This past November, I did another Facebook Live walkabout. I went to one of my favorite independent garden centers, The Family Tree Garden Center in Snellville, GA, where we walked and talked about houseplants for winter gardening indoors. Nearly 2,000 people joined us virtually for some or part of the time. We were waxing eloquent about golden pothos and African violets, but what we were really talking about were solutions to a drab winter landscape at home. It is all about solutions.
Many people reading this column seldom see a consumer in a retail or garden setting, so once a plant leaves the greenhouse, it’s out of sight, out of mind. That a plant is handsome in a container, healthy, and well branched is enough, and I suppose that is fine. If you are a propagator or a grower, you have enough going on without wondering why he/she buys your plants. As for the rest of us, we have been gnashing our teeth for decades asking the same question: “How do we reach the consumer?”
Many retailers have come to understand that a consumer is looking for plants that solve problems, rather than a particular plant itself. For them, consumer-driven solutions are incorporated into their marketing programs, such as plants for groundcovers, shade, pollination, or in my recent example, plants that live indoors. I call it Solution Gardening, and that is what today’s consumer is looking for.
In last month’s column, I talked about the two biggest issues outdoor gardeners want solutions for: deer and pollinators. This month, here a few others.
The awareness that the main use of a groundcover was to solve a problem morphed into some of the first true solution gardening programs (Stepables, Treadway, Toe-Ticklers, etc.). A groundcover program is effective because everyone understands the name and everyone has ground to cover. And let’s market the heck out of the fact that where groundcovers are successful, weeds are not.
However, let’s not just sell an ajuga, let’s sell a heuchera with an ajuga. Let’s sell globe amaranth with creeping Jenny. They make excellent companions and gives the consumer twice the value and the retailer twice the sale. Here are a few of my favorite groundcovers:
Ajuga: So many choices, so easy to display, and so easy to use in the garden.
Lysimachia: Creeping Jenny, creeping Charlie, or whatever name you use, it brightens up the garden like no other. Lysimachia is tolerant of sun and shade, and can be combined with anything.
Mazus: An underappreciated and underused groundcover that provides lavender or white flowers. It smothers the ground.
There is no stronger sense to evoke thoughts and memories than the sense of smell. How many of us have listened to others saying that a fragrance “reminds me of my mother’s garden,” or some similar note. Even if we put roses aside for a minute (although fragrance in disease-free roses is coming), there are so many plants that smell good. Fragrance may often be provided by the foliage, as in the case of herbs, as well as flowers. A bench or page in your availability list for fragrant plants provides yet one more solution to your friends’ questions, and one more reason they will purchase our plants.
Agastache: There are beautiful flowers in today’s new hybrids combined with wonderful fragrant foliage. Lavenders, pinks, and yellows are easily found.
Heliotrope: Some are certainly more fragrant than others (Scentopia series), but they can always be incorporated into a fragrance garden.
Dianthus: The newer small-flowered forms like ‘Kahori’ are excellent but not particularly fragrant. Clove pinks, cheddar pinks, scented pinks (e.g. Scent First series), and even old-fashioned sweet Williams provide some heady fragrance.
Color in the Home
I am all for house plants but I confess to being lazy and forgetful when it comes to proper maintenance, which is to say, I forget to water them. However, since all my gardening fans are aghast when they see my plastic plants at home, I have vowed to do better. My recent weekend visit to The Family Tree has made me a new man. Even without the wonderful array of orchids that greet me in every store, I can easily find color for my home.
Golden pothos: Whenever I see the really bright golden pothos ‘Neon’, I must have it. Gloomy corners of the home simply light up, and how much easier can a plant be than pothos?
African violet: I admit to being smitten with these wonderful colorful and easily available houseplants. I was so crazy for a while that I joined an African Violet group and had progressively weirder plants coming home every month. Ah, youth! I am still enamored with them, but give me the simple single flowers any day.
Solution Gardening Options You Might Want To Consider