It’s Not All About Plants

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Calibrachoa 'Yellow Chiffon'are one of the many plants that have undergone quiet improvement.

Most times I travel, observe, absorb and then, I often forget. Every now and then, before I forget, I put these thoughts down on paper. I will try not to bore you with Twitter-like musings, but here are a few things I have noticed.

Remember The Little Guys

From the California Spring Trials to Top 100 lists, it seems we are always talking about the big guys. These large retailers and growers (read: box stores and their suppliers) have earned the kudos.

The immense power of the box stores dictates cultivar choices, production
decisions and schedules of growers. It certainly influences sales decisions of many brokers as well. I enjoy visiting these growers. I love speaking with them at the Trial Gardens at UGA, am interested to learn about their tribulations (big places, big tribulations) and admire their business acumen.

It seems that as the big get bigger, however, the small disappear. You would think that if a grower was not in the big-grower club, its demise was all but assured.

But the reports of the death of the little guy have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, many independent retailers are thriving. Homestead Gardens in Maryland, Hicks Nursery in New York and Georgia’s Pike Nurseries are but a few whose abilities to maintain their character — along with their businesses — I truly admire.

I love visiting the many retail growers who remain true to their own voices, like Rick Berry at Goodness Grows Nursery in northeast Georgia or Chris Baker at Baker’s Acres in Central Ohio. Such people maintain their philosophies of providing a unique shopping and gardening experience to their clients. This is what keeps their customers coming back, even in lean years.

I applaud the persistent efforts of independent growers like Luci and Mack Furlow at Seasonal Color in northeast Georgia and Tom Winn and Ken Frieling at Glasshouse Works in Ohio, who boast unexpected pleasures in every aisle. It is not easy competing with the big boys, but for every large retailer and Super 100 grower, there are dozens of high-quality smaller businesses that give no quarter. They are often quirky. They are sometimes worried, but they are always proud of their success.

Hyped Plants Improve

I used to detest the hype about a number of new plants, in particular, the hysteria about plants like cape daisies, osteospermum and argyranthemum. Five years ago, most osteos and argys disappointed by June, even in the Midwest. Similarly, the hype about heat and humidity tolerance of certain dahlias, lobelias and some begonias was simply delusional.

There is no doubt that these genera are far better performers today than even five years ago. Lobelias that were pooping out by the first of June are now still looking good on July 15. Similarly, dahlias, boliviensis begonias, annual phlox and calibrachoas are all better, each catching the eyes of growers and consumers. Without a doubt, a number of cultivars are still nags, but we now have more thoroughbreds than ever.

I love promoting good plants, and I still believe we can do the right thing. The first right thing is building good plants — and we are succeeding. The second right thing is for all growers to grow the right cultivars based on greenhouse production and landscape performance for their market — and we are getting a little better. The third right thing is getting those best cultivars in front of customers, like the small landscapers and my daughters. We are still failing miserably at this, however, I am patient.

Allan Armitage (allan@greenhouse grower.com) is a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.

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