January 2019
Truck Driving Designers Call to Action By Christina Salwitz

As a garden and container designer of many years, I keep my eyes and ears open for design trends as keenly as possible; it’s a big part of my job. My clients are the types who want to be ahead of the curve and many travel a lot, so they are exposed to great design all over the world.

Luckily, I am a natural details person, a researcher who is easily inspired to create by extrapolating and capitalizing on ideas quickly. In other words, I’m awesome at bluffing and “fake it till you make it!”

One of my favorite things is to discover people in our rapidly changing industry who are the real-deal “Trend Truck Drivers.” They’re not messing around when it comes to excellent design. They are often found in unexpected ways and places; you often have to look for them.

On “Pinstagram” you have designers hold their thumb out, jump onto the lift gate of that truck and ride it to the bank for a time. They’re easy to spot as businesspeople, but that’s all good. More power to them for acting fast and jumping on board that pickup. And how well they do is good for all of us these days.

For 2019, many of us are assessing or re-assessing our business goals and trying to be mind-readers for what will be the next hot thing. Should we invest in growing that next new earth-shatteringly incredible petunia? Will our social media accounts thrive with our current posting plan? Should I start a weekend pop-up shop at the mall? Is this new idea worth creating an event around it? How much should I charge? What can we do to set ourselves apart and stand out as the place to shop in our customers’ eyes?

Heavy questions to ponder every year, but this year just feels a bit more intense. I’m trying to put my finger on why, and I think I’ve figured out what seems to be missing.

Fad Versus Fashion

One thing I think we desperately need to represent to the masses who listen to us is that we can be design trend leaders just as much as any other part of the retail industry, maybe more! I don’t know about you, but I’m seriously hungry, no, make that I’m starving for more design inspiration than ever. Not something short lived like painted succulents.

I want to see some real fashion, someone who will stand up and represent a design point of view that’s new and exciting. There have been a small few individual design trend “pace-setters” that I can think of in the last 30 years hailing from small and large independently owned garden centers, but I know there is a pool of untapped talent out there.

The truck drivers I’m searching for aren’t driven by any fad, which is defined as: any form of behavior followed by a population for a short period of time. Did you sell “Grinch Trees” and spray-painted poinsettias at Christmas?

Utilizing and capitalizing on fads is a fantastic gateway to getting new eyes on your business, but true drivers of the next big trends are the ones who will get the lasting business results.

That means you have to have a zillion out-of-the-box ideas, be trying them to see what works. Then move on quickly if it doesn’t and get to the next idea ASAP. It’s the old fail fast theory, but it’s really no different than refining any other recipe, right?

A successful, well-thought-out trend gets stronger over time, even over decades, and they are driven by the needs of your customers.

An easy way to tell the difference between a fad and a trend? A trend might have a long-term effect on your organizational strategy; for example, “We’re selling more container gardens than ever, should we consider hiring for a dedicated container design position and create a year-round strategy to sell them?”

In contrast, the new “do-it-yourself planting bar” idea might affect how you go about spending the money and floor space setting up a spot in your shop and how you capitalize on it short term. But, that’s strategy, and I want to keep the focus on design.

Where’s the ingenuity in the container design itself or any great idea for that matter? Did a designer on your team create something magical with a mundane and seemingly ubiquitous groundcover? Did they elevate and marry two plants in a display that no one ever dreamed of before?

There are still amazing new ideas out there just waiting to be tested and tasted; who’s cooking up new recipes?

The Trendsetters

When you Google “Garden Design Trends 2019” we get the first two results from the U.K. I can’t resist the urge to selfishly wish those results were U.S. based. But, the next result found was from our industry’s own Garden Media Group (and the crowd goes wild)!

If you aren’t familiar with this handy annual report, turn to page 24 to learn about some of the trends. It’s very helpful. The reports give great IGC business ideas and lists and back it all up with excellent research for business strategies.

I simply wish that IGCs were contributing more to the world in design ideas that are juicy and full of long-lasting flavors and aroma that linger in hearts and minds even if the plants themselves speak with a German, Irish, Japanese or British accent. Why not? Are we not cultivating and supporting it out there? I’m trying to find that “sizzle for my steak” as they say.

As a creator, I’m looking for those little doses of inspiration that will fire a spark into a full-on designer patio BBQ fire of an idea. I’m forever on the lookout for the next idea that is not only lasting, but potentially adaptable to serve as a designer springboard for an infinite number of expanded options and ideas. I’m a firm believer that our industry is uniquely suited in our ability to capitalize on ideas fast, I just want to see more of that American designer talent out there!

When I wrote “Fine Foliage” and “Gardening with Foliage First” with my co-author Karen Chapman, it was important that we designed both book layouts purposefully to be as easily maneuvered as possible. If you understand the principles we outlined for each design, then no matter if you have sun, shade, size limitations or drought, you can find a way to take our ideas and use them in a multitude of ways based on your specific criteria. I love the notion of taking a recipe for a design idea, running with it to make it my own version, and then I want to shout from the rafters where I saw the idea first and we all win!

We need a nationwide resurgence of creativity and design inspiration that stems from the talent pool of our great independent family owned garden centers out there across America.

I’m not talking at all about professional landscapes designed by high-end teams that cost millions. I want to see everything from small and sparkly little plant combos to over-the-top, crazy, holy-cow scaled display ideas, teeny-tiny miniature gardening designs to epic living walls.

Whatever your fancy, your specialty, your passion, if you have what you think is a winning design idea, let’s see it!

If pumping up our collective design muscles helps all of us to create, be inspired and above all to do more business, then bring it on America! Think you have a designer who’s a “Truck Driver” on staff with winning ways? Want to nominate someone with design chops who you think deserves more credit and kudos? Write me a short sweet email and I’d love to highlight their talent in future articles.

If they actually drive a truck, then that’s just a bonus.

Christina Salwitz

Christina Salwitz, the Personal Garden Coach, is a container designer, public speaker, horticultural guidance counselor, service provider for The Garden Center Group and photojournalist based in Renton, Washington. She can be reached at: [email protected]


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