Sunday, August 30, 2020

State of the Business

Sinningia 'Gabriel's Horn' grown by Gary's Specialty Plants

The State of the business.


            Presidents give State of the Union addresses, trade magazines collect State of the Industry facts.  I should give a State of this Business report.


            This recession is not affecting me this time as houseplants are in high demand, contrary to the 2009 recession, which crushed sales of Annuals.


            If you don’t have a job, you really don’t have to buy a Petunia.


            Houseplants may be different.  They don’t cost much, and they could make you feel better.


            Some of those who are employed, which is over 80% of the work force, are interested in houseplants.  And on the collector side of things, don’t really care what rare plants cost.


            I have unusual plants and strive for the rare.  It’s where the money is.


            If there is a trend, it’s that price barriers are breaking, and we don’t’ have to get squeezed by high input costs.  We can charge more if necessary and garden centers are able to profit from higher prices.


            Price is a signal.  If indoor gardeners will pay higher prices, we should produce more uncommon plants.


            The State of this Business is very good.


Sunday, August 9, 2020

Doomsday Update

We're going to be alright 

Doomsday update.

            On March 15, when the United States shut down, I didn’t think that we would ever sell another plant.
            The Horticulture industry was panicked.  With Spring plant sales in jeopardy, it was easy to predict bankruptcy ahead.

            But retail sales started to open up and doomsday was averted.

            The pent-up demand overwhelmed garden centers and most recorded extra high sales.

            What happened to us?

            We had several eCommerce customers who suddenly found themselves with double the orders.  Indoor gardeners were trapped at home.  Hey, “Let’s order a plant.  UPS will bring it to my house.”

            We have had difficulty growing enough plants to catch up.

            No one could have predicted this year’s events.  No one knows how to predict what’s next??

            If I continue the baseball metaphor, now I’m winning 46-23.  Impossible, unlikely game?


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Is there innovation in a small hanging basket?

Plastic Hanging Baskets

Innovation is intriguing.  How does it happen?

The history of innovations is well told by Matt Ridley in "How Innovation Works".  He has fascinating stories of how new inventions came into being and increased our standard of living.

            He argues that even the light bulb was not a lightning bolt of inspiration.  Edison built on all previous knowledge and then trialed and error-ed through 6,000 types of filaments until one worked.

            Ridley builds the case that innovative ideas are most likely a rearrangement of previous good ideas.  Sometimes ideas were ahead of the technology of machines or materials. 

            Hanging baskets was such a simple idea.  Why didn’t we think to do this before?

            Take a pot of flowers and put a hanger on it so it could be hung on your porch.

            That word from the movie ‘The Graduate’ was right ---- “Plastics”.  The development of plastic pots with flexible hangers saved Spring flower growers by giving them a new income stream. 

            Ubiquitous plastic containers replaced all those terra-cotta clay pots and associated broken backs lugging them around.

            So, with all these hanging baskets, how can a new size be considered an innovation?

            When I saw the little basket at Strange’s Garden Center in Richmond, I knew that this is what I’ve been looking for.

            Existing hanging baskets for houseplants are too big and too heavy.

            Through some detective work, I found that I could import this 10 cm basket from Holland by way of Canada.

            This 4” basket will replace our 4.5” and give indoor gardeners that ‘wittle’ hanging houseplant that they didn’t know they wanted.

            That’s how innovation works.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

'Nanouk' Tradescantea - Now you can see.

'Nanouk' Tradescantea

          Now we have a picture.  My son solved the upload a picture problem.

              'Nanouk' Tradescantea

          Everyone will want one.

Imagine if...

Not this plant

Imagine if this plant has pink and white variegated leaves, grows fast and is branched.

The ‘Hot’ new plant I want to show you is ‘Nanouk’ Tradescantea.  But right now, Google Blogger is broken, and I can’t upload any new pictures.  The only pictures I can access are ones already in use on the blog.

Since I could not imagine a new plant either, unless actually seen, you can search for ‘Nanouk’ Tradescantea.

When we had this plant 8-9 years ago, it was ahead of its time.  Due to the big leaves, it looks good in spring 10”-12” hanging baskets.

Now we need to squeeze it down into small pots for indoor gardeners.  It can certainly grow in small pots and baskets.  When it grows too big, just cut it back and give away your cuttings.

True to supply and high demand, there was no supply for unrooted cuttings.  But I was able to secure stock plants indirectly from Canadian growers.

It will be easy to produce and I’m looking forward to distributing it to all our garden center customers.  Since there can be no picture, you will have to see the real thing.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

What's going on with String of Hearts?

String of Hearts 'Pretty Pink'

What’s going on with String of Hearts?

String of Hearts is number 6 of our top selling plants for 2019.  It would have been much higher on the list if we could have had more to sell.  Our offshore propagators are only beginning to have stable numbers.

            This last week we put 900 2.5” pots on the availability list.  They’re gone.  Why?

            String of Hearts (Ceropegia woodii) has a lot going for it.  It is an easy houseplant to keep alive and therefore, sought after.

            It grows quickly with warm, long days of summer.  It can be dry without harm and thrives on neglect.  If rooted in small pots, it takes up little space and will trail down with heart shaped leaves.

            There are three clones to pick from.  Traditional silver and green, heart shaped leaves, is the most common.  A solid silver leaf, ‘Silver Glory’, is very attractive but still carries a high price due to limited supply.  Since it is just as vigorous as the green/silver clone, it will show up at your plant store soon.

            The pink version is in a class by itself.  I don’t think the supply will ever catch up with the demand.  String of Hearts ’Pretty Pink’ has stable pink variegation but grows slowly.

            My previous blog stories about String of Hearts have attracted above average page views.  A lot of people want to know about String of Hearts.  Again.  Why?

Sunday, June 14, 2020

So Easy and So Hard

           If every human who has the virus did not transmit it to any other human, in 15 days the virus would be dead.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

I choose not to participate in the recession

Primulinas have only just begun

    I choose not to participate in the recession.

The last recession of 2008 put me out of business.  I had to sell all assets and destroy my lifetime business.  My employees and customers were gone.  It was a stressful and sad time.

This devastating time will bring the same fate to many businesses who will not be able to maneuver around high debt, low sales and high operating costs.  It will be such a waste that this plague crushes businesses that were successful eight weeks ago.

            Those lofty advisors that tell you that what hurts you only makes you stronger, do not understand hardship.  You may or may not come out of this stronger.

            This time, ten years later, I have a better business model.  I moved away from annuals to houseplants.  I have no employees, few assets and no debt.  Is that smart or lucky?

            Indoor gardeners want to buy houseplants.  When stores are open, they will buy again.

            I choose not to participate in the recession.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Let it Shine!

Peperomia polyboytra 'Raindrop"

Peperomia 'Raindrop' - Natural shine

            Peperomia polybotrya ‘Raindrop’ is a solid foliage houseplant from the past.  Its current claim to fame is that it looks like the Chinese Money Plant (Pilea peperomioides).

            To get indoor gardeners to pay attention, we need the dominant characteristic to be obvious.

            It can survive in very low light, a great feature to give long life as a decorative plant.  But if you don’t notice it, you’ll never find out.

            Plants with shiny leaves are somewhat suspect --- Did you shine those leaves?  Did you spray it with leaf shine?

            With Peperomia ‘Raindrop’, shine is what you get.  It will be its dominant feature.  All its other desirable qualities will be apparent later.

            Many customers just want some no-nonsense greenery.  Why are Pothos and Philodendron so popular?  They just live, no matter what.  ‘Raindrop’ will do this, too.

            Costa Farms, the largest foliage producer in the United States, is promoting this plant in their foliage collections.  They have their production, I have mine.

            When there was a frantic demand for this plant two years ago, I found there was no supply.  I was fortunate to find a tissue culture lab that would take on this project. The media protocol was not known. Now, two years later, we have plantlets coming out as bushy liners that can be grown on for the houseplant market.

            And guess what --- they have shiny leaves.

            Peperomia ‘Raindrop’ is a much better plant than Chinese Money Plant.  It is upright and sturdy, doesn’t go flat with drought and lives.

            Will it catch fire like Pilea peperomioides?  We won’t know until you have one and you tell your friends.

            Let it shine!

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Ready for Launch - Primulina 'Xuan's Party Dress'

Primulina 'Xuan's Party Dress' - Ready for launch

Maybe I’ve found it. 

I have known all along that Asian Violets have not taken off like they should.

It’s been proven that Primulina are good plants.  They survive houseplant conditions --- hot or cold, in high or low humidity.  They come back from dry but not drowning (nor does any other plant).  Many varieties have distinctive patterned foliage.  Many can be interesting even without flowers.

I’ve long judged P. ’Loki’ it be the best Asian Violet, sold as a small variegated, not in flower, houseplant.

One thing I’ve been waiting for is flowering when it is young---less that a year---better if 6 months.   Flowering needs to be precise, also.  I need high bud count on a sturdy short flower stem, capable of multiple flower spikes at a time.

Primulina ‘Xuan’s Party Dress’ is meeting all the criteria for the first commercial variety that can be grown quickly and sold “In Flower”.  This is a breakthrough worth talking about.

‘Xuan’s Party Dress’ has it all ---silver leaves and multi-flora light blue flowers.

It can be grown in our new 10 cm ‘wittle’ hanging basket which will show off the pretty flowers.

Early flowering is the breakthrough!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

I'll take a million of those.

String of Dolphins in demand

I’ll take a million of those.

            I was reading a story about Hydrangeas and how hybridizers are adding new colors and shapes to this niche.

            I was stunned by the comment that a box-store buyer ordered one million of a new Hydrangea for next year.

            Is this even possible?  There is the commitment and the risk.  If you could find 10 big growers who would plant 100,000, you could have a million.  Where will the stock plants come from?

            In my world of minor houseplants, a million is not a number worth talking about.

            Our top selling plant for 2019 was String of Dolphins.  In all sizes, we grew and sold about 10,000.  That is 990,000 less than a million.

            If someone wanted a million Primulina ‘Loki’ ---  the best Asian Violet, there would be a lot of laughing.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

23 to nothing

23 to Nothing

            In baseball, if you get beat 23 to nothing, you will call it a bad day.  If you get shutout, white-washed, shellacked or skunked, you feel like it’s worse than a close game.

            Last week we had a record 23 plant orders to fill the unending demand for houseplants at upscale garden centers.  This week --- none.

            The dangerous Coronavirus has stopped sales/trade/commerce/business.  Retail stores have been ordered closed.  No buyers, no sellers and no supply line --- all halted to a dead stop.  Now you know why every player in the economy depends on every other player.

            This must be done to try to slow the exposure to the sometimes-deadly Coronavirus.

            We will get through this, hopefully with minimal health damage.

            But you don’t easily get over a sport’s beating nor a suffocating worldwide health crisis. 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The only way is up, Part II

wittle Hanging Houseplants' getting ready

“The only way is up” is repeated to include a great comment from a reader.  You could easily miss this comment, so I’ve moved it up to a front-page story.  I could have never said this better.

The only way is up!

            All your windowsills are full of plants.  What to do?

            Hanging baskets have been here, but they have been smaller versions of outdoor summer baskets.

            In order to go up --- hanging, we need something designed for that.  A small, lightweight hanging basket created in Europe for houseplants for small spaces.

            We are bringing this to the United States market with the right plants and with a new marketing Brand --- “wittle” Hanging Houseplants.  They are fun and the answer to the dilemma of how to I hang this?

            By design, the first will be a 10 cm hanging basket --- Small and light weight.  When you see our ‘wittle’ Hanging Houseplants, you will not wonder about the tag line --- “Did you say cute yet?”

     This is the best, most adorable idea ever. Very necessary for me since I recently moved into a home with *gasp* NO WINDOWSILLS! Can't wait to see them for purchase!

We’ve been selling our new ‘wittle Hanging Houseplants’ through our garden center customers.  You can find your nearest garden center on my plant finder map:

Sunday, March 1, 2020

The only way is up!

Wittle Hanging Houseplants

The only way is up!

            All your windowsills are full of plants.  What to do?

            Hanging baskets have been here, but they have been smaller versions of outdoor summer baskets.

            In order to go up --- hanging, we need something designed for that.  A small, lightweight hanging basket created in Europe for houseplants for small spaces.

            We are bringing this to the United States market with the right plants and with a new marketing Brand --- “Wittle” Hanging Houseplants.  They are fun and the answer to the dilemma of how to I hang this?

            By design, the first will be a 10 cm hanging basket --- Small and light weight.  When you see our ‘Wittle’ Hanging Houseplants, you will not wonder about the tag line --- “Did you say cute yet?”

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Just call it Pretty

Primulina 'Xuan's Party Dress'

          I look at Asian Violets to see what is possible.  What characteristics are good and what two species could bring together in a hybrid.

          I've been following the flowering of Primulina 'Xuan's Party Dress'.  With today's flowering, we could be satisfied.

          Just call it pretty!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Does anybody grow Primulina in quantity?

Primulina production in Florida

       I visited this wholesale commercial greenhouse in Florida in January. Several hundred Hanging Baskets are progressing toward flowering to be shipped to northern garden centers.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

What if you don't get enough flowers?

Primulina 'Xuan's Party Dress'

                                        Get more plants.

       I left the dead flower on to show that the third bud opens about when the first flower goes past.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Asian Violet with many small flowers

Primulina 'Xuan's Party Dress'

My second ‘Xuan’s Party Dress’ has two small light blue flowers and will have many more.

            This is more subtle that the modern African Violet.  But it is good enough to make you happy.

            This hybrid could be a commercial plant today.  60 years ago, African Violets were modest but dedicated hybridization improved them.

            Be happy for the Asian Violets we have today.

Monday, February 3, 2020

What a difference a day makes.

Primulina 'Xuan's Party Dress' - First Flower

                                         What a difference a day makes.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

An Asian Violet, a windowsill, a flower...

Primulina ''Xuan's Party Dress'

There are many casual houseplant lovers.  Maybe they are 95% of the indoor plant owners who have a few plants.  There are 5% who really care and look for the new trendy plants and know their names.  Within that group are .01% who are dedicated hobbyists who support hobby societies and study the plant world.

Commercial growers want to attract the 95% who like the ‘tried and true’ ---- Spider plants, snake plants and Philodendron.  The national mail order brand, The Sill, announced that their top selling houseplant for 2019 was Pothos.  Why?  Because it lives.

What if that ‘sure thing’ list included Asian Violets?  The pictured plants are Primulina ‘Xuan Party Dress’, an interesting new hybrid from China with a very different all silver leaf.  It lives on my kitchen windowsill and has decided to flower.

Seth Godin and others who promote ‘Word of Mouth’ marketing, keep it simple.  You must have something to talk about before it works.  If I were a causal plant grower, I would tell a friend that my Asian Violet is gong to flower, all by itself.

And I have.