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March 2017
When a Display is Not Just a Display By Christina Salwitz

While stuck on long flights I bring garden magazines and devour them from the ground up. They still motivate even this old “been there, seen that” nursery worker turned garden designer. With so much hostage time in an airplane seat, it got me to thinking how inspiring these fabulous articles are with luscious photos profiling plants or highlighting terrific combinations making me go back more than once to take a second look at the potential for my clients or my own garden and how garden centers might be able to capitalize on this excellent information.

Unlike searching the internet for bits of information that may or may not be accurate, magazines are 1) timely for each season 2) provide gorgeous photos and 3) are always looking for the latest and greatest angle to present good gardening information and design.

I’ll use Fine Gardening as an example for this, though Garden Design magazine would also be an excellent option. I noted a fantastic overview of the variety, sizes and colors of astilbe, which I know as a former buyer and salesperson can be daunting to sell in spring when they are not much more than little tufts of lacy foliage. Unless you have gotten to know them intimately over the course of time, it can be hard to tell them apart, and for our customers that can be even more of a dizzying feat. The same could be true for daylilies for instance. If it weren’t for the picture tag, I’d be lost except for the size of the foliage.

So, when a magazine highlights a specific plant, shows me a pictorial view of the BEST ones, their sizes, growth habits and why I might choose one over another, I realized that they just gave me this month’s idea for buyers, for display and for sales!

Why couldn’t merchandising managers or your display leads for certain departments use it for amazing merchandising display ideas too? Use blown up images of the magazine cover, the article and general info, and you’re set. This could be used for everything from selling tools to trees, from bulb forcing glass collectibles to comparing the best in edibles. The sky’s
the limit!

Another great example that I saw in the February issue of Fine Gardening hit me like a ton of, well, PLANTS (see images)! Obviously as a garden writer who features and focuses on all things foliage this one hit me fabulously hard in my design nerve. I’m going to take that same combination and potentially use it not only in my own garden, but I have a design client whose property would fit beautifully with this combo. SOLD!

Garden centers are absolutely upping their game with displays. For example, they’re finding fresh new ways to feature hard goods, and the trendy ideas we see all over for using tillandsia in a million ways, or the hot mini-gardening market that utilizes all those fun accessories, not to leave out ideas for selling plants that also help inform customers about hot topics like bees and butterflies.

Showing off some of those bits has Pinterest board or Facebook photo album for your garden center written all over it, right?

So why don’t we use a similar approach to the rest of our display options? I think it’s time we got away from lining up the 1-gallon shrubs and perennials like little soldiers and take our cue from what’s happening in Europe with our approach to display and merchandising. Think like a magazine, or as if your amazing display will be featured on someone else’s Pinterest Boards. Terrain and Anthropology stores have devoted fans the world over, just for the magic that their display and merchandising brings. It’s become display tourism!

Borrowing an amazing photo from Fine Gardening, maybe with a cover shot inset added, and creating an inexpensive outdoor banner from an online source like Vistaprints (or wherever you get your UV/weather-safe banners) gives your customers the same instant idea that I had. BUT, using this banner as your centerpiece, you have the option of adding the plants from the photo around it. By laying it out like the photo in the garden, it makes it MUCH easier for people who need to see the idea of the finished look before they can envision it in their own landscape.

Imagine the marketing possibilities though! Why not offer it up as a photo contest for your own “fans?” I bet you could easily manipulate a simple photo with an app and make it into some kids coloring pages for the month too.

You could even carry this idea out with your soils and amendments. A banner showing an explanation from Horticulture magazine for instance with an artistic feature showing the “soil food web” or cool new science featuring mulch. If you can make mulch sexy, then you have it made for the year.

The other neat option could be to use the feature in the magazine that shows each growing region and an expert who writes about a group of plants they think we all ought to know about and grow in our gardens. What about coordinating with your buyer who brings in those regional gems, then display that group of plants and invite that local expert to come and speak at your garden center about them.

The benefit of using a garden magazine for display inspiration is that there’s a new one every month. You can always go back and highlight well done articles from past issues too. You will undoubtedly find every topic under
the sun to use this way if you use the Google machine and think well enough in advance of the season to highlight whatever plants you want to feature.

It might take a tiny bit of coordination and planning between buyers and merchandisers, but if you can make a display version of what we writers call an editorial calendar, then you have it made. Building events from this could be a profitable bonus too: “As featured in Fine Gardening magazine …”

I love the idea of inspirational landscape photos and articles being the springboard for using plants from every department in focal point displays. From groundcovers to trees, using a photo-inspired garden or vignettes seen in print from every season, from bark to bloom can bring you lots of attention-grabbing results, and if you happen to sell gardening magazines, even better!

Christina Salwitz

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


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