Thursday, May 30, 2024
PGA's Australian-bred Moon Series® Convolvulus has a dense mounding groundcover rather than a sparse running habit (Image: PGA)
Retail

History, improvement and innovation still drive GIG

By John Fitzsimmons

As MC Chloe Thompson (‘the horticulturist of many hats’*) commented, the last year has been challenging for many enterprises in our industry. However, as presentations at the Garden Inspirations Group (GIG) 2024 event unfolded in Melbourne it was clear that history, improvement and innovation still drive those who service the greenlife sector – especially independent garden centres.

Chloe introduced “industry-leading growers and garden product businesses who also think creatively, adapt to change, and are constantly evolving (with) new products and new ideas. Remember – a good gardener is always learning.”

Steve Biemond from indoor plant specialist Biemond Nurseries regards GIG as the best annual opportunity to engage directly with independent garden centre operators and staff, and keep them abreast of developments. He said the indoor plant sector was trending as it did last year and the year before, and that’s about the same.

“It’s not about getting the latest trendy plant that no one can get. People want rock solid proven plants they know are going to perform in their home. Green is still the colour.”

He said they had been working hard on putting together a range of plants that will always be available; at this time, they offer about 120 lines (across about 25,000 m²) to give consumers the widest range rather than huge amounts of the latest trendy plants. He observed that it can be a challenge to grow everything in the one place.

Steve showcased Phlebodium aureum ‘Davana’PBR – “a great plant that’s been around for two or three years”. He recalled how, when ‘Davana’ was exhibited at MIFGS just how many people stopped and were drawn in by this plant’s foliage. It is described as having “a unique wavy glaucous steel blue leaf shape, a compact form with masses of foliage, and an air-purifying indoor plant that thrives with little attention.”

Monstera deliciosa ‘Thai Constellation’ is a highly sought-after variegated plant that boasts easy care qualities and variegation resembling a beautiful night sky. Steve reported this plant has reached its retail level of ‘pricing equilibrium’ and is selling well. Philodendron Pink and White Princess, both robust, low maintenance, and ideal for low to medium light situations, are now back with improved variegation in new selections.

New Cosmos atrosanguineus ‘Cherry Chocolate’ has purple buds, fuchsia pink blooms, bright golden pollen and a rich chocolate fragrance (Image: PGA) (Image: John Fitzsimmons)
New Cosmos atrosanguineus ‘Cherry Chocolate’ has purple buds, fuchsia pink blooms, bright golden pollen and a rich chocolate fragrance (Image: PGA) (Image: John Fitzsimmons)

Biemonds have also been putting together a new range of Sedum Donkey Tails in different forms in hanging baskets for spring release. After 12 to 24 months of work they now have a full range of Calathea in 12, 17 and 25 cm pots. While they are focused on driving enquiry to retailers, MIFGS experience showed the big sizes gained attention but the small ones sold quickly, Steve reported, adding that when the larger sizes sold out sales of the smaller sizes immediately slowed.

Sarah Burgess was a first-time presenter at GIG as owner of Ausflora Pacific. The 32 ha Dandenongs-based, family-owned nursery offers a large range of cut flowers (since 1981) and plants specialising in the Proteaceae family; South African proteas, leucadendrons and leucospermums, as well as Australian natives such as waratahs. Nursery operations, originally set up to serve the flower growing operations, were subsequently expanded in response to demand from the retail, wholesale and landscape sectors. All plants are propagated on site. Tubestock can be grown anywhere from 6 to 18 months before it is ready for sale depending on species and type. For example, some proteas can take 12 to 18 months to reach saleable status, hence a higher price point, Sarah explained.

She supported Steve Biemond’s observation that a larger display plant – “what that plant can become” is a big support to selling lines in smaller containers. They therefore developed the 330 mm range which has proved very popular.

Leucospermum 'Cordelia’ is a forthcoming release with dusty orange pincushion flowers (Image: Ausflora Pacific)
Leucospermum ‘Cordelia’ is a forthcoming release with dusty orange pincushion flowers (Image: Ausflora Pacific)

They grow about 30 different leucadendrons, some easy to grow, some not so easy, but all with their own amazing qualities. They have about five leucospermums with another four in development to be released over the next 3 or 4 years. There are also five or six telopeas available with more coming to market over the next three to five years. Telopea oreades (Victorian Waratah) as a true variety rated special mention – OK in a pot but can be a large plant in-ground.

Forthcoming releases include Leucospermum ‘Cordelia’ with an abundance of dusty orange pin cushion flowers in spring, 1.5 m (H) x 1 m (W), and Leucadendron laureolum ‘Flamingo’ with flower heads that boast a bronzy red base to the flower bracts changing to a bright yellow in winter/spring, 2 m (H) x 1.5 m (W).

Ausflora Pacific currently has about eleven different proteas with four more in development, with one variety a year scheduled for release over the next two to five years.

As expected, PGA (Plant Growers Australia) via Sales & Marketing Manager Howard Fox, maintained a high level of audience interest with news of new and forthcoming greenlife developments. The company introduced about 30 new lines last year and expects to give us more than 50 new lines through 2024!

GIG attendees were introduced to a ‘world first’ release of the Moon Series® Convolvulus – Australian-bred, compact, dense, uniquely petalled flowers, spreading/trailing, with long consistent flowering from October to April. The breeding aim was for a dense mounding groundcover rather than a sparse running habit. Development took ten years and six breeding generations before final selections were made in 2021, an indicator of the time and effort that goes into bringing us innovations. Look for ‘Moroccan Moon’ and ‘Starry Moon’, ‘Purple Moon’ and ‘Little Arctic Moon’.

Also new from PGA is Arthropodium ‘Moonbeam’, a tough easy-care plant featuring colourful variegated leaves year-round, a tidy habit, and clusters of starry white blooms (pink buds opening to white star flowers). It was joined by Cosmos atrosanguineus ‘Cherry Chocolate’ that produces purple buds boasting large colour breakthrough in fuchsia-pink blooms with bright golden pollen and an enticing, rich chocolate fragrance. Compared to other forms of C. atrosanguineus ‘Cherry Chocolate’ produces flowers that are twice the size, making it the largest flowering form.

GIG attendees investigate Takasho's garden accessories range
GIG attendees investigate Takasho’s garden accessories range

Come September this year PGA will release Lavinnova® ‘Baby Pink Princess’ – a neat and compact lavender showcasing masses of soft baby pink flowers with broad ‘wings’ covering the whole plant, popping against green foliage. Delivering this line has also taken eight years since initial selection in 2016.

Trenton Cottage’s Debra Griffin devoted much of her GIG address to 2024 being the 30th anniversary of the discovery of the now famous Wollemi Pine in a remote part of the Blue Mountains by David Noble. Only 23 trees were noted as surviving in that locale and, to this day, the exact location is a closely guarded secret after being threatened by fire in 2020.

The family-run Van Berkel Distributors, which had been involved in delivering the first Wollemi Pines from the first propagators, were offered the exclusive rights to the trees, the propagation and distribution of the trademark locally and globally. The trees are now found in domestic gardens and public spaces across the world. Work has been underway to expand the access and appeal of Wollemi Pines which has produced a bonsai version(!) now “establishing well”, and a hanging basket version (!!) in the “very, very early” stages of development.

“Only time will tell if this will be a viable option,” Debra cautioned.

PGA's Australian-bred Moon Series® Convolvulus has a dense mounding groundcover rather than a sparse running habit (Image: PGA)
PGA’s Australian-bred Moon Series® Convolvulus has a dense mounding groundcover rather than a sparse running habit (Image: PGA)

Last year ‘Wolli the dinosaur’ debuted at MIFGS to promote the Wollemi – a character that has reportedly done very well. A number of promotions are now underway in “the year of the Wollemi 30th anniversary”.

In 2012 Van Berkel Distributors bought the established Trenton Cottage bulb supplier. Debra announced forthcoming new introductions to their produce/edible, and summer flowering ranges. These included two new strawberries, two new raspberries including the yellow-golden raspberry, and a white currant.

“We’ve also gone ‘a bit nuts’ in the summer flowering category because there is just so much beautiful material out there,” she added. They’ve added to the Calla lilies, the water lilies, gladioli, hostas, day lilies, and 17 new dahlias! Trenton Cottage’s packaging has also been made more flexible to broaden availability of their many lines including those in ready and limited supply.

“Everybody can’t get enough dahlias,” Debra reported.

Independent retailer-focused supplier Grow Better was represented by Mike Donsen. The company has long offered an organically certified seed raising mix but now also offers a mix which includes a slow-release fertiliser to perform better through the cooler months. Both are available in 12 and 25 litre bags. Packaging for their premium potting mix has also been graphically updated.

The company started distributing Seasol® products (including Sharpshooter pest and disease control products) late last year which has expanded their ‘one stop shopping’ offer for independent garden centres. He also announced point-of-sale materials highlighting seasonal merchandising methods and ‘summer options’ for the remaining warm weather – “important ‘plus’ selling at this time of year” for retailers. Create a retail POS focal point at this time of year to extend the customers’ opportunities for success, he suggested.

Mike also expanded on Grow Better’s Bombora Pots division, announcing new Rochester ball pots in a Corten colour, and special pallet packs in contemporary colours and styles as a range of styles in “a snack pack” sufficient for an appealing pot display to expand the company’s point of difference.

Grow Better and Bombora Pots attracted attention from independent garden centres (Im-age: John Fitzsimmons)
Grow Better and Bombora Pots attracted attention from independent garden centres (Im-age: John Fitzsimmons)

An emerging development involving Grow Better/Bombora and other GIG members are cross-merchandising packs. For example, one pack includes pots, bowls, potting mixes and seaweed tonic at special prices; others may include pots, plants and more. Retailers should check with their GIG suppliers for current details.

Grow Better flagged a forthcoming new product launch in early August which is expected to include innovative new imported lines expanding independent retailers’ points of difference even more.

Andrew Hogg from broad-based allied products supplier Takasho talked a little about developments in their extremely diverse product catalogue, but more about how their ethical and sustainable manufacturing and supply sources are monitored and independently audited both here and overseas, especially in China. Areas audited include product inputs such as timber (the familiar FSC sustainability audit) and the SMETA (by Sedex) ‘four pillars’ sustainability and ethical sourcing audit monitoring worker health & safety, labour standards, business ethics and environmental matters.

Arthropodium ‘Moonbeam’ is an easy-care plant with variegated leaves year-round (Im-age: John Fitzsimmons)
Arthropodium ‘Moonbeam’ is an easy-care plant with variegated leaves year-round (Im-age: John Fitzsimmons)

Takasho Australasia Ltd is a subsidiary of Takasho Co Ltd of Japan. The company describes itself as a gardening supplier and ‘lifestyle maker’ with thirteen international subsidiaries and 760 employees. It supplies garden centres with an amazing range of add-on complementary products to help consumers realise their complete vision. Takasho’s catalogue ranges from gardening accessories (ties, labels, coco fibre, wirework products and hand tools) to décor products like pots and planters, plant stands, garden lighting, water features and figurines. Domestic VegTrug™ planters, frames and covers are also offered. The already extensive range will see even more additions mid-year.

The figurines, as one example, remain a strong and consistently selling category. A sub-group of realistic Australian native animals (e.g. wombat 38 x 18.5 x 21 cm, echidna 26.5 x 16 x 14.5 cm) are popular as have been a set of three 35 cm high Buddhas, ‘Atlas’ (large sold out quickly, medium now in stock, small coming), and ‘Madonna’ cone hanging baskets. Modern plant stands with timber shelves are expected mid-year.

Grow Better announced Sam Perkin as its new representative based in Bombala, NSW, while Meagan Wigg, Nursery Manager at Gardenworld in Melbourne, received a GIG Industry Champion 2024 award which acknowledges the industry’s ‘shining lights’. GIG’s Leigh Siebler presented an acknowledgement award to Mike Donsen for his contribution to the establishment of GIG in 1995.

(L to R) Meagan Wigg (Gardenworld), Chloe Van Berkel (Trenton Cottage) and Bonnie-Marie Hibbs (PMA) discussed their industry journeys (Image: John Fitzsimmons)
(L to R) Meagan Wigg (Gardenworld), Chloe Van Berkel (Trenton Cottage) and Bonnie-Marie Hibbs (PMA) discussed their industry journeys (Image: John Fitzsimmons)

After GIG’s formal presentations, Meagan Wigg from Gardenworld, Chloe Van Berkel from Trenton Cottage, and Bonnie-Marie Hibbs from Plants Management Australia (PMA) took the stage to discuss their journeys and roles in the greenlife industry. This was a most engaging sub-event with (among other stories) Meagan discussing the difficulties of finding qualified and well-trained staff, Chloe summarising some of the challenges in family business succession planning, and Bonnie-Marie describing and explaining her extremely diverse skillset and roles in one of Australia’s leading plant propagation, development and marketing companies.

Meagan Wigg, Nursery Manager at Melbourne's Gardenworld, received a GIG Industry Champion award
Meagan Wigg, Nursery Manager at Melbourne’s Gardenworld, received a GIG Industry Champion award

Altogether GIG 2024 in Melbourne highlighted the history, commitments, challenges and rewards that contribute to innovation and success in our independent greenlife production and retail sectors.

*Been there, Dug that. Sprout School. Beyond the Garden Gate (YouTube)

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