Marketing Trends At Your Friendly Neighborhood Garden Center

When I visit a garden center, it’s usually just before spring planting and I’m looking for seeds. Or if slightly later in the spring—for transplants. Do you ever think about why the plant products are displayed or organized in a particular way? There’s a psychology to it and plenty of marketing research.

I decided to check out a trade website/magazine devoted to serving  North American retail garden centers. It’s aptly called “Garden Center” and I perused the latest magazine to give you some insight through the focus articles.

First up, Taking herbs to Another Level. The publication notes that Millennials are big on edible gardening and the trend toward natural products continues.
Since there are so many varieties and diversity within species, you may note lots of information and handouts about various herbs now Here is what you may see this spring.  Look for herbs marketed as ornamental foliage, floral and landscape plants—They’re tough! With few pests! Don’t need much water!To enhance sales, groupings of products are recommended.
1. Roses with herbs—rosemary, lavender, thyme, sage.
2. Groupings for drying, making potpourris from particular flowers and herbs (think seed section and crafting demos offered)
3. Herbs among salad greens and vegetable transplants or “themed gardens”
4. Sold as combos with canning or barbecue supplies—rosemary skewers anyone?
5. As edging plants or displayed in pots.

Here’s an herb garden in Germany (more naturalistic) but it reminds me of Brenda’s a little.

Next article: Floral Food
I thought this would be about some chemical concoction sales but no, it is about culinary creations combining flowers and food: salads, in baking candied flowers, flowers in drinks…

It was pointed out that this trend started with and is going strong with European consumers, especially in the Netherlands where growers and traders are responding to a “Look and Taste” concept.  It is just getting going in the states. The psychology is being assisted by the foodie culture in TV shows, social media, recipe sharing sites and even in bartending. And it appeals to adventurous eaters! Layered with this is a concern for edibles being organic.

The article says that it started with a nasturtium craze which along with violas are the two current top sellers.  In the US, it is difficult to find organically grown flower starts, so offerings are typically limited to the previous two mentioned plus marigolds, pansies, batchelor buttons and calendula. One could look for seeds to expand this. In Europe, they have more options like borage, agastache, salvias, begonia, centaur, basil flowers, etc.

You may see marketing the edible flowers with salad greens and directions to eat just the petals. People with pollen allergies should avoid eating flowers, says the article.

A little Aussie foodie photo–bean salad

III. The third article covers Water Gardens. Walk into most garden centers these days and there is a section for water plants, preformed waterfalls or mini ponds. But, as this trade magazine covers all the states, not everyone sees a great turnover in the pond arena. A lot depends on the local climate and market.
Think about the drought stricken areas like California for the past two years. Neighborhood monitors look askance not only at lawn watering but water features like ponds that need “topping off” due to dry climate evaporation.  It doesn’t look eco-friendly or water wise. What to do?

Well, you market backyard ponds as supporting local wildlife like amphibians, mammals and birds because that is a strong concern in the gardening population right now. Consumers can be eco-friendly and make beneficial spaces!  Critters, especially in urban or suburban habitats need water in times of drought too, after all. So, market centers will push rain barrels to catch intermittent rains (top off your pond with that water instead of using the faucet!). Build a rain garden or a swale catchment (work for professional landscapers in the garden center). Filter the water around the pond using native plants ( teaching materials about building pond eco systems offered) and point out those that are beneficial for pollinators and birds. In fact, add moving water features to attract birds.  Garden centers may also point out regular garden perennials  that are tolerant to these uses. As a marketing theme, see if your garden center uses a sign like : Certified Wildlife Habitat”.

Here’s a Canadian water garden in natural style:

IV. Last we come to “A Fresh Look at Perennials”. This article looks at various parts of the country and asks well regarded nurserymen what the trends are. These are the plants that will come to your garden center that are chosen by  the grower and secondly by the buyers for their particular market.

What do these growers note and what are they seeking?
1. They try to keep up with what the hybridizers are introducing as new and improved as compared to the older varieties.
2. They note what has fallen from favor for various reasons. One grower cites than any plant that doesn’t sell at least 50 flats gets removed from their planting program.
3. Plants that have greater functionality.
4. Plants that will stay in the market for several years or more.

Here’s what today’s customers seem to want:

  • Fuller, more compact plants, tidy habits
  • More interesting colors
  • More disease  resistance, improved vigorAn Eastern company interviewed was North Creek in PA which provides plants for habitat restoration, wetland buffering and soil erosion. They mentioned that the current top sellers for them were Carex pennsylvanica ( a sedge) and ferns for dry, shady areas.

Since we in garden club are interested in ecologically friendly gardening, here’s some recommendations with links from this (localish) company.
Five recommendations made by North Creek were:
1.Monarda punctata which is attractive to pollinators AND has enough thymol  in it to help bees resist those nasty mites!
Monarda punctata pix
2.Hydrangea arboescens, var. Haas Halo, sturdy and hardy 3-5 foot tall shrub with large blue-green foliage and upright blooms
Haas Halo pix
3. Schizachyrium scoparium-Standing Ovation. A warm season grass for poor, dry soils that gives both autumn and winter interest.
Standing Ovation Pix
4.Erogonium allenii-Little Rascal. Great for consistently dry areas. 18-24” golden yellow to bronze flowers. Nectar and cut flowers.
Little Rascal Pix
5. Erigeron pulchellus- Lynnhaven Carpet. Mat forming, gray-green foliage, light lavender flowers with “astonishing adaptability.
Lynnhaven Carpet Pix