There was a great vibe at OFA this year. One that screamed – this industry is back!

By Maria Zampini

The days are getting shorter and the sun sits a little lower in the sky as we head toward autumn. It means another summer trade show season is on the wane, and the fall shipping and planting season is around the corner. It won’t be long before the cold settles in and the s … . Nope; can’t quite bring myself to say that wintery, four-letter word just yet! I’m not sure how the summer shows treated you, but I can give you a one-woman review of my experiences.

When it comes to the OFA Short Course, as The Pointer Sisters said, “I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it!” There was a great vibe at OFA this year; one that screamed, this industry is back! With OFA’s expansion plans of an additional 50,000 square feet dedicated to retail and the attendance to support that growth, the future is looking rosy in Columbus!

The OFA Short Course has traditionally been seen as a show for greenhouse growers; as I worked my way up the ranks in the green industry, this is how I viewed it. However, with age comes wisdom and I’ve learned it is so much more! I now think of it as a show that brings the horticultural world to my doorstep. You can get a glimpse of plants, retail displays and production ideas from all over the world without having to step on an airplane. And their educational program – including tours – for both growers and retailers is among the best offered anywhere in the country.

Customers and consumers always ask, “What’s new?” and The Short Course previews what’s hot in annuals, perennials and ornamentals, as well as other allied products. From what I’ve heard, with the OFA/ANLA consolidation, the woody portion of the show is bound to expand. It seems to me that these “color guys” are the ones resonating with consumers and succeeding in today’s market. So, perhaps this is a place where other industry segments can observe and adapt ideas to their own business models. (Plus, as a longtime ANLA member, I’m counting on my fellow members to cast their votes to approve the consolidation with OFA in September. I firmly believe this move is the right one for our industry, and I applaud the OFA and ANLA board members and staff on their vision to see it through to conclusion.)

Maybe the OFA Short Course is not in your budget range. But, that doesn’t mean there weren’t other opportunities for you and your staff this season. I think the 46th Annual Summer Field Day put on by the Nursery Growers of Lake County Ohio (NGLCO) was a great example of a regional event that filled the gap.

Of course, you had the traditional trade show component, but it was held at one of the largest arboretums in the country, The Holden Arboretum in Willoughby, Ohio. In addition to visiting with exhibitors and seeing equipment demos, attendees could tour Holden’s new Rhododendron Garden and Tree Alee, plus attend special “Come Alive Outside” education sessions.

The lectures were led by Jim Paluch, president of JP Horizons. Paluch believes that for the green industry to survive and thrive, we must share the value of outdoor living with our employees, customers and communities. He makes a strong case for changing the way the green industry does business, and that “everybody wins when somebody goes outside.”

The day before, the NGLCO partnered with the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association to provide a bus tour that visited Art Form Nurseries in Russell, as well as four retailers including Breezewood Gardens & Gifts, Petitti Garden Center and Lowe’s Greenhouse in Chagrin Falls, and Bremec Garden Center in Chesterland. As an attendee looking to see some of the best in IGC retailing, you couldn’t get a better lineup than that! The day was capped off with a luau featuring guest speaker Michael Geary of OFA/ANLA.

As I write this, I’m in Quebec City, Canada, attending the 65th Annual Garden Writers Association Symposium. This is my seventh GWA Symposium and my first trip to Quebec. It is filled with gardens, people passionate about plants, gardens, historical architecture, gardens, citizens speaking French or English with a sexy French accent … and did I mention gardens?

Next year’s symposium is being planned by Kirk Brown of Joanne Kostecky Garden Design and a group of dedicated GWA members and Steeler fans as they bring this event to Pittsburgh – and it should be one of the better-attended symposiums. If you want to connect with garden writers, since they are a direct link to the gardening public, then I want to mention that nonmembers are welcome to attend any Garden Writers event. Just go to http://gardenwriters.org for meeting dates, locations and details. If you want a third- party opinion, simply ask Greg Smith of Flowerwood Nursery Inc., who attended this year with his wife.

By the time you read this, I’ll have attended the IGC Show in Chicago and then the Farwest Show in Portland, Oregon. I am the eternal optimist and am hopeful that these shows will be just as successful as those I’ve attended so far.

No doubt next year will be an interesting summer trade show season. Will we find even more plant shortages? Which companies won’t be with us anymore? For that matter, what will this industry’s trade shows look like? You’ll have to attend to find out.

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