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Green Expo, Part 1. Plant Trends and Edible Ornamentals

To keep on top of new happenings in the local landscaping world, in January I made my annual trek to Minneapolis to the mecca for landscape professionals in the Twin Cities, the Northern Green Expo.  I attended seminars put on by a bunch of smart plant folk and thought that unlike past years I'd blog what I absorbed before losing my notes on my desk or throwing them out in a fit of cleaning rage a few months down the road.

I heard two seminars from Lloyd Traven, owner of Peace Tree Farms.  Check out www.peacetreefarm.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/home.showpage/pageID/19/index.htm for more info.  I like him.  Seems like he's not afraid to speak his mind.  He's also an organic grower (hallelujah).  He uses ladybug larvae and other predators to control pests and says many sprays are totally ineffective now anyways since pests have built up so much resistance due to 'cide overuse. 

Here are the highlights of interest to me from his talks, in no logical order per my crazy notes. Lloyd is a grower, so his talks were tailored to a retail perspective for the mostly grower-filled audience.  I am a designer, not a grower, but still I find the marketing and trend info useful when designing and selling to clients.  Plus, I am still a consumer, obviously, so I want to see what's new and exciting and if I'm going to get on board with it all or not...I'm nothing if not opinionated.  Anywho, here's what he said, and what I think about what he said, take it or leave it. 

1.  Independent Garden Centers should be calling themselves 'Locally-owned Garden Centers'.

Huh? Who cares?  Well, the point is growers should try to separate themselves from the big box stores by using the friendly name 'Locally-Owned', thus promoting their specialized expertise, service, and contribution to the local economy.  Gardeners who are smart enough to know they will never know everything about gardening should be supporting these Mom-N-Pop growers who actually care about plants and can teach you something while you shop, if you care to listen.  If you disagree about shopping local, you're probably not a bad person, you're just cheap.  Me too, sometimes.  But when you can, help out the local grower who actually gives a damn, please.  That teenager on the end of a hose at the Home Depot parking lot hoophouse does not give a toot about your outdoor room.   

2.  Plant trends that are hot right now:
-Veggies and herbs (DUH!)
-Edible Ornamentals (I concur - http://www.gardenminnesota.com/blog_home.asp?display=92)
-Vertical Gardens (espalier, trellises, space-saving growing techniques)
-Fairy/Terrariums (I'm ambivalent. I want to like fairy gardening, because it sounds like a cool children's gardening thing, but it sounds like an expensive bandwagon to be on. A tiny, expensive bandwagon.)
-Fragrance
-Shoulder Plants/Seasonals (Plants for early and late in the growing season to extend your gardening time. There are lots of options other than pansies for early spring and mums for fall, so experiment! The only one I specifically noted was Ivy geraniums, which apparently take cooler spring temps decently and he says they do well in hanging baskets out at the same time pansies are out)
-Water Friendly Plants and Succulents
-Shade Plants
-Heirloom
-Fancy Foliage
-Conservation gardens (rain gardens, water-conserving gardens)
-The 'no petunia zone' (he feels about petunias like I feel about all the new Echinaceas - There are WAY better things to be growing)

I don't want this entry to be completely without visual aids, so here's one photo from my patio last summer.  Glad to see I was on trend w/ the Hens N Chicks.

3. Container and Plant ideas
-Lettuce and Violas mixed together en masse, the violas peek their little flowers up over the lettuce leaves
-Multi Basil pot - there are tons of varities w/ different foliage colors, scents, and flavors, enough variety to make an interesting mixed container of only basil
-Furniture covered w/ succulents - for example an old bistro table and chairs w/ table top and chair seats covered w/ hens & chicks for decorative accent
-Galvanized troughs, washtubs and cattle feeders.  He showed a cool photo of a long galvanized stock tank filled about halfway w/ soil and planted full of succulents (drainage holes drilled, obviously), with a glass tabletop on legs set into it for a crazy cool patio coffee table
-Teepee frame built w/ rebar or some other sturdy material covered w/ chicken wire (or similar material) w/ mini pumpkins climbing it = kid's playhouse! I so want to do this for Vi
-Veggie plants that are also ornamental: Bull's blood beet has pretty foliage, African blue basil is a pretty plant that attracts lots of pollinators, Israeli Golden Oregano is the only good gold oregano cultivar
-Heirloom tomatoes - we should be growing Russian heirlooms in our climate in upper midwest as they are most suited to our latitude and light conditions and apparently will do way better than common Brandywine and Amish Paste, for example.

4. He likes the color chartreuse!  Hallelujah!  My kind of guy.  He said chartreuse shows up in the landscape at 500' away, white variegation only at 100'.  Me likey.

5. Lloyd recommends checking out a guy named Felder Rushing http://www.felderrushing.net/.  Felder is apparently an eccentric gardener (definitely meant as a compliment coming from me) who pretty much believes there are no garden rules.  There's only what YOU like to grow, where you want to grow it, for whatever reason.  Pretty sure I'm on board w/ that.  His book 'Slow Gardening' http://www.amazon.com/Slow-Gardening-No-Stress-Philosophy-Seasons/dp/1603582673/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1329169119&sr=1-1 is on my request list at the public library since my huge Amazon wish list of books is strictly staying a wish list until I win the lottery.  By the way, if you don't use your public library, you're missing out on a free education - just sayin'.  Anyways, I'll report back when I've read it. 

6.  Lloyd recommends learning about the Farmer's Veterans Coalition:  http://www.farmvetco.org/.  From their website: "The coalition seeks to simultaneously assist the farming community by developing a new generation of farmers and to help our returning veterans find viable careers and means to heal on America’s farms."  Cool.

7. Think about this - Lloyd says Garden Centers should not just sell veggie plants, they should sell whole kits for gardens.  Raised bed kits for example could contain lumber, soil, plants, fertilizer, tomato cages, etc., and delivery cost should be included in the price of the kit.  Retailers should make is EASY and NORMAL for people to grow their own food.  What do you think?  Would you buy it?

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