Trial By Fair

Trial By Fair

To get a pulse on consumer trends, growers read trade and consumer magazines, keep an eye on the do-it-yourself television shows and look at the latest color forecasts and displays at Target. Doug Hart of Hart’s Nursery, a wholesale grower in Jefferson, Ore., thought of a novel way to gauge customers’ likes and dislikes: He decided to ask them directly.

Hart’s Nursery has been involved with the Oregon State Fair for eight years as the only nursery supplier in the event’s Garden District. The fair receives about 400,000 visitors over a 12-day period each August, and statistics show that half of them visit Hart’s displays at the Garden District. Hart has the chance to ask 200,000 people about their gardening tastes, as well as expose them to a world of gardening possibilities.

Over the course of Hart’s involvement, the Garden District has gone from being ranked 5th behind traditional State Fair exhibits, such as livestock and carnival amusement, to become the No. 1 attraction in 2006. “I think it’s because the visitors have gotten used to something of value in the Garden District,” he reasons. “It’s become a main destination for them while they are at the fair.”

A big component of the garden’s value for fairgoers, according to Hart, is the plant trials he has run for the last three years. He says visitors enjoy going through the trials and filling out the survey, which takes a minimum of 30 minutes to complete. “I was so worried I would be troubling them,” Hart admits. “But I was, in fact, giving them an activity that they can do and that they really enjoy. I have people coming back wanting to do it again each year.”

Hart found he had brokers and plant companies telling him that their own varieties were the best. His intentions for establishing the plant trials at the State Fair were to allow the visitors to tell him what they prefer.

“Our industry does a good job selling to ourselves and asking what we want by offering pack trials and field trials,” he says. “But the consumer never gets asked to be a part of that.”

His first trials were 100 18-inch verbena baskets hanging from 25 poles in the Garden District. He has also asked visitors’ opinions on petunias, bacopas and calibrachoas.

This year, Hart’s is trialing 37 different zonal geraniums from five or six different breeders. They are planted in display beds arranged like traditional field trials and also in 14-inch pulp pots. “We’ll show them the difference between compact, medium and vigorous varieties, giving them a little more of the information we (the industry) have,” Hart says. He will also ask his visitors to comment on six recipes of mixed hanging baskets. “I’m hoping the fairgoers will pick a few they like, and those recipes will be my combos for next year,” he says.

Hart provides his visitors with a map of the trials and a list of questions. He keeps the survey simple for their convenience, asking questions about mixed or combo basket preference, favorite colors, best-looking variety and so on. Hart received about 800 completed surveys in 2006. Results are compiled a few days before the State Fair’s end, and the visitors top picks are awarded blue ribbons. “We listen to what they have to say,” he says, adding Hart’s has changed some color mixtures based on survey results. “I want the visitors to understand that I am going to listen to what they are telling me and make sure they can find at least some of their favorites in the stores I sell to.”

Consumers aren’t the only ones stopping by the Garden District. Hart’s displays and trials also receive a fair number of industry professionals who are in the area for Portland’s Farwest Show. Hart says he had representatives from five breeding companies looking over the trials in 2006, trying to pick out their own varieties. He says that in a way, the trials give him a justification for not ordering some products. The visitors didn’t vote for those varieties, so he doesn’t order them.

His initial arrangement with the State Fair was only supplying plants, and the installation and care was left to State Fair employees. After three years, Hart’s signed a contract with the State Fair making it the official nursery, and at that time Hart took operational control of the Garden District. With hundreds of thousands of visitors walking through what he considers Hart’s Nursery’s “backyard,” Hart wanted to ensure it looked its best. Three people care for the trials and the other display gardens, which includes shade, perennial and vegetable displays, among others. Planting begins in June and Hart finishes up most of the installation by the end of July.

Hart’s does receive some plant materials from brokers and breeders, and Western Pulp provides fiber pots. Hart says the event costs him some money: The State Fair puts Hart’s dollar value in goods and services at around $30,000 to $50,000. “For little ole’ me and some bedding plants, I am listed as a headlining sponsor along with multi-million dollar companies like Comcast,” he adds proudly.

His goal is to share what he does with the public, and make them aware that it doesn’t have to be that difficult. “I want them to take a look at what works for us and find out what we do to make it look that way,” he says. Hart will even show off his mistakes. One year he applied too much fertilizer to a bed and burned some leaves. Instead of replacing the plants, he placed signs next to the damaged plants indicating that it was the result of overfertilizing. He often posts education information with the displays, adding to the value the public receives from the Garden District.

Hart’s Nursery is involved at the Oregon State Fair because no other flower show can bring in such a large number of visitors and at a time of year when the gardens can really look their best. But Hart also says it’s an exposure point to reach homeowners and their children. “I’m in it for at least one generation,” he says. “I want at least one kid who receives a free plant from me to come back with his kids some day.”

Hart also believes his involvement is on behalf of the horticulture industry, as well. “Every state fair should have a representative from our industry because if we’re not there, we really can’t complain about where we are as an industry,” he says. “We have got to educate the public or we will soon find ourselves on the outside trying to stay viable.”

Leave a Reply

More From Variety Trials...
Petunia 'Moonstruck' (2015 Welby Gardens Field Trials)

August 9, 2016

Welby Gardens Names Top Selections From Its Trial Gardens

Welby Gardens, an exclusive grower of Hardy Boy Plants, tested more than 900 varieties this year in its field and container trials. Find out which varieties were the cream of the crop.

Read More
OSU 2016 In-Ground trials

August 2, 2016

Ohio State University 2016 Plant Trials Offer Real-Time Evaluations

The Ohio State University (OSU) displayed more than 500 cultivars for evaluation this year at the Chadwick Arboretum and Learning Gardens in Columbus, OH. Several Cultivate'16 attendees took the opportunity to wander the trial grounds and evaluate in-ground entries and those in sun and shade containers and hanging baskets.

Read More

June 7, 2016

It’s Time To Rethink The Value And Timing Of California Spring Trials [Opinion]

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
Latest Stories
Petunia 'Moonstruck' (2015 Welby Gardens Field Trials)

August 9, 2016

Welby Gardens Names Top Selections From Its Trial Garde…

Welby Gardens, an exclusive grower of Hardy Boy Plants, tested more than 900 varieties this year in its field and container trials. Find out which varieties were the cream of the crop.

Read More
OSU 2016 In-Ground trials

August 2, 2016

Ohio State University 2016 Plant Trials Offer Real-Time…

The Ohio State University (OSU) displayed more than 500 cultivars for evaluation this year at the Chadwick Arboretum and Learning Gardens in Columbus, OH. Several Cultivate'16 attendees took the opportunity to wander the trial grounds and evaluate in-ground entries and those in sun and shade containers and hanging baskets.

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
National Garden Bureau CAST 2016 Bloggers

May 3, 2016

5 Things Gardens Bloggers And Writers Learned At Califo…

For the second year in a row, the National Garden Bureau hosted five popular garden bloggers and writers on a trip to California Spring Trials. Here’s what each of them had to say about their experience.

Read More
Syngenta Pentas

April 20, 2016

Syngenta Flowers Opens Its Perennial Genetics To The Ma…

California Spring Trials 2016 visitors to Syngenta Flowers found the breeder company and its employees happy and excited for the future, in the wake of the announcement of its acquisition by ChemChina. Now Syngenta Flowers is ready to move forward with its breeding efforts in geraniums, pentas, and other crops, and it is opening its perennials offerings to the whole supply chain for a better chance to get those plants to retail.     Syngenta Wants To Revolutionize Geranium Breeding The big news in this year’s trial, says Karl Trellinger, Technical Services Representative at Syngenta, is the change in Syngenta’s breeding efforts in geraniums and pentas. The Calliope geranium series, long considered a premium line in the market, is getting a makeover. Growers have told the breeder that they love the colors available in the Calliope series, but the plants are just too vigorous for smaller containers and combinations. As […]

Read More
Petunia Vista Bubblegum (Proven Winners)

April 20, 2016

Proven Winners Funds Gardening “It Couple,” Names Plant…

Since 1992, Proven Winners has been changing the gardening game, and it’s not stopping now. With new plants, improved series, and interesting retail customers, the brand aims to make planning easier for growers, and make gardening easier and more fun for consumers. At its new 2016 California Spring Trials location at Kirigin Cellars in Gilroy, Proven Winners had the space and a beautiful setting to lay all of its offerings out, from new and improved varieties in annuals, perennials, and shrubs, to marketing and retail programs. Check out the slideshow for highlights.   Proven Winners Is Flexing Its Marketing Muscle One of the ways Proven Winners is working toward better use of its products and gardening in general, is by supporting the gardening authorities that gardeners of all ages trust on social media. Director of Marketing Marshall Dirks says while searching for influential gardeners, he came across a young couple […]

Read More
CallaFornia Red

April 19, 2016

Golden State Bulb Company Shows Off New Concepts In Cal…

There’s no question that Golden State Bulb Company’s specialty is in breeding virtually any color of Calla Lily, available in about any habit — cut flower, bouquet pot, upright pot type — the list goes on. But now, the bulb specialist is focusing on making calla lilies more accessible to the masses, for use in combination planters and the landscape, with calla six-packs. Calla breeder Peter Beckman showed us the shrunken-down version of these beauties, and they’re certainly perfect for patio pots, planting along paths or at the front of the garden, or en masse for an elegant statement. This presentation makes it easy for consumers to pick up and use callas, without the intimidation they might feel from a bulb crop, says Dr. Allan Armitage.   They’re also versatile for growers to plant in early to mid-February to add to finished containers in the spring, or to sell in […]

Read More
Disney Trial Garden

April 17, 2016

Mark Your Calendars For Florida Flower Trials In May

The two-day event, which takes place in Orlando, is held in conjunction with the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival and offers educational seminars, tours, and open houses.

Read More

April 15, 2016

Pacific Plug & Liner Features Plenty Of New Varieti…

One of the best-merchandised spots on the California Spring Trials is always Pacific Plug & Liner (PP&L), where the greenhouse is stocked with beautiful plants and displays, and the people are dressed to the nines and graciously ready to help in any way.

Read More

April 15, 2016

American Takii Commemorates 180 Years Of Industry Commi…

American Takii, Hilverdakooij, and newcomer HMA Plants show off zombie-zone celosia, new dianthus, and hip succulents.

Read More

April 15, 2016

Ernst Benary of America Takes Plant Fashion Week To The…

Ernst Benary of America gave growers a taste of the fashion world during the new variety promenade held during California Spring Trials 2016.

Read More
Delizz Strawberry packaging

April 14, 2016

ABZ Seeds’ Delizz Strawberry Makes Mouths Water At Spee…

Speedling, Inc. hosted Hem Genetics, Thompson & Morgan, ABZ Seeds, Plant Source International, and Vista Farms For California Spring Trials 2016. Here are some of the highlights of the trial.

Read More
Begonia Evi Pink and Evi Bright Pink

April 14, 2016

Westhoff, Beekenkamp, PAC-Elsner And Plug Connection Pr…

Floricultura-Pacifica in Salinas opened its doors to invite California Spring Trials visitors to experience new offerings from European breeders including Westhoff Flowers, Beekenkamp, and PAC-Elsner, as well as California native The Plug Connection. While there, it was interesting to witness the ongoing and highly automated production of orchids, as well as construction of more greenhouse space happening simultaneously. As is tradition, Westhoff Flowers invited its visitors to flag their favorite combos at the entrance, and showed off its unique assortment of annuals, as well as a few concepts. The breeder is working loosely with Florist Holland to show mixes used with Westhoff Flowers — or Westflowers — annuals and Florist gerberas in the center. The combinations are bright and cheerful, and spur a happy reaction in those who have seen them, so it will be interesting to see what happens with this concept going forward. Another new idea is putting together […]

Read More

April 14, 2016

Sakata Ornamentals’ 2016 California Spring Trials…

Sakata is celebrating 10 years of SunPatiens production, and a whopper-sized, three-layer SunPatiens cake was featured at Sakata’s display at California Spring Trials. There are four new colors in SunPatiens, three compact and one spreading, with lots more to come. The Mix it Up combos promise three seasons of color — rain or shine, sun or shade. ‘Sunpatiens Shell Pink’ is not new this year, but is still noteworthy as a recent All-American Selections winner. It was impossible not to notice the electric colors in the Majorette Gerbera line. This new series promises uniformity, a characteristic hard to achieve in gerberas. It comes in six colors, plus one orange color with a ring around the eye. Also worth mentioning is a Clear White, another breeding challenge for gerberas. There are two new mixes in the SuperCal Petchoa line. The Pink Lemonade mix received a lot of attention from trial attendees. […]

Read More

April 13, 2016

Danziger “Dan” Flower Farm Breeding Focuses On Market A…

The company is using available technological breeding advancements to align its products with market demand and give them every chance for commercial success.

Read More

April 13, 2016

Hort Couture Builds Relationships With Independent Bree…

The company works with independent breeders from all over the world to introduce unique genetics to the market.

Read More

April 13, 2016

Dümmen Orange Succulent Combos Stole The Show At Barrel…

Succulents and succulent combos were bigger hits than the beer at Dümmen Orange’s BarrelHouse Brewing location in Paso Robles, CA. With the acquisition of Florexpo, Dümmen Orange now has the capabilities to produce broader selections of perennials and herbs, which featured prominently in its display, along with succulents. Succulent guru Robyn Foreman was on hand to pump up the excitement about succulents and demonstrate their versatility for use in everything from half-cut wine bottles to coffee cups and mini-pots. Color bowls of succulents with Kalanchoe Calandiva and other combos designed by Foreman were a popular item with trial-goers. The company is looking at mapping out some of these combos and pre-determining recipes to make it easy for consumers to achieve the same look. These succulents are moving toward being available as Confetti liners, which could streamline production of succulent combinations, says Tom Costamagna, National Production Manager at Dümmen. Herbs For […]

Read More
Verbena Wicked Purple 2017

April 13, 2016

Dr. Allan Armitage Highlights His Favorite Varieties Fr…

From the explosive color of a new verbena, to the vigor of an upright veronica, Armitage says there’s a lot to like from Dümmen’s new introductions this year.

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