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20.8.08

Independent Garden Center Show '08

Yesterday was the first day of the Second Annual Independent Garden Center Show at Navy Pier and I managed to leverage my garden blog to get access to the show. There were more than 850 booths of retailers and vendors from around the world, two dozen retail experts giving 35 sessions, keynotes, workshops and tours.

Unfortunately, I was pressed for time and arrived in the middle of the afternoon just a couple of hours before the show would end for the day and the and musical guest, Kansas, would perform.

This was the first time that I attended one of these events where I was not a visitor or employee of a vendor. It was an interesting experience from the moment I arrived. After some confusion I got my badge with a blue ribbon marked "Press" and walked the floor of the hall. A lot of emphasis on Independent is placed on this show and it being independent and clearly branded as "No Big Boxes" I was surprised to see big names like Monrovia, Bayer Advanced, Miracle Gro, Smith & Hawkin with prominent booths.

I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to attend and cover the garden show as a member of the "press" but I wonder if a show that segregates the gardening community doesn't create an unnecessary Us vs Them attitude. I say this because while walking around I got the distinct impression that I was viewed with some suspicion as I took photographs of the booths or products. I wonder if vendors and visitors didn't think I was a covert agent for the likes of Home Depot or Lowe's.

I suffer from no illusions of grandeur and don't expect anyone to know what a Mr. Brown Thumb is or even care, I'm just a hobby gardener in Chicago that blogs about my plants and things related to gardening that interest me. What I didn't and don't expect at an event like this is being either ignored or regarded with suspicion. You'd think that a show where Independent vendors and retailers get together there would be an embrace of independent media like say- bloggers?

One vendor who supplies orchids wouldn't allow (what he said was) a rare Lady's Slipper orchid to be photographed. I was so taken aback by the "I don't allow them to be photographed" that I forgot to make a note of the name of this too special to be photographed plant.

At the booth for the Livingston Seed company (see below) I had a nice conversation with an older gentlemen about their products followed up with an annoying conversation with one of his coworkers.
After checking with him if it was ok to take some photographs I proceeded to take the photos and then he walked away. After he walked over to talk to someone else I noticed two figures coming at me from the corner of my eye and before I could turn to them they were upon me. I was greeted with "What the hell are you doing?" To which I replied "I'm taking photographs." What I really wanted to say was; "Gee, 'expletive.' I dunno. What could someone with a camera and a name tag labeled "PRESS" be doing?" I must have had a really puzzled look on my face because the larger of the two said jokingly; "I'm not gonna clothesline you or anything I'm just curious. We saw you talking to the old guy and taking pictures and wondered what you were doing."

Not all my interactions were like that though. I had a great conversation with Phil Bull of Turf Revolution about their "all natural" line of horticultural products for lawns. The Canadian company is entering the American market with this line and I spent a good amount of time with Phil talking about sustainable agriculture, localvores, the 100 mile diet, and the recent trend, prompeted by the slow down in the American economy, of removing lawns and replacing them with Victory Gardens. I had such a good time speaking with Phil about these issues and the emotional connection to lawns that I forgot to take a photo of their products.

I had a similarly postive experience with a representative of Napa Home & Garden. A company that distributes higher end pots, planters, statues fountains for the garden. The representative explained to me that the pots by Guy Wolff & Co. that they distribute are hand crafted and replicas of pots from the 18th and 19th century. I'd seen them before but I didn't know the number on the face of the pot records the weight of the clay used in the creation of the pot. They had some really great products at their display my favorite was the head planter (see photo above) I've been looking for one for a while but haven't been able to find one that I really liked. The reps for Lechuza and Robert Larson (see below) were so personable that I didn't know how to react after some of my other experiences. Here are a couple of the vendors I managed to get to see in my limited time.




I nearly fainted when I came across the display for the Livingston Seed company. I've never seen this seed company before in a retail setting but according to their information they've been around since 1850. They have the second best product photography I've ever seen on a seed packet. Their impressive collection of seeds are broken down into categories: Climbers, Gourds, Perennials, Sunflowers, Veggies, Herbs and Annuals. Some of these seeds I've never come across in a garden center and unfortunately they weren't available for sale at the show. Pictured above from left to right; Cobaea Scandens, Glory Vine, Tresco Mix, Thunbergia white.

I've been growing the yellow/organge Black Eyed Susan vine for the past two years but I've never seen a white variety before. Another new one for me from this company is the Climbing Spinach that is supposed to be edible when the leaves are young.


Dracaena Mass Appeal
Good news for fans of Dracaenas. I spoke to a representative of Kraft Gardens about their new line of Dracaenas. The Dracaena plant pictured above is "Mass Appeal" and I'm told takes three time longer to grow their Dracaena Mass Cane set. For collectors of these plants who have had trouble finding Dracaena "Lisa" because it has been historically grown exclusively in Hawaii-there's good news. Kraft Gardens has been growing the plant in Florida and they'll soon be easier to find marketed under the name "Mona-Lisa." Unfortunately I got distracted with "Mass Appeal" and forgot to photograph "Mona-Lisa."



I think I missed my chance to meet a real life garden celebrity. I came across this booth after everyone had cleared out of the hall to go listen to Kansas. I have no idea who Garden Girl is, for a second I thought she was a past contestant on American Idol. After visiting her website I've learned that Garden Girl is the host of Farmer's Almanac TV & a web video diva who is teaching generations X & Y to live sustainably in an urban settings. I guess Garden Girl is the American Gayla Trail?

You've probably seen the Radius Garden NRG PRO garden tools before. They're been profiled everywhere from Oprah to the The Wall Street Journal. I'm a sucker for nice design and was immediately drawn to them but after looking at them... can't post much about them because the designer didn't seem to eager to speak to me. When you got Oprah who needs a little garden blogger.

Almost at the opposite end in a darkened section of the exhibit hall was the Robert Larson Company.The rep for Robert Larson was more than eager to speak to me about the tools he was carrying and explain the history of these tool and the craftsmanship that goes into making them. While not as pretty as the garden tools above these are forged by hand from a single piece of steel in England. See the Robert Larson website for a brief history of these tools and take a video tour of the factory where these are made.



I didn't manage to get any good shots of the Lechuza self-watering planters but I suspect that these are going to be a popular here in the states. Not only are these pots functional but they're beautiful and come in a variety of colors, sizes and shapes from small pots that fit on your window sill to pots big enough to grow trees in. Visit the Lechuza website for more(awesome photos) info.



The makers of the Ups A Daisy planter inserts that I've blogged about where there and this was going to be our first time to meet unfortunately I got to their booth after they had left.

Tomorrow is the last day of the show and unfortunately I don't have time to attend. If another opportunity like this ever arises I'll make sure to plan better for the event. In an ideal situation I would have attended all three days of the event and broken up my visits based on categories. One day to check out the pots and speak to the vendors about trends and changes, another day for plants and a separate day for garden art and accents.
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