Independent Garden Center Association

Bigfoot sighting at the IGCA trade show!  This would be really fun to create a landscape around, along with a few gnomes and fairies tucked in.  Notice the tail of a dinosaur in the background….

In only 2 years the IGCA August trade show has blossomed into a welcome retreat from the dog days of summer.  The spring rush is behind us and planning for next year ahead.  This summer trade show is good place to be with spring sales still fresh in mind.  Spring garden sales for many independents was better than might have been expected across the country.  While next year’s economy still looks  shaky  many retailers seem confident that garden sales really are somewhat recession proof.  When the economy is slow people stay home more and ‘cocoon’.  Flowers and patio fixtures add a cost effective fix of beauty to outdoor living.  Vegetable growing was in big demand this year as people look to both save money and eat fresh local food.  On the other hand, when the economy is good people tend to invest more in  larger landscape and home improvement projects. 

Several different styles of gel candles were seen with very attractive price points.  The ‘flame’ label really helps sell these  ‘Nite Lites’ from Napa Home and Garden.  The need for gel fuel refills keeps customers returning to your store. 

Napa Home and Garden also carries the preserved boxwood shown below.  These are so perfect and beautiful and totally realistic looking that I could see a lot of situations where this would really make a lot of sense!  Picture these with Chrsitmas lights!


Decorative lighting was another big trend seen at the show and none of them involved  traditional candles.  These solar powered lanterns from Allsop Home and Garden won ‘Best of Show’.  This company also makes  very cool handblown glass globe lights and the new ‘Shoji Lights’ shown below, all solar powered.  Go to their website so see how beautiful these look at night. No more orange extension cords dragging across the deck and up into the trees.   These can be put anywhere!  No wonder they won first prize.

Of course it all depends on the weather!  Spring weather  has everything to do with it and here in Wisconsin spring is always a roller coaster ride, and not always a fun one!  This year was no exception with rain and cool temperatures ramping down sales early on.  Cool temperatures stuck around most of the summer extending the life of  of spring flowering plants and planting but slowing down tropicals.  It also made being outside very pleasant indeed this summer. 

Retailers in our area report sales of larger items such as fountains and statuary softening.  Sales of vegetable and herbs skyrocketed.  Along with vegetables and herbs came increased sales for related add ons such as pesticides and fertilizers with organic and natural products leading demand.

Lots of different organic product suppliers were in attendance but this booth from Organic Mechanics caught my eye. They also have attractive packaging for their potting soil shown below .  After all its so much more than ‘dirt’


 The ‘do-it-all-for-me’ trend seems to have swung back to the ‘do-it-yourself’ and ‘grow your own’ plan or perhaps a hybrid of the two.  Like a lot of the population I’m just getting too darn old to do it all myself anymore so I look for specific services, like delivering trees and dropping them off in a pre-dug hole, that allow me to do only some of it myself.   I like to stick to the fun stuff, like planting, and would just as soon skip the hard parts like digging and weeding! 

Instead of a huge weedy vegetable garden in the back yard consumers are using containers and growing sytems that  concentrate their efforts into something more manageable, attractive and efficient.

The photo above shows the ‘Garden Soxx’ developed by Filtrexx.  This is the kind of product that makes gardening easy for the consumer. I work with a lot of schools and this product would make it easy for teachers and kids to garden anywhere. No soil to dig, no plots to weed over summer break. You could put these soxx in a planter box or dish pan and use them to grow plants inside under lights or on a windowsill. 

The soxx can be purchased pre-filled with compost growing media or you can just buy the soxx and fill it yourself which makes it a lot cheaper to ship.  The compost growing media breaks down over time releasing nutrients to the plants.  There’s no reason you couldn’t use any good quality growing mix to fill the sock.  I would add a pinch of slow release fertilizer either way to keep things productive.  In this picture several bags are set side by side and a drip irrigation system is laid over the top.  The foot on the left is pointing to the hose bib where a regular garden hose would be attached for EZ watering.

The one thing is the sock does not hold a tremendous amount of media so best suited to growing smaller plants or just use one plant per sock. 

Customers love the idea of backyard ponds and water features but sometimes are put off by the expense to install one and the maintenance involved.  These container water gardens  by Aquascape once again concentrate the customers efforts into a manageable size and expense.  A small pump could easily be used to create a fountain and provide the tinkling sound of water.  All sizes and shapes of containers can be used.  Fish can be added in larger containers  for a real ‘ecosystem’ effect.

Certainly a large part of the market was devoted to products specifically for women gardeners and their style sense.  No longer do we have to work in a pair of oversized leather gloves made for men.  The fit, quality and style of women’s garden gloves is amazing now.  Thank goodness those skimpy little cotton numbers are gone for good.  We now have gloves in high performance materials constructed to fit women’s hands, ‘like a glove’!  A glove that fits not only protects our hands from injury and dirt but also keep our hands from quickly looking like ‘Bigfoot’s’ above!   Not pretty… 

Along with the gloves women need coordinating hats and aprons.  The lovely ladies below at Angela’s Garden have a line of aprons, hats, tote bags and women’s work gloves that are as beautiful as they are functional.  I love a good apron with pockets to carry pruners, tags, pens, lipbalm and other sundry supplies while working. These aprons are made of thick, washable cotton with reinforced stitching at the stress points and plenty of large and small pockets.  The bottom of the apron has a slight ‘flounce’ that give it a  kick of style while also protecting your knees!  How clever!  The price point for a full apron would be in the $20 – 25 retail range for a perfect gift item. 

I’m always amazed at the plant displays Monrovia Nursery manages to put together wherever I go.  From garden centers around Chicagoland to trade shows across the country, innovative and attractive displays everytime.

Garden center retailers receive large dark painted wooden gazebo-like display structures which instantly set the Monrovia brand apart and draw the customer in.  Large colorful banners drop from the structure to inspire customers to create a beautiful and relaxing oasis in their own backyard.   Plants are not arranged alphabetically in rows as in a traditional garden center set up but in ‘vignettes’ or lifestyle settings.  Plants are arranged artistically  according to size, form, color and texture. Small tables and chairs incorporated into the scene bring the space down to human scale.

And finally one of the coolest new things I saw at the show was the Audubon ‘BirdCam’.  Take your birdwatching to a whole new level! Set this weatherproof , motion detecting camera next to your bird feeder or bird bath to get up close to all those birds you’ve been feeding.   Share pictures and video with friends by print, facebook or email. This would make a great present for the grandparents or any teacher relatives (hint, hint…) you might have.  They also have the ‘PlantCam’ to take timelapse photgraphy of your growing plants.   


While I didn’t get a chance to attend any of the educational sessions the speaker list was impressive.  Keynote speakers included Dr Patrick Moore, Co-founder of Greenpeace who spoke on “True Environmentalism for the 21st Century Garden”, Robert Hendrickson, Managing Director of the Garden Center Group – “Thrive, Drive or Just Survive…Three Choices in the New Economy and John Moore, Marketing Mastermind behind Starbucks and Whole Foods, “Word of Mouth Marketing – Basic Training”

I’m very sorry to have missed the ‘Chicago Green Roof’ tour that included City Hall, Chicago’s Smart Home and several other locations.  Chicago has been a leader in the green industry for quite some time with fabulous parks and flower beds all over the city.  Chicago really ‘gets it’ that to be an international, Olympic contending city you have to look and feel like one.  No one is going to come here for the weather so you better make it lovable with flowers and parks and music and food and festivals.  Chicagoans love their city and summer is short so they make it beautiful along Lake Michigan.

 President Obama himself was spotted at the trade show today – well at least his head was…


Not sure  why I like ‘head planters’ so much but these from Designer Stone Garden Shop were quite unique.   Other body parts are available as well including hands and feet!  All made in America.

A tour of trend setting Chicagoland garden centers was also conducted and included Gesthemane Garden Center, Knupper Nursery and Platt Hill Nursery.  Lunch at Ball Horticutural Headquaters allowed participants to see the beautiful display and trial gardens at their summer peak.  The tour  included a stop at the large IKEA store in Schaumsberg  filled with innovation and color. 

I spent several hours in the trade show which filled festival hall at the Navy Pier location.  Even though I arrived near the end of the last day of the show, attendees were very friendly and enthusiastic. I will definitely add this trade show to my calender for next summer and will plan on getting in a few seminars in addition to the trade show.  The Independent Garden Center Association has set next year’s show for August 17-19, 2010.  See ya there!


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One response to “Independent Garden Center Association

  1. I would love to have that bigfoot statue amidst the busher next to my front door. Not sure how the neighbors would take to it though. I also think the Audubon Birdcam is great for those of us too darn lazy or don’t have the time to go looking for the birds.

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