Well, I did it: I survived three consecutive weekends of regional plant sales. It was not easy; actually, it was extremely stressful. I’m not sure if the people who come to these sales appreciate all the preparation and work nurseries do to make these things happen. I won’t say too much about that because it might sound like I am whining, when we are in fact glad to have the privilege of coming to these things. But someday I shall have to describe the process in full so that normal people can get an inside view of what it is like. Just not today.
So first, we have the Bloedel Reserve sale. This did not go as well for us as last year did, for a variety of reasons. I think the rain part of Saturday and most of Sunday certainly didn’t help – and it was very cold – nor did being in a corner rather than the middle of the sale. However I think the main problem was that there were several high-value items that sold “like hotcakes” (now there’s a worn-out expression) last year, that we simply did not have available this year. For example, last year we sold over $500 worth of Grevillea victoriae subsp. nivalis ‘Murray Valley Queen’ at this sale: this year we only have 4” pots of it which were scarcely noticed.
That non-availability of our most popular plants was our main problem, was confirmed in my mind when Hortlandia, the sale in Portland, was also down from last year. Although we brought a ton of cool stuff, much of it was apparently too obscure for shoppers to get excited about, and/or too small to look impressive. In general we have been kind of low on 1 gallon plants lately, which are generally our best value for those shopping on-site or at these plant sales. (Never fear though: we’ve been potting up all through the spring and many more will be in the pipeline soon!) Everyone else I talked to said they did about the same as last year or better, so there is no blaming sale attendees for our performance. Not that I ever would, of course!
The Rhododendron Species Foundation sale was also down for us, but up for everyone else. I had more competition this year than last from vendors offering similar items, and the weather was bad on the first day of the sale when the real plant nerds came out. Actually, I really liked the combination of vendors we had, since so many cool plants were available. But ultimately I had the same problem: I could not supply enough of the really “hot” plants people want.
We think our 4” pot size (and band pots) is certainly great for mail-order. They are easy to pack and ship in a box and we make sure they are well-rooted before they go out, so they will take right off once they are planted. The only problem is they just don’t make that much of an impression when you see a bunch of tiny little things on a table.
So what lesson, if any, have I learned? Well, two things. First of all, don’t try to build a greenhouse in the spring, which was what I did in 2012. Building a greenhouse while maintaining the rest of the nursery last spring was bad news, because it sucked so much time away from all the other work I needed to be doing – including, of course, potting up plants. That is probably the main reason we have been generally short on 1 gallon plants this spring. So I won’t let that happen again. The next greenhouse I build will be in the fall, which is what I always used to do anyway.
The other thing I have learned is that people definitely go for particular plants at these sales, and it does not always work so well to bring just anything. I guess that might seem like a no-brainer at first, but you have to keep in mind that all of our plants are cool. It is not like we are growing stuff that isn’t worth having. But some plants sell better simply because they are better known, or because they appeal to impulsive shoppers.
I have had the idea for a year or so that I ought to actually produce – as in, propagate and grow – a particular set of plants in advance just for each sale (or for a “cluster” of sales, such as the one I just survived). I wonder if any other nurseries ever do this. The standard practice, I think, is just to grab whatever looks good at the time and try to sell it as fast as possible. I’m starting to think it can’t hurt to be more calculated. A couple of caveats may be the potential for crop failures, and limitations of greenhouse space set aside for such plants. And how do I know months in advance what’s going to be hot? I’ll have to think on this for a while.
So, that was April. I’m glad for the opportunity to stay focused on the nursery at home for a while. The nursery is looking pretty good, and I think will only get better as open house time approaches. The hot weather is certainly causing things to burst into growth. It was 86 degrees yesterday in Sequim, which must be some kind of record for early May! On the other hand quite a bit of time is getting sucked away on watering and mowing when I need to be potting up. But we still have most of the plants under sprinklers so it’s not too bad. All in all, I’m feeling pretty good about this spring vs. last year. More later!
Bloedel Sale – staying dry!
Hordes of plant-crazed people at Hortlandia. Indoors, so not raining – yay.
Rhododendron Species Foundation sale – cloudy, but no longer raining.
Greenhouse full of manzanitas at Cistus Nursery. We are about 1/3 of the way towards our goal of having something like this here. LOL.