Kelly Norris: Why The Plant Collector Market Is Set To Explode, And What It Means For You

Kelly Norris Des Moines Botanical Garden Web
Kelly Norris

I’m an unapologetic plant collector, a nerd of chlorophyllic proportions. I can tell you what time of year it is based on what kind of plants populate my Facebook newsfeed on any given week. I prefer to think of winter as the time of year when snowdrops, hellebores, and hepaticas entertain my spring-hungry mind as waves of feverish collectors around the globe post photos of the plants they covet, obtain, and adore. I happen to think the world is full of plant collectors, but as an industry, we just don’t know it.

In fact, many of those would-be plant collectors don’t know it either. Angela Treadwell-Palmer, partner in Plants Nouveau, a global plant introductions company, says it is the “new culture of collecting things.” And our culture does collect. “Curate” is one of the hottest buzzwords today in food, fashion, and frivolity (museum professionals don’t get to have all the fun anymore). An Instagram account and a few well-chosen filters endow almost anyone with tastemaker status.

“Remember Pokemon cards?” Treadwell-Palmer says. “There are so many things that Gen Y grew up collecting and curating for themselves. Of course, it’s no surprise they’d do the same as adults.”

Millennials are perhaps as curatorial as any generation yet.

Rewrite Your Definition Of A Plant Collector

What does that mean for horticulture? The answer might require a mind meld for the engrained logic of present-day, green industry retail. Plant collectors, in that parlance, are often thought of as a niche minority with little total buying power, even though they tend to spend much more per capita than the average consumer. Their seriousness, however desirable, just doesn’t seem to translate into an objective for most retail operations, let alone a ring at the register.

Maybe it’s time for us to rethink who plant collectors really are today, and give serious consideration to what they’re buying and how they are buying it. In reality, they aren’t silent.

Chris Hansen, founding partner of GreatGardenPlants.com and now proprietor of a new wholesale breeding and production company called Garden Solutions, thinks he’s found a new pitch for the young, modern consumer: collectability.

Chick Charms“I had this idea a couple years ago,” says Hansen of his new line of sempervivum called Chick Charms. “The target demographic is young gardeners, kids, teenagers, and the non-gardening public who on a Saturday morning stroll at the garden center.”

The response to this new series of 12 varieties of hens-and-chicks that Hansen curated from five years of trials at hisnursery has overwhelmed even his greatest expectations.

“We launched this program at Cultivate in 2015 and have already sold 150,000 finished units for 2016 so far,” Hansen says.

Could hens-and-chicks, the succulent many of us first encountered crawling out of a cliché cowboy boot, be the horticultural version of a collectable charm bracelet?

“Of course,” Hansen says. “Think of what Hallmark has done with ornaments and decorations. We want these plants to be traded like baseball cards, right along with their tags.”

That’s right, Hansen thinks people won’t throw away the tags if they are cool enough. He and his team have invested hours in color coordination, logo design, and appealing to their target demographic with cutesy, cartoonish emblems that they hope will make their POP (point of purchase) too good to toss.

“The program is ripe for nationwide rollout to garden centers. Just think about how this can get garden centers excited about merchandising new plants,” Hansen says.

Gift Plant Market A Magnet For Consumers New To Plants

It’s excitement that so many retailers, big box, and brick-and-mortar stores seem to be aiming for. Treadwell-Palmer spends her time studying the so-called gift plant market, a segment of the industry she sees poised for growth.

“Right now it feels like producers are throwing anything against the wall to see what sticks,” she says. “We’re dyeing succulents and orchids and people are eating it up. I’m trying to get people to realize that we’re reaching an audience that has never bought plants before.”

Gift plants are just another outlet for collector consumerism in the same way people decorate, gift, and entertain with cut flowers.

“We hear about more people buying cut flowers, which is nice, but maybe some of those people want that gift to last just a little bit longer,” Treadwell-Palmer says.

To hardliners, Treadwell-Palmer’s comments might seem like waving a white flag to the whims of a less-than-erudite consumer. But she sees hope in the bottom line fueled by impulsive purchases that satisfy consumer desires for happiness and satisfaction.

“I think we’ll get to a point where gift plants could be used beyond the impulse. But right now, the buyers this appeals to do not do landscape gardening. To them, plants are a perishable decoration.”

The idea of perishable decorations might seem less than sustainable, but it creates opportunities for new products that never previously existed. Emergent breeding work in foliage crops like aglaeonemas and flowering plants like streptocarpus suggest there are unlimited possibilities to define new product categories for the shelves at grocery stores, independent garden centers and Trader Joe’s.

In the end, we have to innovate with solutions that appeal to the natural tendency of people to collect things they love. In horticulture, a kind of intentional materialism has overwhelmingly positive implications for connecting people and plants — it’s the stuff that matters. We need curators, in other words, consumers, who want to collect them all.

Topics: , , ,

Leave a Reply

More From Varieties...
Begonia Spectre Silver Terra Nova Nurseries

April 20, 2017

Terra Nova Nurseries Releases Two New, Attractive Begonia Varieties

Stardust is the latest addition to Terra Nova Nurseries’ existing T Rex Begonia series, and Silver is the first introduction to the company’s new Spectre Begonia series.

Read More

April 18, 2017

Cool Combos From CAST 2017 – Editor’s Choice

With container gardening becoming more of a lifestyle among consumers than a trend, and breeders continuing to put more effort in container mixes and components, I feel I would be remiss if I didn't share some of the special combinations that not only caught my eye at California Spring Trials, but absolutely took my breath away and made me want to immediately get started gardening.

Read More
Danziger New Hires

April 16, 2017

Danziger Invests in Continued North American Business Growth

As part of a new business structure for its North American market, Mike Fernandez has been appointed Market Manager North America for Bedding Plants and Perennials, and Kate Zvara was named as Key Account Manager and Retail Specialist.

Read More
Latest Stories
Begonia Spectre Silver Terra Nova Nurseries

April 20, 2017

Terra Nova Nurseries Releases Two New, Attractive Begon…

Stardust is the latest addition to Terra Nova Nurseries’ existing T Rex Begonia series, and Silver is the first introduction to the company’s new Spectre Begonia series.

Read More

April 18, 2017

Cool Combos From CAST 2017 – Editor’s Choic…

With container gardening becoming more of a lifestyle among consumers than a trend, and breeders continuing to put more effort in container mixes and components, I feel I would be remiss if I didn't share some of the special combinations that not only caught my eye at California Spring Trials, but absolutely took my breath away and made me want to immediately get started gardening.

Read More
Danziger New Hires

April 16, 2017

Danziger Invests in Continued North American Business G…

As part of a new business structure for its North American market, Mike Fernandez has been appointed Market Manager North America for Bedding Plants and Perennials, and Kate Zvara was named as Key Account Manager and Retail Specialist.

Read More
Florida Flower Trials

April 12, 2017

Looking for Info on New Varieties for Hot Climates? Che…

The Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association’s Florida Flower Trials, which are focused on new and improved varieties able to thrive in the extremes of Florida’s climate, are a great opportunity to connect with national breeders.

Read More
Lupinus Staircase Series (Green Fuse Botanicals)

April 11, 2017

Begonias, Celosias Among Dr. Allan Armitage’s Favorites…

Check out some of Allan’s top picks from his final day at CAST 2017, which included visits to Green Fuse Botanicals and Floranova.

Read More
Rex Begonia container mix at Green Fuse Botanicals

April 11, 2017

Green Fuse Botanicals’ Rex Begonias and First Looks; Fl…

Here are the highlights from Green Fuse Botanicals and Floranova on the last day of CAST 2017.

Read More

April 7, 2017

Hort Couture Wows With Farm to Table; Florist Holland R…

On the last day for GroLink and the second to last for the Greenhouse Grower team, the wealth of genetics, marketing programs, and announcements were pleasing to our eyes, ears, and hearts.

Read More

April 7, 2017

California Spring Trials Day Five: Notable New Plant Va…

See some of the new varieties for 2018 displayed at Ball Horticultural and GroLink Plant Company on day five of California Spring Trials 2017.

Read More

April 7, 2017

PanAmerican Promotes Pentas, Plug-and-Play, and Veggies…

On Day 5 of the California Spring Trials, the Greenhouse Grower team hit the Southern California Trials and saw a multitude of new introductions and exciting programs.

Read More

April 7, 2017

CAST 2017: Musings of a California Spring Trials Rookie…

The number of opportunities presented to me are enough to make me rethink my location, but I still have a lot of big decisions to make for the future.

Read More

April 6, 2017

Dr. Allan Armitage’s Top Picks From Ball and GroL…

Here are Dr. Allan Armitage’s five variety picks, plus one display, from on Day 5 of CAST 2017.

Read More

April 6, 2017

Dümmen Orange Provides Retail Concepts; Terra Nova Offe…

Greenhouse Grower hit the Central Coast of California on our Day 4 of California Spring Trials, and what we saw was inspiring and exciting.

Read More

April 5, 2017

California Spring Trials Day Four: New Plant Intros fro…

The Greenhouse Grower team saw loads of memorable plants during day four, as it visited Dümmen Orange, Chisan Orchids, and Windmill Nursery. Dümmen had several notable introductions, including Wild Romance New Guinea impatiens in Blush Pink and White, which inspired the theme of its displays. One of the standout displays was its perennial combos with some new leucanthemum additions. Chisan Orchids in Los Alamos, CA, with Israeli breeders Hishtil, Jaldety, and Cohen Propagators, was a new stop on the route this year. Hishtil has a new gaura series out that includes a compact, low-growing variety, ‘Baby,’ with a mass of pink blooms. Cohen displayed Verbena ‘Mickey Red Rose,’ a unique bi-color that looks like a mixed combo, and Jaldety featured an interesting Cyperus prolifera. Windmill Nursery was the last stop of the day, with breeders Terra Nova Nurseries, Kientzler, J. Berry Nursery, and KiwiFlora. Terra Nova had several new heuchera for show, including ‘Onyx,’ which is a mounding, […]

Read More

April 5, 2017

CAST 2017: Musings of a California Spring Trials Rookie…

Set-aside all the varieties - I have come to the realization that being a grower is where I belong.

Read More

April 5, 2017

Dr. A’s Day Four Top Varieties for CAST 2017

Check out Dr. Allan Armitage's top five picks from visits to Dummen Orange, Chisan Orchids, and Windmill Nursery during day four of California Spring Trials 2017.

Read More

April 4, 2017

Dr. A’s Day Three Picks for CAST 2017

Take a look at Dr. Allan Armitage’s top five favorites from the American Takii, Sakata, and Floricultura stops during the 2017 California Spring Trials.

Read More

April 4, 2017

California Spring Trials Day Three – New Intros f…

Check out some of the great new plant introductions for 2018 the Greenhouse Grower team encountered on day four of California Spring Trials 2017.

Read More

April 4, 2017

Takii’s New Breeding Efforts; Sakata Seed America Turns…

Day three on the trail took us to the last three stops in the north, American Takii, Sakata Seed America, and Floricultura, which showcased a number of companies.

Read More