that field. It is a ripe subject for satire, something Pythonesque. “He pays”? Is there a time warp around here? You’d think these marketing whizzes would be jumping on the “Green” bandwagon instead of the conspicuous consumption carnival that is teetering toward its death spiral. (Sorry, this dofus stuff brings me out in a smirk.)

Marketing is a strange thing no doubt and if we are indeed on the death spiral I may need to go out to a garden center and stock up on some seeds…

susan harris May 31, 2008, 2:08 am

Just to give any marketing types who might be reading this a real-life example of the effects of sexist advertising, does anyone remember those horrible ads for Charmin toilet paper? (Not that they’d ever call it that.) Mr. Whipple chastising a bunch of silly women for squeezing the Charmin, remember it now? I hated it so much I’ve carefully avoided buying their product for 20+ years now. Oh, yeah, we have looong memories.

I am worried you may be giving the marketers new ideas. Imagine the possibilities for garden sex, gardeners fondling their vegetables, bumblebees doing their thing, the heady beauty of gardens causing folks to lose all inhibitions… now you know why we call this blog Gardening Gone Wild…

Benjamin June 23, 2008, 1:58 pm

I’ll be the bad guy here: how can I get these women in my garden? Do they have them at nurseries now? Probably by liatris. Oh shoot, I just succumbed to this marketing by using the wrong head. But yes, amazing that this sort of advertising happens anywhere for PLANTS. I’ll never look at pelargonium in the right way again, at least, not the respectful and decent way I look at a maserati.

Benjamin – I would look for these women by the Arums

Angela @ Garden Bliss June 23, 2008, 3:51 pm

What about the irony in the fact that plant marketing is now targeting “non-gardening” twenty-somethings, without even a nod to long-time middle-aged or older gardeners.

This old-school marketing campaign is not only sexist, but ageist as well. It’s really not even about the plants. It’s about what whose dollar they think they can nab.

A fairly recent nursery industry magazine article even blatantly encouraged nursery owners to hire more young people with tattoos and piercings and not necessarily any nursery experience (paraphrasing here) … over older, more experienced workers. Why? Because they’re convinced gardening needs to be perceived as sexier and edgier in order to thrive. Maybe true, but it’s also true that people of all ages follow trends and respond to marketing. Lucky Brand Jeans gets this. They are hip and edgy, yet their models range in age from infants to hot mamas with silver hair.

These plant marketers are off the mark on this one. Some of the hippest, wisest and most avid gardeners I know are well past retirement age. And most (not all, but most) of the twenty-somethings I know think gardening is an icky chore; something your parents hire somebody else to do. I think the industry is forgetting that unlike most of today’s Gen Yers, older gardeners also have things like, oh, you know… yards and lawnmowers… and an interest in growing, um, plants. Good luck courting Gen Y; they’re going to be a tough sell and they get bored easily. So they say.

Do we know what retail plant brands are involved in this short-sighted marketing trend?

Angela – I suspect all plant brands are trying to look hip and trendy. The industry knows they have an ageing population and they are taking us mature gardeners for granted. The task is attracting the next generation. I would agree with you that there must be ways to span all generations and hope the “going green” environmental marketing will be a more appropriate way to get customers who are pre-disposed to gardening. – Saxon

Previous Post:

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