Former Portland Rose Society President Rich Baer sent me a photo that he took this past Thanksgiving from his garden.
It was a bouquet of roses.
I have lived in the Portland area for many years and it is not often I’ve thought of picking a full bouquet of roses at the end of November!
With the mild fall weather, there were many other roses in Rich’s garden with flowers to potentially use in a bouquet. Their blooms had been somewhat soiled due to the recent rains, but the rose plants themselves had not been damaged by any cold weather.
In my own garden in Lake Oswego, I still have some Salvia plants in pots that are blooming. The plants are not as lush as they were in the summer, but they are still flowering and providing a food source for hummingbirds. The one plant in my garden that astounds me is a variegated bush bougainvillea that is still alive. While it does not look so good, it has survived through mid-January in an area unprotected from the weather.
It’s not unusual
From talking to other gardeners and visiting other gardens this past fall season, what Rich and I are seeing is not unusual. I know there are many plants still surviving that should have died to the ground several months ago. What’s more, some trees and shrubs have swelling buds already. Spring perennials, likewise, are showing new growth buds or perhaps poking through the soil much earlier than usual. This tenderness emerging so early concerns me. I’m always aware of that cold, snowy blast that can appear as late as February around here. We’ve seen it many times.
So, what does this mean for garden centers and gardeners as we anticipate the up-and-coming spring garden season?
Lori Vollmer from Garden Fever! in Portland said if the weather stays mild, it could be a fantastic year for garden centers. With the fall season we just had, where many October days felt like spring, the 2020 garden season could easily be extended once again.
But she cautioned: “One winter of less cold does not mean a permanent change.”
Garden Fever! is not pushing the zone of hardiness, but they do offer plants that may not always be winter hardy. Their sales personnel are taught to let interested customers know these plants carry a winter risk factor.
Meanwhile, low-maintenance, drought-tolerant native plants continue to be in high demand.
Ken Whitten from Portland Nursery echoed Lori’s observations on native plants. The term “native plants” seems to be a trigger in the minds of many customers — something that is perhaps magical. However, I believe that it is important to understand that not all native plants are easily adapted to a home garden. Different native plants require different degrees of sun and shade. The “native” designation does not mean it will survive in any location with no care.
With the Willamette Valley having more heat units, and with warmer and more arid summers, Ken mentioned several other plants that, once rarely seen, are now becoming more common.
Crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia spp.) are readily available at local garden centers and I often see this shrub planted in home gardens. Not only are there new selections to choose from, but new and more vivid flower colors are available with an earlier, longer blooming period.
They thrive in the heat and I have never experienced any insect problems. At one time, powdery mildew was a potential disease issue, but many of the newer selections are resistant.
Ken also mentioned that not too many years ago, it was unusual to see olive trees planted in a home garden setting, or actually, planted anyplace. Not anymore.
The first readily available variety was ‘Arbequina’. It tended to be somewhat more winter hardy than others, and even if damaged, it seemed to bounce back. Newer varieties are now on the market. Olive trees have proven themselves to withstand heat and drought once established.
In my garden, along a very sunny slope, I planted three ‘Arbequina’ olive trees about five years ago. Last summer, with a full and continuous blast of the hot summer sun, they received no supplemental water. They still thrived.
Pointing in the right direction
Other than plants, there certain hard goods that I see as potentially strong sellers in garden centers. If this coming summer is hot and dry, demand for mulches and compost mixes to help hold moisture in the soil will likely increase. This is important advice to give customers when they are planting.
Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems would also be items to feature.
If this summer is like last, it presents an ideal opportunity for a garden center to step up and help customers succeed in a situation where they might otherwise fail. Using point-of-purchase materials and offering classes are two ideal ways to connect gardeners to your garden center.
Gardeners are continually hungry for new information. Local garden centers can pass along knowledge in a personal way the internet cannot match. Retailers advise customers which plants can withstand the full summer sun and which cannot; which plants are going to need supplemental water and which will not.
Don’t forget about shade-loving plants. With many new homes being built close together, one home will often shade another. Offer customers more plant options that will thrive in such a situation.
The more information you can give out, the more you tie the customer to your garden center. Success is built on trust and knowledge. Go for it.