Sedum x ‘Lime Joy’ PPAF
BRED BY BRENT HORVATH, INTRINSIC PERENNIAL GARDENS
How long has it been on the market?
Consumer care requirements
Full sun, well-drained to dry soil
Domed flower clusters over strong-stemmed, clumping plants
Grows to height/width
15 inches/18 inches
Full sun is best. Light shade is fine too.
Container combination ideas
Pennisetum alopecuroides with red flowers like Red Head, a blue aster and a black-eyed Susan, preferably Rudbeckia ‘American Gold Rush’
Vigorous plants have gray-green foliage with lime green buds forming in June-July that resemble hydrangea in bud. From there, the buds expand to 6 inches-plus and continue to color up with magenta pink bi-color flowers.
Perfect with other fall plants like Rudbeckia, grasses and aster or mums. It’s also great with other sedums.
Sargent’s Nursery upholds its seasonal tradition of art and community with collaboration from Red Wing Arts Association.
Since 2010, Sargent’s Nursery has contributed to Minnesota’s artistic spirit with its annual Winter Art Fair. There, they have showcased handcrafted pottery, home décor, photography, art and jewelry from regional artists and crafters. The nursery is gearing up for the ninth year of the event.
“Our goal was to utilize our retail greenhouse space in the winter months,” says Trisha Hadler, event coordinator and office manager at Sargent’s. “Red Wing has lots of strong roots in the art area and has lots of opportunities to enjoy art. This event adds one more thing for the community to do.”
To gather local vendors for the fair, the nursery works with nonprofit, interactive arts educational program Red Wing Arts Association, which not only fills their greenhouse, but highlights the local talent in the area as well. Since the association aims to provide regional artists with exposure and visibility, the Winter Art Fair at Sargent’s Nursery is a perfect fit.
As a free event for the community, instead of profits, the nursery measures success by the number of people who attend, especially during the bitter Minnesota winters.
“If we can draw a good crowd and the weather holds out, we consider that a success,” Hadler says. “We just want to get people in the door.”
A few ways the nursery attracts attendees are by sending out information via the large mailing lists distributed by themselves and Red Wing Arts Association, along with word-of-mouth promoting and advertisements on local radio and in newspapers.
While the number of attendees is dependent upon the weather, Hadler says their typical number of attendees range from 700 people on a day with good weather and 500 when the weather is bad.
However, no matter how big or small, as the event coordinator, Hadler says she just enjoys offering a winter activity and seeing the fair unfold after everyone’s dedication.
“I like having an event in the midst of winter, meeting all the vendors and seeing the hard work that they’ve been doing pay off,” she says. “It’s typically a fun event.”
The main attraction
Froehlich’s Farm and Garden Center continues its family-friendly tradition by holding seasonal events the whole community can enjoy.
Since 1942, the welcoming allure of Froehlich’s Farm and Garden Center has impressed generations of customers in Furlong, Pennsylvania. Now, 77 years later, they are constantly thinking of ways to engage the neighborhood and maintain a family feel. One way the farm caters to the community is with its annual fall festival, petting zoo and visit with Santa.
While the petting zoo originally started during Froehlich’s fall festival, the excitement that it caused inspired the farm to implement it into the annual Santa visit as well.
“We quickly realized that was one of the biggest draws we had,” says Shaina, a fourth-generation Froehlich. “We’ve done the Santa visits for five years, but last year was the first year we added the petting zoo.”
To market the events, Froehlich sends newsletters, creates Facebook events, uses roadside banners, promotes through their website and social media, advertises in local magazines and even does giveaways. But the petting zoo alone enhanced the Santa visit by a long shot.
“We probably quadrupled our traffic and doubled our retail sales just in that one day of having the petting zoo down in our area,” she says. “It really just shows how much these events draw families and kids and everyone to the farm.” The farm — which sits on 107 acres of land — was preserved by Froehlich’s great grandmother in 1996 and is one of the few remaining farms in the surrounding area. While it’s good for business, Froehlich is sad to see any farm disappear, and is proud to hold events that include people in her hometown.
For the 2019 year, Froehlich says they’re looking to enhance the attendee experience at the fall festival and Santa visit by continuing the Grinch visit that was new last year and adding live reindeer and horse-drawn wagon rides.
Although the farm offers a multitude of attractions, Froehlich advises those who are interested in launching events to start small, build from there and prepare to make mistakes. According to her, when they first launched the fall festival eight years ago, they’d average a few hundred people.
Now they average about 2,000 people a day, which is one of her favorite reasons for holding events.
“It brings a lot more people out to the farm and I think it strengthens the community,” she says. “We get to share our farm and business with everyone and a place I’ve grown up with my entire life. People get to come in and experience our farm, garden center and everything we have to offer. It becomes special to them and it’s really cool to be able to share that.”
Ladies' night out
Merrifield Garden Center kicks off the holiday season with a night to remember.
Merrifield Garden Center has prided itself on great customer service, quality selections and community involvement since its founding year of 1971. To maintain its community mission, the center supports local schools, nonprofit organizations, athletic clubs and charities. Another way it nurtures its neighborhood connection is with seasonal events.
To kick-start the fourth quarter, Merrifield holds a Ladies’ Night Out every Thursday before Thanksgiving at its three locations in Falls Church, Fairfax and Gainesville, Virginia. The anticipated event received an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 attendees last year.
“About 10 years ago, we wanted to harness the energy we were receiving from customers about the opening of our Christmas shop,” says Marketing Director Lyndsey Bridgers. “… Since the majority of our Christmas shop customer base is female, Ladies’ Night Out was a natural fit.”
For the ninth time, the garden center will have hors d’oeuvres, live music, wine tastings and a photo booth — as it does each year. The store setup also offers gift ideas and Christmas décor inspiration for attendees to take home with them.
According to Bridgers, Ladies’ Night Out is exactly that. Women invite their friends, family and colleagues and even mark their calendars for the next year.
“They come in groups and make an evening of it,” she says. “Ladies’ Night Out provides the opportunity to socialize, relax, get into the holiday spirit and connect with extended members of the community [they] may not see frequently. Every year we see old neighbors, past teachers and parents reconnecting.”
Although some attendees save the date or call ahead to verify, the center promotes the night out on its website and social media, as well as in the trifold brochures they mail to customers each season.
While this outing is for adults only, Merrifield holds family-friendly events as well. The weekend after Thanksgiving, the center hosts a free holiday open house that offers family photos, live music, kids crafts and group activities. (Plus a wine tasting for the adults in the afternoon.)
They also have Santa visits and a North Pole post office where kids write letters to him. But that’s not it. They also offer kids potting classes, a dog costume contest around Halloween and more. For adults, the center holds Christmas tree decorating classes.
Other sessions like vegetable growing, pruning lessons and houseplant propagating tutorials are available throughout the year.
Bridgers says she enjoys bringing people together and gives advice to garden centers who aim to do the same.
“Plan your event like you would a party at your own home,” she says. “You want it to feel personal, encourage connections and create a relaxing environment where customers can enjoy themselves. When it comes to the night of, have someone on your event planning team attend your event like a customer. This will allow them to see things from the customers’ perspective and easily identify areas in need of improvement.”
As local florists are consolidating and closing their shops, the shifting tides present opportunities for IGCs to embrace flowers.
For example, when a florist went out of business half a mile down the street from Bayside Garden Center, the IGC saw a chance to expand its reach by opening its own flower shop, called Bayside Floral Design, in 2003.
“We decided to move into their existing space to expand our floral and prevent another competitor,” says Andy Kolowith, general manager of Bayside Garden Center and Bayside Floral Design in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Like Bayside, more IGCs are finding new opportunities in flowers. In her 2018 Floral Insights and Industry Forecast, Slow Flowers founder Debra Prinzing predicted the trend of retail garden centers opening or reviving in-house floral shops. She cited examples like Windmill Gardens, which brought floral design back in house two years ago for the first time in about 15 years. After renting out retail space in its store to other florists for several years, Windmill Gardens reclaimed its flower shop, rebranding it as Windmill Floral Studio.
“A lot of traditional florists have gone out of business,” says Ben DeGoede, Sr., owner of Windmill Gardens in Sumner, Washington. “The lack of competition meant less choices for customers. That’s why we got back into floral.”
Can flower power boost your IGC to new heights? “This is an incredible opportunity to connect with consumers who have not traditionally walked into a garden center,” Prinzing says. Although floral is by no means an easy add-on, a flower shop can help tap into growth — if you do it right.
Finding the right staff
The biggest hurdle in launching a floral division is finding the right staff to manage it. Prinzing sees this challenge play out at grocery stores that lump the floral department together with produce, instead of finding floral experts. “That’s a recipe for disaster,” says Prinzing, who winces every time she sees inexperienced managers place cut flowers in full sun. “If you want to do floral, you really need dedicated staff.”
When Windmill Floral Studio first opened, a manager from the garden center pleaded for the position — but without any floral experience, she struggled in the role. So, when DeGoede spotted florist experience on the resume of a candidate applying for a job in his greenhouse, he hired her to manage the flower shop instead.
“It’s a labor-intensive business, so get an experienced, entrepreneurial person to manage it,” says DeGoede, who employs three part-time staff in addition to the full-time floral manager. “Find someone who has a good eye for aesthetics but also has the business acumen to meet budgets.”
To set his flower shop apart, DeGoede wanted Windmill Floral Studio to be an event-oriented business that generates a buzz beyond simply selling bouquets. But tapping into weddings, funerals and other flower-worthy events requires active community engagement.
“You have to cultivate relationships with funeral homes and wedding venues,” says DeGoede, who also works with local high schools during homecoming to fuel his corsage/boutonniere business.
Special event orders make up most of Windmill’s floral sales volume, while walk-in traffic is a small minority. That’s why it’s important to have an entrepreneurial manager.
“Running a newspaper ad doesn’t have much impact,” Kolowith says. “It’s getting out there and meeting with brides at bridal shows or introducing ourselves to venues to put our foot in the door.”
Originally, Bayside Floral Design had its own website and separate online presence, but over time, Kolowith decided to merge the marketing together.
The sign on the door says, “Bayside Floral Design — a division of Bayside Garden Center.” Inside both stores, signage points shoppers to the other location.
Besides flowers, Bayside Floral Design features a small selection of vases, pottery and décor like lamps, rugs and pillows, as well as some blooming houseplants. “The flower shop has almost 2,000 square feet of retail space, so we can add a lot of extra merchandise,” Kolowith says. “We try to focus on more high-end décor that a lot of garden center shoppers aren’t buying, so it gives us two separate feels.”
Cross-promotion can bridge customers from your flower shop to the rest of your store, since each type of business tends to attract different consumers. Bayside Floral Design gets a lot of mall shoppers that Bayside Garden Center wouldn’t otherwise attract, and even Windmill Floral Design — which is located inside of Windmill Gardens’ retail space — draws traffic through cross-branding.
DeGoede initially pursued floral as a year-round business model to mitigate seasonal retail swings. “Garden centers are notoriously seasonal,” he says. “If we didn’t have the florist here, I don’t know if we’d even open at all in the fall to wintertime.”
Kolowith agrees. “One advantage of floral is that it’s pretty reliable income, even in the slower garden center months,” he says. “The floral industry is not booming, but we do see steady growth every year.”
Floral business makes up about 10% of the overall sales volume for both Windmill and Bayside — but not without a lot of dedicated effort.
“It’s a valuable department if you have the capacity for it,” Kolowith says, “but I wouldn’t necessarily run out and open a flower shop without taking a hard look at the numbers. It has to be profitable.”
Tiptoe into floral
Although an in-house flower shop can help attract new clientele, not all IGCs have the space, staff or resources to launch a dedicated department. Fortunately, there are other ways to tiptoe into floral without the upfront investment.
“If you’re a garden center and you want to dabble in floral, find somebody who already has an established floral design studio and invite them to do a pop-up shop or workshop once a month to gauge the response of your customers,” Prinzing says.
Earlier this year, Prinzing ran the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival debut floral design workshop series. These “Blooms and Bubbles” classes came with an add-on to the standard ticket price, offering participants a glass of champagne while they designed a flower crown, centerpiece or similar creation.
“These workshops sold out months before the show, and there was a waiting list for every one of them,” Prinzing says.
Another idea is to partner with local flower farmers to sell seasonal bouquets. Use the directory at Prinzing’s website, SlowFlowers.com, to find a farmer near you. Ravenna Gardens in Seattle, Washington, collaborated with the University of Washington’s UW Farm last year to supply fresh flowers, and this year they brought in dahlias from Triple Wren Farms.
“I highly recommend creating partnerships with local farmers to differentiate yourself,” says Ravenna Gardens owner Gillian Mathews. “It’s not a huge part of our business, but it’s a unique offering for our customers.”
Local partnerships, pop-up shops and hands-on workshops are low-risk ways for IGCs to dabble in floral. “It’s definitely an opportunity,” Prinzing says, “especially if you’re trying to remain relevant in your marketplace and offer something that other garden centers don’t have.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland and frequent contributor to Garden Center magazine.
Fort Collins, Colorado, a growing city on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, supports a high number of garden centers per capita. But Jesse Eastman, owner and general manager of Fort Collins Nursery, doesn’t see the other garden centers in town as competition.
“The competition for us is people thinking they can’t garden,” he says.
Colorado has many new residents each year, and most of them settle along the Front Range, the region Fort Collins Nursery serves. They’re often coming from states with vastly different climates, but they’ll try to garden the same way — and they’ll fail. Then, instead of spending more money on plants, they’ll take a vacation or renovate their bathroom. The No. 1 factor to turning these transplants into repeat customers is giving them a taste of success. And the key to doing that, Eastman says, is educating them in the art of water-wise gardening.
“It’s really valuable to our business to have customers who are committed to learning about how to be successful gardeners here,” Eastman says. “And we feel strongly that the best way they can be successful is by really focusing on those low-water plants, these regionally-appropriate plants.”
When a customer shows up at his garden center and says they just moved here from another state, Eastman has a folder full of information for them including plant lists, soil types, low-water, and basic landscape designs. Whether they were an experienced gardener in their old state or they’re just getting started, he sees it as the IGC’s job to help them find the tools they need to be a successful gardener in Colorado. And everything they’ll need is in the “newcomer’s packet.”
“We really push the idea in that packet of learn to love the environment you have instead of trying to force an environment in your yard because you have your heart set on this one plant,” Eastman says. “Let’s figure out how to get that feeling that you’re looking for out of the landscape using plants that are going to make your life easier.”
Educational programs to instill the idea of efficient water use, xeriscape or drought-tolerant plantings can help, but some customers will need more of an incentive to change their gardening plans.
Eastman says the city of Fort Collins Water Department promotes efficient landscape design by offering residents rebates on their water bills. If you can prove that you attended a class on xeriscape design and show that you’re making certain changes in your landscape, you can qualify for rebates, free irrigation audits and more. It’s an initiative Eastman says is showing up in more and more Colorado cities.
“Municipalities [have been] getting behind this concept, and not just in messaging but in actions that are really meaningful to consumers in terms of reducing cost of using water and providing resources that are actually applicable to customers,” he says. “That’s been something that has really helped move things in the right direction as well.”
Rainbow Gardens in San Antonio, Texas, is a participant in the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) WaterSaver Rewards Program. For residents, the program offers a chance to earn coupons for water-saving products like plants, mulch, rain barrels, etc. by participating in SAWS-approved conservation programs. The coupons can be redeemed at participating retailers like Rainbow Gardens for products on the approved list.
Daniel Keith, green goods manager and part owner of Rainbow Gardens, says the program has helped bring in new customers and new business.
“In terms of profitability for us, it’s added tens of thousands of dollars each year in additional sales,” Keith says. “So it’s definitely a win for us.”
To take part, residents must get rid of 200 feet of turf — the thirstiest part of a landscape — and replace it with flowers, groundcovers, trees and shrubs that have been approved as water-wise. They can also earn coupons by setting up an irrigation system consultation, capping sprinkler heads and switching to drip irrigation or pressure-regulated heads.
Rainbow Gardens hosts events nine months out of the year, some of which qualify toward SAWS coupons which, once earned, can be spent in either of the IGC’s two stores.
In addition to helping with conservation, Keith says the partnership with SAWS has attracted people who wouldn’t usually visit Rainbow Gardens.
“The people that this program brings in are often not our customers; they are often people that don’t know much about plants,” he says. “Not always, but it’s often people that are looking for something for free — a good deal. But it exposes them to the concept of water-wise gardening. It exposes them to our garden center. It exposes these people to a lot of plants that you’re just not going to find at the box stores or the supermarkets that have garden centers.”
Plant picks are very important to water-wise gardening, Keith says. What works in Phoenix or Tucson where the soil is sandy won’t work in San Antonio where the soils are heavy clay.
“When it’s dry, it’s like a brick and when it’s wet, it’s like gumbo,” he says. “So a lot of those cactus plants did not do well in our soil here in San Antonio. So we have to pick other choices that can handle seasonal drought and seasonal wetness.”
Rainbow Gardens sets up displays at its stores featuring the plants that qualify for the coupon program. Brightly colored signage and plasticized info cards provide information for shoppers. The SAWS-approved plant list might include a general plant like salvia and allow the customer to choose from the varieties in stock that day. He estimates there are 250 plants on the approved list, although they’re never all available at the same time. The list has been updated each year.
Fort Collins Nursery uses a plant list from Plant Select, a nonprofit collaboration of Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens and professional horticulturists. The program has been going for 20 years and aims to seek out plants that can thrive with fewer resources. It started out of necessity as Colorado’s population exploded and its new residents wanted to garden like they did in their previous homes. However, heavily watered and irrigated gardens aren’t sustainable in a state that is vulnerable to drought. Because of the elevation and dry climate, general plant growing tips aren’t always relevant in Colorado. Some plants that fail elsewhere thrive in the Front Range. Others are shunned in other parts of the country because they’re invasive.
“But when you move them to Colorado, they make wonderful landscape plants and don’t spread because our climate is harsh enough that it keeps them in check,” Eastman says.
Plants are trialed for three years before they are chosen for the program. The ones that are selected exhibit certain attributes: They must be able to flourish with less water, thrive in a broad range of conditions, be habitat-friendly, stay tough and resilient in challenging climates, be unique with long-lasting beauty, resist disease and insects and be non-invasive.
Ross Schrigley, executive director for Plant Select, says he wants to partner with other universities and arboretums to make the program a nationwide resource. Currently, Plant Select has demonstration gardens to show off its plants in six states: Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Texas.
“Plant Select does a really good job of highlighting plants that are appropriate for this region and describing them in a way that’s actually consistent with our experience on the ground,” Eastman says.