The cocktail hour originated in Paris in the 19th century with the popularization of the herbal spirit absinthe. This emerald colored spirit was created from the herb wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and it was so well-liked that the period after work but before dinner became known as “the green hour.”
Although absinthe is no longer very fashionable, there is a resurgence in the popularity of cocktails. It seems only fitting that those in the green industry should take advantage of the green hour. From holding evening events to using cocktails to promote the sale of plants, there are many opportunities for garden centers. Customers can be reminded about plants that will provide them with beverage ingredients and relaxing environments for evening gardens. We have many opportunities to use the cocktail hour to promote sales, and here are a few suggestions.
Customers can be reminded about plants that will provide them with beverage ingredients and relaxing environments for evening gardens. We have many opportunities to use the cocktail hour to promote sales, and here are a few suggestions.
Be they herbs or edible flowers, there are cocktail ingredients to be found throughout your garden center. The usual mints are perennial favorites for beverages of course. Display these near a selection of colorful ceramic pots with the suggestion that they be contained instead of allowed to take over gardens. This presents an opportunity for cross-merchandising and add-on sales while offering control of a known garden thug.
Other herbs such as parsley, basil and lemon verbena aren’t as well known as beverage ingredients but are trendy in drinks right now. Find some recipes for using these in cocktails and mocktails and make these available near the herb section.
Edible flowers such as sunflowers, calendula and borage can add color and flavor to beverages. Encourage customers to think about including these in gardens and containers for use as garnishes. Remind them that a lavender stem can be placed in a tall glass and used for a swizzle stick as well as an adornment.
If you have display space, group nursery stock and perennials around furniture and fire pits to create a model cocktail hour garden. Use plants that have fragrant flowers or foliage to enhance the experience of being outside at dusk. Variegated shrubs, or those with white flowers are especially visible as the sun goes down, so include them as well. Be sure your signage points out why the plants used would be desirable in the evening landscape.
Cocktail hour events can be held in your store or near your demonstration gardens. If you’re serving alcoholic beverages, check town ordinances to be sure you’re in compliance. Some garden centers partner with a local liquor store or caterer so that experienced bartenders are on hand. Be sure to charge for special events and require advance registration so that there will be enough food and snacks and the numbers can be controlled.
On the other hand, some garden centers offer a set cocktail night or happy hour every week and invite the public to drop in without registering. In either case, plan to provide inspiration and information along with the refreshments.
Demonstrate how edible flowers can be used to create lovely, natural colors in cocktails. For example, putting nasturtium flowers in a shaker along with ice cubes and your drink ingredients will tint cocktails peach or coral. Shake vigorously, strain and garnish with a fresh nasturtium flower or bud.
Give after-hours walking tours of your garden center, pointing out special plants and providing tastes of unusual beverages. Offer tastes of a beetini (a martini made with fresh beet juice) or a Kale Collins (a Tom Collins made with kale juice), to name just two. Many recipes for vegetable-based cocktails can be found online.
Take advantage of the research and planning you’ve done to provide content for your website, blog and social media. Take photos of all plants recommended and beverages prepared. Post recipes and plant lists online and use the same descriptions you’ve placed on your signage to provide content for your blog. Don’t post all cocktail information at once but separate out the plants and topics over time. This also serves to increase traffic to your website since search engines reward sites that update content frequently.
As we look to attract younger customers — of legal drinking age, of course — using the cocktail hour is one way to do so. This was driven home to me recently when an early 30-something professional woman said to me, “If you want to attract people of my generation to an event, you need to offer alcohol and information.” So this spring and summer, plan ways that your IGC can toast the cocktail hour. Cheers!
C.L. Fornari is a speaker, writer and radio/podcast host who has worked at Hyannis Country Garden, an IGC on Cape Cod, for more than 20 years. She has her audiences convinced that C.L. stands for “Compost Lover.” Learn more at www.GardenLady.com
If you’re a veggie gardener, then you’re probably no stranger to the intense rush of endorphins you get when perusing next season’s seed catalog. I think most of us can agree that selecting and ordering seeds is a hobby of its own — one that may not have anything at all to do with getting the seeds started on time or planted in the garden. While my seed collection grows larger each year, I still need to hit up my local garden center for transplants.
I’m appreciative that I can usually count on my local IGC being there to pinch hit with veggie transplants for me. You can usually count on a local IGC to stock the basics, or a very limited number of cultivars. But I also know buying transplants means sacrificing on variety. Most veggie gardeners know that if they want to grow a less common edible, they’re usually out of luck unless they start their own seed.
As consumers get more food-adventurous so do veggie gardeners. Most food gardeners I know are looking to branch out into veggies they haven’t yet grown or cooked with. If you’re looking to grow your veggie garden category and you want to stand out from your local mass merchants, think diversity and stretching the season.
I tapped my friend and veggie gardener extraordinaire Niki Jabbour on the shoulder to see what trends she’s observing with her followers. Like me, she’s seeing a need for more unusual crops, herbs and unique cultivars. “Seedlings for artichokes, ground cherries, heirloom tomatoes, super-hot peppers, heritage melons, edible gourds (like luffa) and cucamelons are some of the many seedlings gardeners will be asking for in 2020” Jabbour says. (Check out Jabbour’s book “Veggie Garden Remix” for some great suggestions on alternative food garden varieties).
Greens more commonly grown outside the United States, such as mizuna, bok choy and komatsuna, are also becoming more popular. Because leafy greens are one of the easier crops for gardeners to grow, many tolerating more shady conditions than their fruiting companions, this is an easy category for you to boost variety and sales. Plus, many growers can handle growing greens indoors, so you have more off-season opportunities for these crops.
Jabbour also expresses a need for crops more resistant to diseases such as downy mildew — Basil PROSPERA as an example — blight-tolerant tomatoes, mildew-tolerant cucumbers and melons and other improved varieties. She reminds us that excellent signage will be required to properly communicate these benefits to customers.
Stretch the season
Growing in a climate that affords me a 365-day vegetable growing season, succession planting is important. While my climate does force me to split my growing seasons between warm and cool crops, there’s enough time in each to plant multiple successions of similar crops and bridge the gap during transition times. Too often, there’s only a short one-shot at the availability window of transplants in spring at the garden center. The limited availability doesn’t afford food gardeners the opportunity to lengthen their growing and harvest season.
In hot climates, there are often two tomato planting seasons — early-spring and mid-summer. While customers can usually find a decent selection of tomato transplants in spring, too often they are offered too late in spring, when temperatures are already getting too hot. And I’m often hard-pressed to find tomato transplants for summer planting and fall harvest. If you grow in a colder climate that gives you a short fall growing window, don’t leave your customers hanging. Jabbour, who veggie gardens in a cold climate, laments the lack of availability for mid-summer to early-autumn transplants that can be harvested in fall and winter. “So many vegetables can be planted from mid-summer to autumn for late season harvest — cabbage, broccoli, kale, lettuce, endive, Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, cucumbers, Swiss chard, etc.,” she says, but she doesn’t find these transplants at the garden center.
Jabbour also suggests offering a variety of ‘plug-in plants’ for additional succession or seasonal transition plantings to entice food gardeners. Again, she recommends detailed signage to clearly communicate to customers how and when to use these fill-in crops.
As more urban gardeners adopt more resilient, biodiverse and wildlife friendly landscaping approaches, look for an interest in native edibles to gain some traction. While I’ve already seen an increased interest in foraging for native edibles, I think we’re prime for providing more access and education to native plant species that offer some type of food or herbal value. As we guide homeowners to integrate more native plant species into their urban landscapes, let’s look to offer more plants that provide food source to both the homeowner and the native wildlife.
If there is one thing you can count on, it’s that veggie gardeners are engaged customers. They want to visit the garden center more often, not less. And there’s no better excuse to hit up the local IGC than cool new veggie transplants!
Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com
What’s trending on Twitter
Our Twitter followers really enjoyed our Spring Survival Guide! Dive in and read some of the profiles to learn how retailers in the industry prepare warranty policies, track inventory, create promotional events and more. The issue also forecasted 2020 bulb trends and explored the different ways owners can stay healthy for the busy season ahead.
See it here.
Garden Center Trivia
THIS MONTH’S QUESTION:
What is a cluster of bananas called?
Check back next month in this space for the answer!
Last month’s question and answer: Vanilla bean comes from the pod of what flower?
Answer: The vanilla bean plant is a flowering vine and is part of the orchid family, Orchidacea. The flat-leaved vanilla (V. planifolia), which is native to Mexico, is where commercial vanilla flavoring is derived.
Are you dreaming of sunnier weather? Luckily, it’s a click away! With the 2020 California Spring Trials coming up, check out the sights we saw last year with our video recap. See it here.
5 Stories in brief
Top Industry news from our website
CSU Trials announce 2019 Top Perennial Performers
Millenium Ornamental Onion (Eason Horticulture Resources and Stonehouse Nursery) and KahorieScarlet Border Pinks (Dümmen Orange) were among the winners. Click here to read more,
Costa Farms’ Monstera deliciosa ‘Thai Constellation’ highlighted at TPIE 2020
The plant was selected as the Favorite New Foliage Plant during this year’s Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition. Click here to read more.
Keep track to keep up
Here are the different tools and techniques three IGCs use to keep their inventory management on track. Click here to read more.
Syngenta Flowers to exclusively sell and market HI Breeding Hydrangea in the U.S. and Canada
Syngenta aims to expand its North American presence in the potted indoor floral segment. Click here to read more.
Farwest Show calls for entries for 2020 New Varieties Showcase
The showcase is an annual event at Farwest, which will be held Aug. 26–28 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Oregon. Click here to read more.
Most of us have that one friend who’s the life of the party. Someone who brightens the room, someone who’s always cracking a joke, cheering you on and lightening the mood. For me, that has always been Sarah.
About a year ago, Sarah came down with a chronic illness that has changed her entire life. But no matter how bad things have gotten, she just keeps smiling and laughing. Not much about her has changed throughout the whole ordeal.
A few nights ago, while a group of us were visiting her in the hospital, someone made a negative comment and she immediately shut it down, saying, “We can’t have that kind of attitude in here. We need to stay positive.”
She knows that to get through the tough times, there’s no use in feeling sorry for yourself or wallowing in the hardships. And she knows that not only for herself, but for everyone else in the room, because negativity spreads like wildfire. It just takes one turn of the conversation and everything starts to spiral. And she isn’t having any of that around her.
While it’s important to talk about problems as they arise and face adversity head-on (and realistically), the way you approach it is the most important. Don’t let negativity sneak into your company. The way you handle adversity will inform the rest of your staff how to do the same. When you see negativity sneaking in, shut it down, and train your staff to do the same.
That’s not to say that you should pretend that things are all sunshine and rainbows. The next few months are crucial and busy for independent garden centers. There’s no getting around the fact that trying to manage all of the different tasks you need to get ready for the busy season can leave your head spinning. Things will go wrong. People might quit; deliveries might not arrive on time; customers might be difficult. But the way you and your staff face those problems can determine how you overcome and rise above them.
A very successful landscape company I used to work with would always say, “Culture isn’t something you just hang on your wall.” You can’t simply say, “We’re going to have a positive company culture.” It’s something your staff has to buy into and live every day they spend at your operation.