Have you ever been to a restaurant or wine tasting where the beverages were matched with specific dishes? Wine pairings are frequently found at special dinners or festivals such as the annual Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) event in San Francisco. Similarly, a quick Google search offers suggestions for pairing beer, whiskey or non-alcoholic drinks with compatible dishes. All such pairings, be they at a festival or private dinner, tend to be pleasurable, fun experiences. So why not add that element of entertainment at your next IGC event? Consider holding a plant pairings party for your next holiday open house, spring gala or ladies’ night out.
A quick look around your garden center will reveal many plants that are either named after beverages or suggest something to drink. From the Peach Lemonade Rose to Summer Wine ninebark or Superbena Royale Sparkling Ruby verbena, a pairings party might use these plants as jumping off suggestions for refreshments. Have a lemonade tasting table surrounded by plants with “lemonade” in their names. Invite a local wine store to offer wine tastings that are pleasing in the summer, located, of course, among the ninebark shrubs. Or feature a tasting of sparkling waters or cider, with plants that have “sparkling” or “fizz” in their name.
A pairings party can suggest ways that herbs or fruit can be combined in drinks. Serve lavender cocktails or tea where you have this herb displayed. Offer iced tea with sprigs of lemon verbena, or demonstrate how to make rosemary-infused simple syrup. Offer small glasses of beer or ginger ale garnished with frozen blueberries, or make a mint tea (hot or cold) and add the fruit that your customers want to grow. Such pairings remind attendees about the possibilities for edible landscaping and can introduce your customers to new herbs.
Pairing plant displays
The pairings theme extends to how plants are successfully combined in the home or landscape. For a winter houseplant event, make a display of plant pairings for an eastern window or plant pairings for home offices. In the growing season, show your customers which perennials pair well so that there is something in bloom all summer, or which groundcovers combine successfully with shrubs.
Pairings displays can be appropriate to the event and the season. If you’re having a vegetable garden festival, pair plants that grow well together, such as tall eggplant and short lettuce. Or display vegetables that combine well when cooking, such as tomatoes and basil, or zucchini and peppers. A holiday festival display could contain plants that pair well in pots and boxes over the winter, and an event about spring planting might contain shrubs that work well in foundation beds.
A “Plant Pairings” area might become a permanent display area in your store or nursery, with different plants that work well together placed there every week. One week it might be plants that combine well to feed and shelter the birds. The next display could feature plants that pair well because of their drought tolerance, or those that grow companionably in shade.
Pairing plants with pots and products
Another direction that pairings can go is in cross-merchandising. At a pairings party, make displays of plants with the pots that complement them. Have handouts that list products commonly needed for certain plants or situations in your region. For example, if you routinely need to acidify soils to make rhododendrons happy, either display products together or create a handout on rhododendron pairings that shows the sulfur and acidifying fertilizers that you commonly recommend.
Even beyond holding plant pairings parties, this theme is useful for times when you’re stuck about what to write in a blog or a newsletter. What pairings would you make with plants and the personalities of your customers? For example, which shrubs in your region maintain their shape without frequent pruning? Pair these with people who are too busy for garden maintenance. Which herbs thrive in your area? Write about how these pair well with your customers who love to cook.
Finally, have fun with plant names that bring the subject of pairings to mind. In the evening, when the setting sun is illuminating the wine-red flowers on my Zinfin Doll hydrangea, it’s no wonder that I start thinking about setting up a table nearby and serving a great Zinfandel wine during the cocktail hour. The beauty of the garden, the name of the shrub, the color of the flowers and a relaxing beverage ... some things just go together.