So much of what is going on in the world is just beyond our control. As an industry, we have an opportunity to help people transform their homes and yards into sanctuaries for calm, beauty, enjoyment and resilience during these trying times. While our national and local economic recoveries will take many years, a home can be transformed, brightened and productive in a single season.
The first Saturday in February, I attended Cleveland Botanical Garden’s fourth annual Sustainability Symposium to learn more about our region’s most passionate gardeners. I had attended two years ago and was wondering if the interest would be as strong and what the audience would be most interested in. In the trade, the consensus seems to be sustainability is not as important when people are pinching their pennies, that saving money trumps all other interests.
But this was a more affluent group of gardeners and community activists. The event was completely sold out with more than 300 attendees, standing room only. Registration for this day of education was just under $100. Many were Master Gardeners seeking continuing education credits. Others were members of the botanical garden and of partner hosting organizations–Nature Center at Shaker Lakes and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s Green City Blue Lake Institute. At least half of the attendees were older than 60 and only 10 percent of the attendees were male. I’d guess no more than 10 percent were under 40 (younger than me).
While the past three symposiums focused on broader trends and concerns, event planners brought sustainability to our immediate backyards this time. “This year is all about you,” said Victoria Mills of Doan Brook Watershed Partnership. “In our individual homes and neighborhoods, we have untapped potential to make a difference in our environment. We get to choose the vegetables we grow, plants that attract bees, alternative groundcovers to turf and we can plant rain gardens and green roofs. Our goal is to blend age-old wisdom with cutting edge information to produce stronger household economies, improve our mental and physical health, have fun and learn from passionate professionals.”
One passionate professional was keynote speaker Tracy DiSabato-Aust, a landscape designer, popular garden writer and speaker based near Columbus, Ohio. She promoted her new book, “50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants.” Her mission is to give people stunning, lasting results with less time and effort. “Gardening has gotten a bad rap for being a lot of work,” she said. “These plants will give you all the bling without the sting.”
She proclaimed plants to be a better investment than gold. “People are laid off and there’s so much stress and turmoil. If we can slow down and just enjoy our surroundings, it would be the best investment,” she said. “Gardens connect us and give us a sense of time and place. They put us in touch with a natural cycle instead of computer screens and iPods. Do they tell you spring has sprung? Go outside for God’s sake!”
What can we do to maximize returns on investments in plants? The most important part is supplying the best plants to begin with, the best performers for the region you serve. Once we have the plants, the next step is to match form and function, connect plants with a purpose. This is where independent retailers really have an opportunity to demonstrate results and host seminars on planting concepts and projects. Plant these, get this. We have a tremendous opportunity to deliver the best value and spring’s true promise: renewal.