Saturday, February 28, 2009

University of Vermont P&SS Seminars

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Blustery and cold here on the mountain this morning. Yesterday's high of 50 degrees and sunny was replaced by dark and gusty and 11 degrees. As I look out the window I can see where a coyote came through the field to the compost pile sometime after midnight when the snow crusted over and travel became easier. It's years like this when I really fear for our deer population because snow is deep and travel is difficult for them.

I have been remiss in not posting enough about events in the area which will benefit some gardeners. I'm always tossed between local conversation and the world at large. I have had correspondence from India, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, and New Zealand this week, hence the confusion of who I am writing to. Just the same I figure that what I offer might provoke thought about a similar resource in your locality. Here goes.

The University of Vermont is located in Burlington, Vermont and like any land grant college it has a College of Agriculture and a division of plant and soil science. Recently I heard that they offer seminars most every Friday afternoon at 3 on a variety of subjects. The seminars are free and open to the public and located in the Stafford Building adjacent to the greenhouses. Here is the schedule.

Yesterday the seminar was listed as Garden Marketing and Trends and was presented by Kathy LaLiberte, the Director of Gardening for Gardener's Supply. If you are familiar with the area you know that Gardeners Supply merged last year with Four Seasons Garden Center in Williston and the merger took two of the finest gardening companies in New England and shared their information and resources.

But anyway--the seminar. Other than the fact that I should have picked a seat up front so I could hear better and also the fact that those skimpy little fold-down lecture hall seats don't accept a maturing gardener with a bad back, the lecture was super. Kathy is one of the original Gardener's Supply founders so we're talking a long period of experience gardening in Vermont. If you get a chance to hear her speak sometime, it's worth the hour.

I was interested in the demographics of the company and how things had changed since it's inception. Originally the customers were mainly men aged 62 and over. Over time that has changed and although I didn't take notes I think the ratio went in favor of women like at 52%. The most important change to me was that age has decreased and there's an interesting split now with more favorable ratings in the area of the 30 year olds who want to get into gardening. That tells nursery owners like Gail and me that we have to gear our marketing and our seminars to younger customers who may be new to gardening. We are good at describing our customer profile but we are still in a slightly older profile with a higher concentration of women. You have to temper our review with the fact that we not only offer only perennials but we only offer specific perennials--hostas, daylilies, astilbes and shade plants so that concentrates the market some more.

The other point of interest was the fact that the first Gardener Supply gardeners were mainly interested in vegetables and that's where the original emphasis centered. That's not a surprise. As I have mentioned in earlier writings, the post WW II days gave constant reminder to the lean times of the Depression and the things that people sacrificed for the the war industry.

If you can think back 30 years, there was an abundance of greenhouses growing annuals and there were no box stores as we know them now. If you wanted annuals or vegetable starts or perennials you went to a farm stand or a greenhouse. That has all changed and GS experienced that change and responded to it.

So from the predominance of vegetables to the integration of perennials came the current trend that is different in several respects. From a nursery owners perspective, this is important to remember at all levels--not just the changing interest, not just the change from vegetables but the influence the advent of box stores had coupled with the American lifestyle and accompanying need for instant garden (and other) gratification.

The day's of six packs of plants has changed to garden centers offering large pots which give the impression a garden has been growing for some time. Now people want large plants, different plants, showy plants, low maintenance plants and they often want them right away. This whole lifestyle change lead to a company named Proven Winners which offers pots of perennials and shrubs in mature sizes. The same large pots easily transplant to containers as the container gardening market has really caught on too.

So where is this now? Lots of nursery owners including Gardener's Supply and even lowly producers like Gail and me ask the same question. Garden research is interesting and with a little luck I'll share some in the near future with you. In the interim, remember that from Gardener's Supply research there is an expected 19% increase in vegetable related sales en route for this year. That's obviously part of the recession, part of the "stay at home-save money-work on our landscape-produce some safe food" thinking. When we hear of all the groups trying to get a vegetable garden back on the White House lawn, the direction we're heading in becomes more obvious.

I have to say I enjoyed Kathy's presentation and I wish it was a web cast so you could see it/hear it too. She pointed out the importance of saying thank you to all customers as she received thank yous from the audience for help GS has done with the Master Gardener program. In a time when things are tough, it would be good for each of us to set some gardening goals that include growing vegetables to go with our expanding perennial gardens. And at the same time maybe we can think about growing some extra vegetables for a friend or helping start a community garden that others can share. If you want to see what the impact can be in terms of people power, try this link which comes from the Gardener Supply page. These are people's stories about their gardens. I enjoyed them and I think you will too. Oh yes, and thanks Kathy for a great presentation!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the birds want breakfast, "somebody" better bring in some more wood for the stove, and I should go find my old copy of Putting Food By.

Best garden wishes!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm


lynn'sgarden said...

Great information in this post, George..glad you were able to attend that seminar! Yes, I do notice the nurseries I frequent are run by the younger generations..interesting you brought that up. Love the header bloom.

joey said...

Yea March! Spring blooms right around the corner, even on the mountain, George :)

George Africa said...

Hi Joey;

I have never been able to understand this Continental US weather thing. Yesterday it was 70 something in Colorado. Minnesota gets to 45 below zero in parts and Buffalo NY gets +20 feet of snow to our 12-15. But when April comes to Vermont, there is no telling if it will arrive with a couple feet of snow.

Wildflowers begin in earnest around Memorial Day but until then, plan on surprise snow storms and skies spitting sleet no matter how much you wish for spring. Keep sending me words of encouragement! BTW I have eaten too many stuffed french toast from that delicious recipe you posted and as such I have to get clicking here or I won't be able to bend enough to plant the new gardens.

Good garden wishes to you too!