A Place For Woody Plants

A Place For Woody Plants

The history of greenhouse production mirrors the economy and lifestyle of the American population. When the first protected structures were used in the New World, they were dug, not built. Cold frames became the accepted way to provide a head start on the slow spring for seedlings and roots. When the first greenhouses were constructed, they were built to keep the winter out so vegetables could be produced for the market. Tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach and lettuce were major greenhouse crops in the 1800s and early 1900s.

As the economy improved, in the late ’40s and ’50s, cut flowers vied for space with the tomatoes, and chrysanthemums, carnations and roses became the greenhouse crops of choice. As peace time prosperity settled onto the land, florists popped up, and that market became stronger everywhere. As transportation improved, cut flowers and vegetables moved across the country. However, the vast improvement in global transportation signaled the beginning of the end for both greenhouse vegetables and cut flowers in most states, as overseas transportation costs were reduced.

But the strong economy and increased discretionary income of Americans in the 1960s and 1970s and into the 1980s demanded the good things in life. As more people moved to single-family dwellings, color became an important part of the lifestyle, and the unparalleled growth of the bedding plant began with a vengeance. Spurred by advances in seed technology, automation and plastics, the greenhouse morphed into a sea of color. In the 1970s, the landscapers started to flex their muscles. The landscaper was born of the aristocracy, which had employed dozens of gardeners, but estates soon gave way to suburbia, and someone had to install all this color in American homes and businesses. So was born the landscape profession. The greenhouse industry was flush with the rise of the foundation planting, the colorful geraniums and the tomato seedlings that were part of the American dream.

The latest renaissance of gardening began in the 1980s with magazines, garden clubs, radio and TV personalities to keep the garden news buzzing, the result being that greenhouses were pumping out petunias, geraniums, marigolds and impatiens. However, there were subtle signs of discontent.

Perennial interest soared as people grew a little tired of replacing annuals every year. Writers suggested that perennials were gaining favor because beds and beds of marigolds were, well, boring. This was a good thing for the perennial people, but not so for the greenhouse industry, which was entrenched in the bedding plant model. Another huge omen of things to come was the trend to containers. While this seemed to be a good thing, it foresaw the trend of “less is more.” Downsizing became the mot de jour and the garden bed supporting a dozen geraniums gave way to containers supporting three combination items. However, not to give up, breeders looked away from bedding and, lo and behold, greenhouses were filling with the ubiquitous specialty annual.

Specialty or vegetative annuals were specially designed to capitalize on the trend to downsize. In the last 10 years, bacopas, scaevolas and plants with unpronounceable names like calibrachoa became the petunias of the ’70s. So here we sit, with, as my friend Robert Davis of Davis Floral in Elberton, Ga., says, “all this crazy stuff” in the greenhouse, each with different production needs and schedules. And times are changing again. 

Work Or Lifestyle?

Talk to the people who keep their ears to the ground about trends in gardening, and you will hear that gardening is associated with work to avoid; landscaping is a lifestyle to embrace. Plants are out, lifestyle is in. And the “in-trend” that has taken root on the American conscience most is lack of time. For the greenhouse and retail communities, that translates to low maintenance. Today’s suburbanites are looking to relax on their decks, the patio furniture and barbeque being their decoration. They are certainly not looking to deadhead and weed.

Anne Raver of the New York Times wrote about gardeners in a Jan. 3, 2006 article, saying, “Their manic gardening has given way to calmer (although for some more profound) pleasures, like planting a grove of serviceberry trees and watching them change through the seasons.”

So this brings me to the title of this piece. Leaders in the greenhouse industry have always changed, and leaders will try to find their niche in the low-maintenance trend. My bet on the next great group of plants that retailers will demand is “Woody Shrubs.” Edmund Hollander, a New York landscape architect stated in the New York Times article, “If there’s any trend, it’s toward simplicity. Instead of trees in flower from March through September, people want hydrangeas and buddleias.” Those old-time sturdy shrubs, with their striking flowers and leaves, need very little care.

However, we are a conservative group, and like any new trend, it takes time to build a head of steam. It is not that breeders and distributors have not bought into the shrub concept. It is that growers don’t know where to start. Most information on growing shrubs is based on the nursery model, where turnover is measured in years, not weeks. Like perennials, there are literally hundreds of different shrubs, only a few of which lend themselves to the greenhouse model of color, uniformity and rapid turnover. Perhaps this magazine may be a good place to start, as I will outline shrubs we have researched for three years,

In future articles, I will cover pros and cons, schedules for forcing of genera such as abelia, buddleia, caryopteris, hibiscus, hydrangea, kolkwitzia, leycesteria, physocarpus, and many more in 1-gallon containers. I will place these either on my “Winners” list, along with greenhouse schedules, my “Losers” list, those that titillate but don’t offer profitability, and my “Definite Maybe” list, plants that may work with a little tweaking. I will be right-on with some, and miss a bunch, but it will be a start.

I have no doubt that as the downsized, time-challenged public grows in size, low-maintenance plants will become even more popular than they are now. More shrubs will be sold. It is simply a matter of who will produce them. The nursery industry welcomes this trend with open arms. How will the greenhouse industry respond?

Leave a Reply

More From Varieties...
SunPatiens Sakata Medal of Excellence Feature

June 29, 2016

SunPatiens Earns The 2016 Medal Of Excellence In Marketing Award

With its reputation for excellent garden performance from spring to frost, and as a problem-solver for Impatiens Downy Mildew, SunPatiens has become a “hero plant” that helps gardeners succeed.

Read More
Kelly Norris - feature

June 28, 2016

Kelly Norris: Three Variety Trends That Caught My Eye This Spring

My reflections on promising new plants, the realities of market penetration, and adding value along the supply chain.

Read More
Dr Allan Armitage

June 25, 2016

Three Types Of Plant Consumers To Watch

There are three emerging groups of plant consumers that you should be targeting for plant sales in the future, according to Allan Armitage.

Read More
Latest Stories
SunPatiens Sakata Medal of Excellence Feature

June 29, 2016

SunPatiens Earns The 2016 Medal Of Excellence In Market…

With its reputation for excellent garden performance from spring to frost, and as a problem-solver for Impatiens Downy Mildew, SunPatiens has become a “hero plant” that helps gardeners succeed.

Read More
Kelly Norris - feature

June 28, 2016

Kelly Norris: Three Variety Trends That Caught My Eye T…

My reflections on promising new plants, the realities of market penetration, and adding value along the supply chain.

Read More
Dr Allan Armitage

June 25, 2016

Three Types Of Plant Consumers To Watch

There are three emerging groups of plant consumers that you should be targeting for plant sales in the future, according to Allan Armitage.

Read More
FleuroStar Award Ceremony

June 20, 2016

Begonia Hybrid ‘Miss Malibu’ Takes Home FleuroStar Awar…

The award from Fleuroselect was announced at the Green Inspiration Event in Amsterdam.

Read More
Caryopteris 'Beyond Midnight Bluebeard'

June 20, 2016

Keep The Sales Coming With 16 New Blooming Varieties Fo…

Plants that put on a show from first frost long into fall and offer the color options consumers want for their gardens go a long way toward extending sales further into the season and can help maintain your sales momentum going strong. Check out these 16 new blooming varieties, both traditional favorites and new alternatives, for your fall crop selection.

Read More
'Osaka' Flowering Cabbage (Sakata Ornamentals)

June 18, 2016

Mark Your Calendar For Sakata Seed Trials In August

Sakata has set two dates for its California-based trials: Aug. 15-17 in Salinas, and Aug. 17-19 in Woodland.

Read More
Tomato Congress Logo

June 15, 2016

International Tomato Congress In Mexico Will Focus On G…

The event, which takes place in San Luis Potosi from July 20-22, will feature discussions on production strategies, cost management in protected structures, and optimizing your greenhouse environment.

Read More
Nir Nursery Wax Flower Pot Plant

June 14, 2016

Danziger Reaches Deal To Distribute Nir Nursery Varieti…

With the agreement, Danziger becomes the exclusive distributor of Nir’s product line, which includes cut flowers, foliage, pot, and garden plants.

Read More

June 14, 2016

Dümmen Orange Expands Its Succulent Offerings Through N…

According to Dümmen Operations Director Kate Santos, succulents are an attractive growth category because of their ease of use, shelf life in stores, drought tolerance, and versatility in application.

Read More
'Osaka' Flowering Cabbage (Sakata Ornamentals)

June 14, 2016

New Cool Season, Vegetable, And Foliage Crops For Fall …

Whether you’re providing pansies and violas to the garden center for fall color or decorative edibles to grace patio containers, consider these 16 varieties for fall crop sales, newly introduced for 2016 and hitting retail in 2017.

Read More
Calibrachoa Chameleon Sunshine Berry (Westflowers) - Feature

June 9, 2016

Fall Crop Alternatives That Can Increase Your Sales

There’s a lot of competition for grabbing your share of fall mum sales. Give your program a boost with new varieties that complement traditional fall crops.

Read More

June 7, 2016

It’s Time To Rethink The Value And Timing Of Cali…

Fourteen years ago, Greenhouse Grower saw an opportunity to bring next-day coverage of California Pack Trials (now California Spring Trials or CAST) to your inbox. The objective was to be your eyes and ears on location, to report the debut of the newest varieties and marketing programs, and report major breeder announcements, especially for those not attending. We continued to develop new story-telling tools with video capabilities, slideshows, and more. And once social media took hold, everyone attending CAST became reporters of their favorite varieties and displays at trials. So we’re left with the question — how should we continue to evolve our coverage, to bring the most value for you? It’s easy to fall into a certain pattern, to stick with what works — or seems to work. And just because you’re working really hard at something that you’ve had success with in the past, it doesn’t mean it’s […]

Read More
Carex 'Eversheen' (Hoffman Nursery)

June 7, 2016

Hoffman Nursery Has A New 30-Year Anniversary Look!

The new redesign of the Hoffman Nursery website packs in more content than ever with updated resources and 30 years of experience growing grasses.

Read More
GG June Cover image

June 6, 2016

The State Of Plant Breeding In 2016

Breeding companies look to strengthen their competitive advantage, easing the way for growers to procure new plant varieties and for consumers to grow with confidence.

Read More
Petunia Queen of Hearts

June 1, 2016

Danziger Introducing New Petunia Amore Series, And More…

Danziger “Dan” Flower Farm is planning to introduce 60 new varieties from its 2016-17 collection at the annual event, including petunias, bidens, and calibrachoa.

Read More
Nathan Lamkey Chuck Pavlich Allan Armitage talk about muckgenia

May 31, 2016

Allan Armitage: Three Trends (Good And Bad) That Caught…

We need to put the same energies we invest into California Spring Trials to get plants into consumers’ hands and encourage young people in the industry to attend.

Read More
National Garden Bureau California Vegetable Summer Trials

May 26, 2016

California Summer Vegetable Trials In August Will Cover…

The National Garden Bureau is once again organizing summer vegetables trials this August in California, giving attendees the opportunity to visit with several breeding companies.

Read More
Eason 2017 Perennials Guide

May 25, 2016

Eason Horticultural Resources Releases New Perennials G…

The two guides are available in digital and print versions and offer information from several breeders.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]