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Guest blog: The eco benefits of mulch 5/4/2012

Using mulch in your garden is a good habit that benefits the earth as much as it does your flowers. Here’s a look at what makes mulch so great for both:

  • Nutrients – Most plants thrive when the right mulch is applied. Organic mulches like wood chips or compost provide much-needed nutrients to the soil. As the mulch decomposes, these nutrients are transferred to the plants, allowing them to grow stronger and healthier.
  • Aesthetics – When applied correctly, mulch can give your garden beds a well-maintained and cared for look.
  • Soil temperature – This steady soil temperature provided by mulch will keep your plants happy no matter where you live. In warm climates, mulch helps keep the soil and plant roots cooler. In colder climates, mulch can protect the plants from extreme winter temperatures and can prevent frost heaving.
  • Water – Mulch can reduce water usage as much as 70 percent in some gardens, since mulch holds the water in the soil and keeps it from evaporating as quickly. This benefit can save you money and save the environment.
  • Weeds – A layer of mulch will block weed growth. This benefits the plants because not only are weeds unsightly, but they also steal essential nutrients from the soil.
  • Erosion – Another benefit of mulch is that it prevents soil erosion. Heavy rain may still wash away your mulch, however, so check after storms to see if you need to replace what’s there.

Which mulch is best?
There are a number of different types of mulch, both organic and inorganic. What kind you’ll need depends on where you live and what your mulching goals are. In addition, even though mulches are generally made from organic materials, some are better for the environment than others. Here are some mulch tips for selecting the best kind for your needs:

  • Pine straw – This is a great source of renewable mulch, and it’s also fairly inexpensive. If you have acid-loving plants like roses in your garden, pine straw is a good choice for preventing run-off.
  • Newspaper – Newspaper is a renewable resource, degrades into carbon, and is safe for the environment. You can use newspaper in combination with compost for great, nutrient-saturated mulch.
  • Cocoa mulch – Made from the byproduct of commercial cocoa grinding, this type of mulch uses a product that would otherwise be discarded for an environmentally friendly purpose. Cocoa mulch is nitrogen-rich and affordable. If you have dogs, you may want to be cautious when using this type of mulch, since cocoa can be toxic to them.
  • Rubber mulch – Although this is not an organic mulch, it is considered eco-friendly because it is made from recycled car tires. Rubber mulch is great for weed control and can last for several seasons. It can, however, introduce some unwanted toxins into the soil, so make sure that you know which plants can handle it.
  • Straw mulch – Straw mulch is great for the environment and inexpensive. It is not suitable for areas with high winds, however.
  • Peanut shells – Mulches made from peanut shells are also great for the environment and effective at preventing weeds and holding in moisture.

One type of mulch that should be avoided is shredded cypress mulch. This is bad for the environment because it is made with virgin trees that are harvested from freshwater wetlands.

Do you use mulch in your garden? Which is your favorite kind?

Green Your Garden

Jerry Day has loved gardening and landscaping since he was very young. He loves to write about gardening topics and currently works for 1-800-Mulch-Pro helping others improve the exterior of their homes.

Jerry Day

Guest blog: What are these 'trend watchers' watching? 12/14/2011

Greg Draiss

The garden industry at one time was one that did not latch on to the latest trend to round the corner or come down the block. It was an industry made of real people. Hard-working folks who put in long hours produced an excellent product that they stood behind with pride. The term marketing was unknown. We relied on the product and the people to do the marketing without even knowing what marketing was. There simply was no need for PR firms to tell us what our customers already knew, no need for focus groups to tell us what color was hot for the next year. We relied on tried and true methods of word of mouth, giving the customer what they wanted without the customer even knowing what they wanted. It may have been boring from the eyes of Madison Avenue, but it worked.

Boy have the times changed.

As the gardening industry attempts to grasp the changing retail market place we now have marketing firms and social experts telling us what we are doing wrong instead of what we are doing right. The line of distinction behind between the real world of IGCs and Madison Avenue is almost gone. In an instant gardening became a carbon copy of the rest of retailing, a commodity, with goods going to the lowest bidder. Marketers and social media "experts" are now telling us who are our customers are instead of asking us. In what seems to be an organized attempt to rid the market place of Baby Boomers and the "greatest generation" we are told that the millennials, Gen X and Gen Y will save the planet, bring about social justice, end war, and -- ready for this? -- be the savior of local business. And to succeed we must grasp this new self aware world in order to survive.

Not so fast, Madsion Avenue.

While the greatest generation may be getting up their in age, Baby Boomers just STARTED turning 60. It was you who told us this; it was you who told us 60 is the new 40. The millenials are just turning 20 and 30. There is a 20-30 year gap you seem to be missing in pushing the earth-saving fountain of youth upon us. I beg to differ with much of what  the Garden Media Group's trends for 2012 reports in Garden Center magazine. For instance, they write "Generation X and Y are taking up the mantle to protect and defend the earth." Seems to me there are a lot more Baby Boomers showing up at protests every time a controversial construction project is announced.

There is a tone amongst  the marketers that claims millenials are not the self-centered me, me, me, generation that they make Baby Boomers out to be. “We’ve finally moved from ‘me’ to ‘we’ and consider our earth and each other when we purchase,” says Susan McCoy, a trend spotter (aka Madison Avenue Marketer) and outdoor living expert. 

I beg to differ here, as well.

"As a 23-year-old consumer, I can tell you this: my attention is short, my demands are great and my purchases are diverse. I live in a day and age where social media apps, slogan tees and even Nike sneakers can be customized to fit my lifestyle" says  Christine Carter in an article titled "Why Generation Y Isn't Buying Your Stuff."

If this sentence alone does not refute that "me,  me, me", is not alive and well, nothing will. Six times in the opening sentence Carter uses "I" and "me" to describe purchasing habits of Gen Y. There is nothing in that statement about saving the earth, shopping local, or even doing the right thing. She will subscribe to Madison Avenue's portrayal only if it fits her requirements is what I read into the opening sentence.

"The Times Union," a large newspaper in Albany, New York, regularly publishes business stories written by 20 and 30 somethings. The same "I and me" scenario runs rampant in almost every one of these pieces. Meanwhile, business columns written by more "seasoned" professionals seldom contain the "I" and "me" tone. Instead, these pieces talk to the reader instead of at them.

My main beef with the piece from the Garden Media Group is that it is not really an article about trends in gardening at all. It appears to be yet another "rah rah youth piece.". Once again someone is trying to drag the garden industry into the "social marketplace." This article has little to do with what product trends are emerging in this great industry and more about consumers' behavior in the realm of saving the earth with a very biased bent towards Gen X and Y. The mention of fairy gardening and vertical gardening come in well near the end of the piece seemingly as an after thought -- well after the praise of the millenials.

The Garden Media Group piece goes on to say, "Trend watching says our pursuit of health and quality of life is the number one influence on the goods and services we choose". Health? Quality of life? Have these trend watchers been watching the obesity statistics lately. It seems trend watchers are only watching other trend watchers or late night exercise infomercials instead of the real market place. What is healthy about Gen X and Gen Y with their faces stuck to a screen gaming instead of planting gardens like we are being led to believe?

This is not to say it should be business as usual for the IGC. We are, after all, in the MIS-Information Age. The internet is wrought with bad and downright dangerous information on gardening. There is one "gardener" on the west coast producing hundreds of YouTube videos with advice that will actually kill plants and perhaps gardeners as well. In one video this "expert" says it is OK to eat castor beans if they are cooked properly. Of course in the age of sound bites she does not inform the viewer how to cook them properly leaving the viewer having to search elsewhere for information (even if you could eat them). The result is a patchwork of information gleaned from too many sources. Yet this "expert" has dozens of Facebook fan pages!

One of the owners of my company, well into his 70s, reads material printed from direct marketing firms. He said to me the way to get to your customers is "you have to put your message in their hands." He was referring to printed mail pieces. I pulled out my Blackberry and told him that this is the new definition of "in your hands." I think he finally understands. The message is the same; only the delivery method has changed.

While it seems I may have a beef with the millenials, it is more a beef against being told by Madison Avenue how wonderful this new generation is. There are millenials who care about local business, there are millenials who are trying to save planet earth and do the right thing. The problem is: There are not enough of them doing it. They don't vote like their elders do. They do not show up at town board meetings or run for office like their elders do. Gen X and Gen Y are as spoiled and self-centered as the rest of us. Possibly more so. This is the first real economic downturn they have had to face. Let's face it: The western economy has been pretty damn good since the mid '80s until 2008. Gen X and Gen Y are moving back home with Mom and Dad. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad are moving in with Baby Boomers.

Gen X and Gen Y are not alone in the Madison Avenue pampering though. The Baby Boomers are now being called the Sandwich Generation because some of us are caring for aging parents and our own children. Hey, Madison Avenue, wake up. This is how most

Guest Column

Guest blog: Composting is easier than you think 12/6/2011

So, you feel like you are a pretty eco-minded person. You are a recycling pro, you don’t buy bottled water, take reusable bags to the grocery store, turn off the lights and take short showers. You should definitely feel good about the positive impact you have on the world because every environmentally friendly thing you do is important. But have you ever wondered if you could do a little more? Maybe you are at a cozy comfort level with your do-gooder karma points, or feel like you are doing everything within your means to be green… but there may be one easy thing that you are missing. 

We all produce garbage. Unfortunately in the consumerist society we live in, try as we might, there is always something to throw away. After putting the recyclables in the appropriate bins, there is always something left to take to the curb or chuck in the dumpster. There’s no shame in this; it’s just the way of the world in which we live. We didn’t choose that our new electronic equipment be packaged in enough Styrofoam to float a boat or that our child’s new little toy has enough packaging to fill an entire trash bag. These things aren’t our fault, and short of opening products at the store and leaving the packaging there, there’s not a lot we can do.

To produce garbage, or not to produce garbage? Agreed, there’s a lot of garbage that we can’t help, however, there is a stream of trash that we can do something about, and that is organic waste. “Organic trash?,” you ask. Yes! That’s just a groovy way to say it is carbon-based, ultimately meaning it is or was alive. Has your interest been piqued? Great, now go look in your trash can. How much of it is food waste? Unless you are already breaking it down (as in composting), the answer is too much.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), organic waste is the major constituent of municipal waste, making up more than two-thirds of the 243 million tons of solid municipal waste generated in the United States. To bring this point home, or rather, to encourage you to take it to the compost pile, almost 324 billion (yes, with a ‘b’) pounds of waste is organic, and could ideally be composted. You can understand there is vast room for improvement.

As if hundreds of billions of pounds of waste that could be made into something useful isn’t bad enough, this “wasted” waste is actually hurting our environment. When organic material breaks down in the landfill anaerobically (without oxygen), it creates methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas. Landfills are the third highest source of human-related methane in our atmosphere. That means a whole lot of wasted waste making waste, an exponential problem.

Surprised? I was too. I had convinced myself that putting organic material in the trash couldn’t be a bad thing because it breaks down, and that’s a good thing. I thought it would turn into compost as it sat in the landfill. To my dismay, this was a false truth I made up to make myself feel better for not putting my food scraps to better use. I made up an excuse for being lazy and not composting my food waste -- however, my excuse was unsubstantiated and flat out wrong. I’m a pretty smart person, but I realize what amazing lies I tell myself when I don’t want to know the truth so I can be blissfully ignorant! I bet you do this too.

The truth: Your organic waste does not magically turn into rich compost for the landfill to become a prolific place, as I told myself it did, but it festers in an oxygen-free environment and creates tons of methane that contributes to making the earth a hotter place. Methane is the second most “important” greenhouse gas, next to carbon dioxide, and holds 20 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide does. So now that you know the truth of the organic waste situation and how it’s heating up the earth situation, you can no longer explain away your apathy.

If you are moved by this, and driven to be part of the solution, there is a way to reduce your methane footprint: Compost. The verb compost makes the noun compost, and they are both good things. You may be thinking that composting is an involved scientific process unattainable to someone such as yourself. Maybe you think it sounds like plain out work, and you don’t have time for it. Do you think that because you don’t live on a rural farm you are incapable of creating rich compost? Please let me dispel all of your theories of why you can’t compost. Again, the truth can set you free …

The truth: Where there is a will there is a way. You can find a way to compost whether you live in an apartment in the city, a home in the ‘burbs or on a farm in the country. There is a composting style to match any personality, suit any space and fit any budget.

Are you an uber-urban apartment dweller, a hands-off do-gooder, or both? If you are lucky enough to have the budget to buy the Cadillac of composters, the Nature Mill composter is a sleek, subdued composting apparatus that does everything but go to the grocery store for you. These babies start around $199, and the raving reviews ensure it isn’t a gimmick. Oprah, The New York Times, Dwell and Popular Science can’t all be wrong, and furthermore, you won’t be called a hippie (no offense to hippies) for using it! Check out to learn more and find a dealer near you.

Do you have some room to spare, but not enough to commit? There are great composting possibilities for you, too. Compost tumblers are an easy way to get your kitchen scraps turning into garden gold. The Joraform tumbling composter is a sweet Swedish design that makes composting a pleasure. Its insulated design and easy-to-access compartments make this composter a dream of efficiency. You could be sprinkling compost around your garden in as soon as eight weeks, even if it’s snowing out. Just make sure to shovel a path to the composter! The Joraform comes in three sizes: the smallest will accommodate a family of four, and the largest can take care of the organic waste from a restaurant or school cafeteria. Visit www.compostingwarehouse to learn more or to make an order.

Are you a lover of all Earth’s creatures? Maybe you’re a little lonely and would like some company. A worm composter may be just the thing for you. Admittedly, this is not for the squeamish. I will confess I was at first horrified by the thought of this style of composting, but after spending some time with the little guys, they crawled into my heart. Eisenia foetida is the fancy Latin name for Red Wigglers, which are the special type of worms that go into the compost bin. Consuming as much as their body weight, they munch through your kitchen scraps quickly, leaving you with their fantastically fertile castings that gardeners can’t get enough of. The Worm Factory makes a variety of worm composters from recycled plastic that are well priced, and easy to use. One consideration for this type of composting is that you must protect your worm bin from freezing, so make sure you’ve got a frost-free place to house your friends. Starting around $80, worm composters are fun for the entire family. You’ll have fishing bait and family pets; you can name them all! To answer all your questions about adopting the wormy way of composting, visit

For those who desire to create their own composting reality, there are ple

Garden Center

Tooth or consequences (How an abscessed molar darned near did me in) 8/2/2011

Five years ago today, I began an interesting sojourn. I guess that's one way of putting it. Here's another, which is the story I wrote in the months succeeding my interesting sojourn. I hope you (a) enjoy it, and (b) learn something from it. I've been told by several dentists that they should put me on retainer. You'll soon see why ...


I probably should be dead.

That’s not the worst part.

The worst part is that I probably should be dead from a toothache. In fact, here’s the almost headline that almost accompanied my almost obituary:

“Man ‘celebrates’ wedding anniversary in coma, finally succumbs to oral abscess”

Yeah, some guys do the dinner/movie thing for anniversary. Me? I play Rip Van Winkle for a fortnight while my family prays non-stop that I might live happily ever after. Romantic, no?

Did I mention that I probably should be dead?

Here’s my tale:

In the wee hours of Aug. 2, 2006 — 26 years to the day I said, “I do!” — I was awakened by a tooth saying, “I give!” That’s probably not the technical term for what becomes of an abscess that can no longer be constrained. Whatever it was that happened, happened dramatically enough that I was stirred from the bed at 4 a.m.

Ironically, the first thing I felt was relief. When the abscess finally burst, after spawning nearly a week of snowballing pain, I had almost instantaneous respite from the throbbing. Never mind that I also had the foulest of tastes in my mouth. All I knew was that I felt better than I had since I first sensed discomfort some seven days earlier.

Some seven days earlier was Thursday, July 27th, the chronological beginning of my tale. The prologue certainly took place long before that, what with a lifelong craving of sweets coupled with a lifelong aversion to dentists. It’s not that I didn’t go, but I certainly didn’t visit often enough. By Sunday, the burgeoning pain had me convinced that it was time to visit again.

Unfortunately, on Sunday, you’re not as likely to get to set up a dental appointment as you are to see a doctor, so I drove to a local “open on weekends” clinic in hopes of obtaining some antibiotics that would address the infection until I could set up an appointment with someone who specializes in treating teeth.

It seemed like such a sound strategy.

A molar eclipse

By the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 1, I was worse, if anything, so I called the doctor’s office to inquire if I needed to find a Plan B. The nurse who returned my voice mail assured me that antibiotics usually take a few days to gain an upper hand on an infection. “If you don’t have relief in the next day or so,” she said, “set up an appointment, and we’ll take a look.”

It’s curious that she would use the word “relief,” as if it was a good thing. I certainly figured it was. In fact, when the tooth finally blew early Wednesday morning — bringing a swift end to my discomfort — I actually said to myself, “Eureka! The worst is over.”

There are two things you should consider here. One: Be wary of the guy who says, “Eureka!,” even to himself. More important, I would suggest, is the fact that the worst had only begun.

As I mentioned earlier, the exploding abscess rendered something in addition to a reprieve from pain. I could sense immediately that the taste in my mouth was far more heinous than morning breath, and it only barely subsided as I rinsed out my mouth again and again. Finally, after a third sloshing and spitting exercise, I took a swig of the water from the tap to wet my throat, and I realized that something was terribly wrong.

I could not swallow.

Every time I tried, I had the sensation of a pill coming back up or something large and firm butting against my throat, blocking my esophagus.

“Susan,” I said, rousing my wife, “I think I need to go to the hospital.” She took a look at my face, which was noticeably swollen, and said, “Get in the car.”

She didn’t even have to add, “NOW!”

ER: The surreality show

By the time we parked outside North Hills Hospital, I was equal parts anxious and disgusted. The reason for the former emotion is understandable enough. Swallow = good. Not being able to swallow = not so good. However, I was even more exasperated by the notion that I probably should have gone to the dentist from the get-go, and I wasn’t looking forward to the lecture I felt certain I would receive from a battalion of medical personnel awaiting me in the emergency room.

Fortunately, the waiting area was empty when we arrived, meaning I would receive attention immediately — or, at least as immediate as someone still standing on two feet should expect. The triage nurse did the vital sign thing: the temp and the blood-pressure check. Then she proceeded to ask questions about my symptoms and medical history.

I was led to a room, asked to sit on the bed, and assured that someone would be in to see me soon. Most of what followed is the proverbial blur. I recall my wife — and later her sister, Amy — sitting/standing at my bedside. They were joined eventually by my parents and sister. And I recall doctor types — including my personal physician, David Lawson — checking in, doing some preliminary probing and asking a lot of questions. Then I remember being told that I would undergo a CT scan to determine the extent of my malady.

I also remember the actual CT scan and how I feared the voice in the contraption was never going to say, “breathe out” — a real problem once you’ve “breathed in,” I should note. I can’t recall a specific number of “pictures” or “images” or whatever it is for which a CT scan scans. I can say that it was only a matter of minutes after the procedure that I was told by Red Forman that I would need immediate surgery.

You might know Red. He’s the patriarch of the Forman family in the television sit-com, “That ’70s Show,” and his signature line is to call another character in the show, usually his son Eric, a “dumb…” (I’ll leave the deciphering of the dots to you.)

By now, surreal had trumped real — and, to the best of my knowledge, I hadn’t been given much more than a mild sedative. Honestly, I had the fleeting thought that the CT scan must have done something utterly diabolical to my brain and that Dr. Red Forman was about to call me a “dumb…” for not taking better care of my teeth.

Meanwhile, I was wondering what Red was doing decked in scrubs in the CT scan room at North Hills Hospital at whatever time it was in the morning — not to mention what he was doing telling me that I would need an operation. Lost in the diagnosis was the fact that the man who would be Red had introduced himself as Dr. Daniel Dugan, an oral surgeon who had been contacted by Dr. Lawson — and who, fortunately, was already on his way to the hospital even as that summons was being made.

“You’re very, very sick,” Dr. Dugan said. His countenance suggested he might have left out at least one “very.” I didn’t know Dr. Dugan at all, but I did know this: The look on his face scared me.

“We’ve given you some morphine,” Dr. Dugan continued. He no doubt uttered some other words, instructions and the like. I know he introduced m

Yale Youngblood

‘Digging’ terrariums 5/23/2011

A recent e-newsletter from Beier's Greenhouse in Grand Rapids, Minn., highlighted the latest craze in their area: “make your own terrariums.”

“One of our employees loves terrariums and brought it up to me one day,” said owner Bonnie Stotts. “We are always looking for suggestions from them, and I had been seeing more and more in consumer publications about terrariums. That said, I decided we should jump on the proverbial bandwagon and offer some classes.”

Jamie at Beier's, who oversaw the sessions, offered these comments. (She's the person in the green shirt, pictured below.)

If more of an interest or demand keeps growing, there could be more course selections for our terrarium classes, including classes for children, teens and advanced adult classes. With that enhanced popularity, there could be a better and wider selection for plants selected for terrariums…A terrarium is a magical mini-living-environment, and brings people joy in the fun and creativity used in making one!

Our second class at Beier's Greenhouse seemed to be a success! Although we were more prepared for the larger class size, this handful of participants gave us opportunities to visit and discuss more of what terrarium classes are and how to be creative with them. We can talk about the difference in environments and how that can change the needs of the plants that occupy small-scale habitats.

Beiers Greenhouse has hosted two how-to sessions. Stotts said a good time was had by all. Take a look for yourself…


Sarah Martinez

A bold move (literally) 5/4/2011

Redenta's Garden, one of the Dallas/Fort Worth area's first "natural" garden centers, has found a unique way to spread the organic gardening gospel. It is opening a mobile retail center in the parking lot of a popular Fort Worth watering hole this month with the hopes of possibly adding a brick-and-mortar store in the region if the new venture proves popular.

The "skinny" on this bold foray into mobile retailing is chronicled in a story on It's definitely worth a look ... YY

Yale Youngblood

Crazy for cannas 4/29/2011

Customers are going crazy for Cannas! The once underappreciated plant has become a striking statement for any garden. The cannas developed by Tesselaar Plants have been raved about on blogs and showcased in container gardening contests.
“Cannas fell out of favor for decades until Tesselaar introduced Tropicanna and marketed the canna back to popularity again with selections for exotic foliage color,” Nicholas Staddon, a horticulturalist and plant specialist with Monrovia, said.
Tesselaar now offers Tropicanna cannas, Tropicanna Gold and Tropicanna Black to provide gardeners with a cornucopia of colorful plant options.
Jim Threadgill, president and owner of Willow Creek Gardens, credits canna’s comeback to their versatility and value-- something important in a slow economy. Cannas also offer an instant gratification factor, Threadgill said. “You can just put it in the garden or a pot and it looks good right away,” he said.

Garden Center

Last chance! Vote for Garden Idol today 4/11/2011

The final slate is in. And you get to choose which stunning, new plant introduction will be the hottest plant of 2011!

Yep, voting ends today for American Nursery & Landscape Association’s Garden Idol 2011. If you’ve ever watched American Idol, you know that each and every vote makes a difference. So put in your two cent’s worth today.

Click here to register and cast your vote. Time is running out!

Sarah Martinez

A point of clarification 4/11/2011

Garden Center contributing editor Ian Baldwin contacted us last week, hoping we could help erase some potential confusion over the similarity of the names of a couple of industry educational programs -- including his own Garden Center University (GCU). We'd so like to do that that we're running the entire text of his letter:

To whom it may concern:

The seminar program at the 2011 IGC Trade Show in Chicago has been labeled as “IGC University”, prompting confusion and questions from potential exhibitors, sponsors, retailers and especially graduates of the long standing and much respected Garden Center University, founded in 2002.

Content of our original GCU is written and delivered solely by me and is operated jointly by myself and The American Nursery & Landscape Association.

The original GCU:

  • Has 44 people currently enrolled as “Class of 2012”
  • Was founded in 2002
  • Has 130+ graduates from the USA and Canada
  • Is based on a 2-year commitment
  • Requires attendance at 5 semesters and 14 days of class time
  •  Includes a continuous-connection e-network for idea sharing and benchmarking
  • Uses 4-5 different locations to critique GCs across the country
  • Awards GCU accreditation only after completing these sessions

I have a great deal of professional respect for many of the people who will be speaking at the IGC Trade Show, but the selection of the marketing label “IGC University” for the wide mix of talks was unfortunate.

This marketing label has resulted in significant confusion in the minds of potential exhibitors, sponsors, attendees, the media and especially graduates of our original, Garden Center University.

I wish to assure exhibitors, sponsors, retailers, clients, associations, industry supporters and especially graduates, that there is absolutely no connection between our two-year program and the talks offered at the 2011 IGC Show.

The IGC Trade Show seminar program is neither a replacement of nor a substitute for our original GCU, now celebrating its 10th year of delivering game-changing business management education for garden retailers.

Respectfully submitted,

Ian Baldwin

April 8th 2011

Yale Youngblood

Seventies swagger drives retail plant trend 4/4/2011

Today’s guest blogger is Daria Snyder, a national design consultant for Ambius, She can be reached at

The 1970s was a “groovy” bohemian and eclectic decade featuring sexy and diverse fashions including wide-collared shirts and tight bell-bottom jeans. A time capsule back to a ‘70s home might find shag carpeting, beanbag chairs, candles and faux-fur furniture – all trends that have found their way back to our post-millennial residences today. Retailers also look to the past to reinvigorate the future. A major trend in retail greenery favors succulents, also known as “fat plants.” The stars of the succulent plant family are cacti, which achieved widespread popularity in the 1970s. While all cacti are succulents, not all succulents are cacti. Succulent plants are found in more than 60 plant families which have evolved their water-storage tissues in their enlarged leaves, roots or stems as an adjustment to arid environments.

Iconic national and international retail brands such as Restoration Hardware, Crate & Barrel and 7 For All Mankind, are finding style inspiration with succulent plants.

Founded by Michael Glasser, Peter Koral and Jerome Dahan in 2000 with headquarters in Los Angeles, 7 For All Mankind represents the luxurious and carefree California lifestyle. “We love using succulent plants in our stores because they are very much a part of the Southern California culture which represents our brand well since our company began there,” says Sophia Nguyen, creative visual service manager for 7 For All Mankind.

Restoration Hardware, founded nearly 30 years ago when they opened their first store in Eureka, Calif., is today one of the leading purveyors of premium home furnishings with more than 100 retail and outlet store locations in the United States and Canada, as well as a rapidly growing direct-to-consumer business that includes stand-alone catalogs and e-commerce sites. “We chose succulents for their ‘look’ as it is simple and does not compete with a decorative container,” says David W. Block, visual merchandising manager for Restoration Hardware. “Succulent color variations compliment our stores and they are durable and able to withstand the extreme variations of an interior environment better than most plants.”

By making the most of scarce available moisture, succulents survive in habitats that are too dry for most other plants. While cactus are visually striking, their sharp thorns can prove a liability to patrons and employees in retail settings which is why the non-prickly succulent varieties are riding front and center at high-end luxury retailers nationwide. Responsible for designing and implementing national consumer interiors with an emphasis in the retail sector of the business including plantscapes, scenting, art and holiday décor, I relay the top four leading succulent trends seen in major retailers across the United States and Canada this season:

Aeonium – The Aeonium genus features about 35 species of small to medium-sized subtropical succulents that are available in a wide range of plant and leaf sizes. Mostly native to the Canary Islands, Morocco and Africa, the species all grow well in containers and feature rosette leaves on a basal stem.

Crassula - Native to South Africa and Madagascar, the Crassula variety of succulents, which includes the popular Jade Plant, vary greatly in size, shape and color with some varieties only an inch high at maturity while others become large shrubs.

Dudleya – Named after the Stanford University botany professor, William Dudley, the Dudleya genus includes about 40 species of succulent perennials from Mexico and the Southwest. With fleshy leaves and rosettes, the Dudleya are found in gray to green hues which blend into the scenery when not in bloom.

Echeveria - Named after the 18th century Mexican botanical artist, Atanasio Echeverría y Godoy, the Echeveria is a genus of succulents that are native to Mexico and South America. They hundreds of varieties of Echeveria range in size from small and hard-leafed to large, wavy-leafed varieties that grow to 24 inches across.

Succulents come in many compelling varieties and offer a cornucopia of colors, shapes, styles and textures. Overwatering is foe rather than friend to a succulent. With too much watering, the lower base of the succulent will turn brown or even shrink. Adding gravel, sand and stones to the succulent container allows for drainage and also provides for some styling variations. Consumers can avoid spider mites and mealybugs by treating the succulents with horticultural oils that work to suffocate the bugs while keeping the plants healthy and vibrant.

Garden Center

Connecting with Plant More Plants 3/29/2011


Today’s guest blogger is Julie Buchanan, a public relations specialist for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. She lives in Richmond, Va. Julie can be reached at

Retail nurseries and garden centers in Washington, D.C., Richmond, Hampton Roads and Baltimore stand to gain more exposure this spring by partnering with the new Plant More Plants campaign.

Plant More Plants encourages suburban homeowners to plant trees, shrubs and hardy perennials to reduce stormwater runoff on their properties. This runoff flows into local rivers and streams, which drain into the Chesapeake Bay. Dirty stormwater is one reason why the bay — a critical ecosystem and important economic resource — is polluted today.

The campaign message is simple: More Plants. Less Runoff. Healthier Bay.

Since launching in early March, Plant More Plants has successfully engaged the public through TV and online ads, a website, and Facebook and Twitter. It’s been covered in both local and national media, including Garden Center Magazine. But this campaign is about more than just creating awareness of an issue. It’s about motivating homeowners to make changes in how they care for their yards and gardens — as a benefit to them and to the bay.

To achieve this, partnering with retail garden centers was a logical step. We’re working with trade associations such as the Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association to help recruit members. Those who sign on receive these benefits:

  • A online listing as a Plant More Plants official resource
  • Opportunities to host Plant More Plants-branded workshops at their stores
  • Plant More Plants marketing materials to share with customers
  • Acknowledgment through the campaign’s social media sites
  • An invitation to write for the campaign blog

In return, we’re asking these businesses to help us measure the success of the campaign by sharing with us a season-to-season comparison of tree, shrub and perennial sales.

We hope more retailers will join us as we work to reduce stormwater runoff! Please visit for more information on ways to get involved.

-Julie Buchanan, PR Specialist, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

Plant More Plants is the second personal stewardship campaign created by the Chesapeake Bay Program partners under the umbrella of the Chesapeake Club. The Bay Program is a unique regional partnership that has led restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay since 1983.

Garden Center

Is this heaven? 3/24/2011

For more than decade the great Loretta Caraway has routinely sent me e-mails depicting all sorts of entertainment forms, from jokes to artwork to stories that made me both laugh and cry -- sometimes at the same time.

Her latest missive is too good not to pass on to all my plant friends. The pictures here depict The Carpet of Flowers in the Grand-Palace in Brussels, Belgium. It's an apt moniker given that it's a carpet and it features flowers -- thousands of them in artistic patterns that take your breath away when viewed from a distance.

Craftsmen arrange the flowers by hand, directly onto the squares cobblestones, without any soil. Grass and tree bark are also used to supply color. The beautiful garden artwork is redone every two or three years, with the next project set for August of 2012.

The Carpet of Flowers was created in 1971 as a way to promote begonias. I would suggest that they have been adequately promoted. Take a look below to see if you agree. For an in-depth look and for some history of the event, visit here.



Yale Youngblood

Primo promo 3/16/2011

Today's kudos go to the National Garden Bureau for a great new feature added to the NGB website. Here's the scoop, from the bureau itself:

The National Garden Bureau, the non-profit organization promoting gardening on behalf of the horticulture industry, has a wonderful new feature on the NGB website, for use by garden centers, extension agents, master gardeners, garden writers, growers, public gardens and anyone else interested in free brochures and signage. As announced late last year, National Garden Bureau has proclaimed 2011 as the "Year of the Tomato" and the "Year of the Zinnia." To enable educators everywhere, NGB has created an informational brochure and signage for each crop.  These useful tools are available to download and print at no charge from the NGB website. Simply click on the tab labeled "Downloads."

For each "Year of the" crop there is a multi-page brochure full of beautiful photography and useful growing information, as well as a history and description of that flower or edible. There is a downloadable PDF for both an 8" x 10" sign and a 5" x 7" sign/bench card.  In addition, the two NGB "Year of the" logos are available for downloading for use when promoting these two "Year of the" crops.

This is a new service offered by NGB, which welcomes feedback on the promo program -- and on anything else bureau-related. E-mail the organization at

Yale Youngblood

Net results 3/10/2011

I almost hate to admit this, but I have become a curious/avid fan of a website that has led me to conclude that fame will no longer be measured in 15-minute increments.

The average YouTube video accomplishes the feat much more quickly. Indeed, in the time it takes to click the play button, I can be entertained/informed/intrigued/grossed out/fill-in-your-favorite-blank by anyone, any time. And the odds are excellent that the same entertainer/informer, etc., will return -- and soon -- to remind us why he or she is just so darned important.

Or not.

It really doesn't matter. Thanks to YouTube and sites of its ilk, everybody can be an Internet somebody. Whether that's a blessing or curse is probably subject to a debate that will last considerably longer than most home-made videos. One thing that can't be argued is this: In our current world, we literally have our current world at our fingertips. Not to mention our past world. Or our future world. Or the world of reptiles or swimsuit beauties or intake valves or Victorian-era morés or black holes or ...

Or, thankfully, gardening. I like to visit a site that has evolved into one woman's means of sharing her passion for her passion. No, it's not THAT kind of site. But, wow, is Melinda Myers passionate about gardening. Her site is the consummate garderner's nirvana. She offers blogs and tips and links to other websites. She has videos and still photos that she shares and that she gets other site visitors to share.

Her virtual address is equal parts resource and inspiration for green thumbs needing to feed the brain and/or soul. It's the kind of place you might want to frequent as someone who works in the industry -- and definitely want to recommend to your customers. Mark my words: They will think you're smart.

Better yet, record my words on a YouTube video.  

Yale Youngblood

A trend-ly reminder 3/8/2011

I do talks every so often at trade shows and industry conferences, and I'm frequently asked about trends. I generally tell this story:

For two straight years the area where I live suffered a severe drought. The cracks in the ground were so severe, I distinctly recall hearing someone beckoning me in Chinese as I peered into the chasm. As is my custom prior to the selling season, I visited a number of garden center to see what was going to be "hot" for the new year.

Five visits yielded one answer, the same one everywhere: "Drought-tolerant plants." Five for five is not just hot, it's sizzlin'.

So, what happens? That spring it rains the usual amount in April. May comes, and it rains some more. June comes, and it doesn't stop raining. Our floods were so severe, I distinctly recall Noah beckoning me to climb aboard his boat as I watched my curb disappear further with each drop of rain. An area that would routinely record 30 to 50 days marked by 100-degree heat had but three all summer. The area garden centers' hottest trend tanked -- big time.

I write all that as a warning to those looking for "the hot trend" at the trade shows. Consider this the "grain of salt" I like to offer with all trend predictions and to all trend predictors. Please understand: I'm not saying all projections will be wrong. I frankly hope you find enough to help you flourish in your business -- and suspect many of you will.

But you probably should look closely at the Magic 8 Ball. As I recally, it doesn't yield the same answer every time out. 

Yale Youngblood
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