Growing herbaceous perennials sales

Guest blogger and well-known industry consultant Neville Stein considers further potential for sales of herbaceous perennials

3 mins
Neville Stein
Horticultural Business Consultant

Thanks to some superb plant breeding from the likes of Dan Heims, at Terranova Nurseries, (other plant breeders are available!), coupled with excellent marketing from plant breeder agents, the herbaceous plant category has expanded significantly over the past decades.

Small wonder of course, as these plants offer superb value to experienced and amateur gardeners alike. While garden retailers are generally doing a good job capitalising on the sales potential, I believe there is even greater growth to be had in this category.

Firstly, growth can come from increased sales in the autumn. Breeding and selling more plants that flower in late summer can only be a good thing, but the real growth will come when we can at last persuade the public that planting in the autumn is natures natural time!

I recall a clever sign in a garden centre in Seattle – they had a trolley of perennials for sale that had just about finished flowering (it was in August) and the sign read, “These plants have just finished flowering but if planted now will reach their full blown glory next Spring.” What a positive way to encourage late summer sales of herbaceous plants! Match the plants with point-of-sale signage displaying them in their ‘full blown glory’, and customers will visualise and invest in that springtime to come.

I know that previous autumn planting campaigns have not really resulted in a massive uplift in sales, but perhaps the time is right now for another campaign, one more finely tuned to emphasise the benefits of awesome autumn to both the garden and the gardener.

There is growing awareness of sustainable gardening practices and, in particular, the health benefits of gardening, so we really should be capitalising on both.  We should focus on things like the sustainability benefits of planting in the autumn – less water is required, and plants more likely to thrive. Then there is the ease of gardening – ground less hard, less heat to work in, and the health benefits of being outdoors with nature, engaging in enjoyable physical work. So many benefits for the price of a plant.

Secondly, we can grow the category by encouraging the public to use herbaceous perennials in their seasonal hanging baskets and tubs, making them aware that once they may be bored with the look, – or the plants are starting to get tired, they can simply take them out of the container and plant in their garden. Now that’s great value isn’t it – 2 bites of the cherry!

Thirdly, I believe growth in the herbaceous plant category can come from local authorities. Our local town council in Felixstowe has recently adopted a policy of planting herbaceous perennials, instead of annuals, in all their public planting schemes. If this trend takes off with other public bodies, as I’m sure it will, then this means growers might need to re balance their product portfolio in favour of herbaceous perennials. You may fear that if councils plant perennials, rather than bedding, they won’t need to plant so frequently and will buy less plants. However, I think it is more likely they will plant up more areas, and still need to replace plants getting too large, old, or damaged.

Sales of the much-loved annual bedding plants are here to stay, purely because the category provides the gardener with a tremendous opportunity to colour their garden, but I can’t help thinking that the trend to replace bedding plants with herbaceous perennials will only continue so bedding sales may reduce. I may be wrong, but if you are a grower of bedding plants it’s worth keeping an eye on your sales and monitoring the performance of each product line.

With many local authorities switching from planting annuals to herbaceous perennials, the real opportunity is for us as an industry to persuade them to create more planting beds by replacing some grassed areas with herbaceous planting. This will not only make the public spaces more appealing but will increase biodiversity, reduce costs for the local authorities in the long term as there will be less grass to cut, and it might even turn out carbon neutral. A win-win for our sector, the public, and the public purse.