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Dear gardening friends . . . do not sit your plants on the concrete path . . .

 Most garden centres have experienced customers coming back with plants they say have “mysteriously” died soon after they’ve taken them home or shortly after planting.

Top Australian garden centre operator, Tim Pickles, reckons he knows the main reasons why this is happening. He puts out a newsletter every couple of weeks and regularly raises this topic. Here’s what he had to say in a recent newsletter to his “Dear Gardening Friends” – it’s advice every garden centre profit from by passing on to their shoppers. It also quietly suggests some add-on sales:

“Have you ever planted trees and shrubs in your garden and wondered why they died two weeks later? Modern potting mix is made from pine bark or recycled green waste mixed with river sand. If you sit your plants on your concrete driveway near the tap they are almost doomed before you start. The concrete heats up during the day and slowly cooks your plants. (Crockpot). “As the potting mix dries out it starts to shrink leaving a gap between the soil and the pot.

“When you come home from work you notice the plants leaves are drooping. When you water the plant the water runs out of the gap and your plant gets almost none of the water. Two days later your plant has been cooked even more and now the leaves are turning yellow. You water it again but this time the potting mix has shrunk even more and all the water runs out the bottom.

“Twenty four hours later the plant is dead and you vow “never to buy plants from that nursery again”. So what should you do?

“When you take plants home never sit them on concrete. Sit them in the garden in a shady spot.

“Plant your shrubs within 24 hours of purchase.

“Before planting, dunk them in a bucket of water until all the bubbles stop. This means the air in the potting mix has been replaced by water.

“Mix … planting compost with the existing soil in your garden. Use this mix when you backfill the hole.

“Mulch your garden with woodchip or sugar cane. This stops 70% of the water evaporating so your plants get more water. Mulch also stops the weeds from growing.

“Water your plants daily for a week and then twice weekly for three months.”


Coming Up continued . . .


9 – 11 Oct
Makuhari Messe, Japan

Five concurrent trade shows at the one venue. Asia’s largest trade shows for: flower and horticultural, garden and outdoor living, agriculture, hardware and tools.  

ISHS Symposium
15th to 17th Oct
Avignon, France

ISHS International Symposium on Organic Greenhouse Horticulture.

ISHS - Symposium
20-25 October
Valparaíso (Chile)

International Symposium on Organic Matter Management and Compost Use in Horticulture.

Irrigation Show & Education Conference
Nov 4-8
Texas, USA.
Opportunity to network with over 300 exhibitors and 5000 attendees, innovative water technologies.

NurseryWorld - Gateway to the Australian Nursery Industry
Industry News . . .

Trish Hosking talks with Nursery Industry leaders.
These reports were originally published in Commercial Horticuture Magazine


Cyclone Oswald another blow
for embattled Queensland

MARCH 2013 -- One way or another the weather has made Summer trading in Queensland very challenging.  Executive Officer for the Nursery and Garden Industry Association of Queensland, Donald Scotts, says Cyclone Oswald wreaked havoc in the southeast of the State at the end of January. And this came on top of rain all year in that region.

 “Cyclone Oswald, and the fact that it came down the coast as far as it did, just made it all worse. We got a lot of damage in southeast and central Queensland. For those in the north of the State it was just a normal cyclone, nothing untoward, but we’ve got nurseries on the Gold Coast and the Gold Coast hinterland that got bashed quite badly with the remnants of that storm, and that’s very unusual.”

 NGIQ has been battling to get assistance for those in the industry worst affected, and Donald is pleased with the outcome, with qualifying businesses entitled to a $25,000 grant and low interest loans of up to $600,000 at a rate of 1.7%.

 The package combines State and Federal aid. While it will be administered by the State, Donald says it’s actually 80% Federal money and 20% State. He suspects most nurseries won’t pick up the full loan, but a percentage of that is also a grant.

 “If you took the full $600,000, you’ve got nothing to pay for two years and then $50,000 of it is also given to you as a grant, so it’s worth trying for. Even if you only take $100,000, you’d get $10,000 as a grant, in addition to the $25,000 up front.”

 Industry Recovery Officers have recently been appointed for each of 12 sectors affected by the cyclone – cane, dairy, sugar, cotton etc. NGIQ employs the IRO tasked with assisting nurseries, with the Association receiving a Government grant to cover all of their costs. Donald says that person will be out in the field providing advice to members and helping them apply for the grants and loans available.

 But it has really only been about a 300km coastal strip that has had the rain. Donald says inland is still in drought. The rivers that normally flood at this time of the year in outback Queensland have not flooded, and bush fires are still raging. The forecasts are for a 60% chance of rain in those areas in April, but Donald says if they don’t get that, there’s not much chance later. “But most of our membership has had enough rain. Too much!”

 It is the wet weekends that impact most severely on the trade. Donald says a few showers are fine, but very wet weekends don’t do anything for retail, and if retail is not trading then production is not selling either. He notes the landscape sector is suffering as well, with little landscaping activity at the moment and many of the projects that are under way delayed by the wet.

Businesses considering closing

Donald believes a number in the Queensland industry are seriously reviewing their operations, looking at the numbers and questioning the wisdom of continuing in business.

 “We’ve had one potting mix company, probably the third largest in Queensland, close. He simply got to the stage that he felt he was putting too much money into the business and not getting the return. He’s deliberately closed; he hasn’t gone belly up or anything.

 “I think over the next six months we might see a few nurseries do that as well. How much do I want to pour in if I’m not getting an adequate return? And that’s the key, adequate return. The big chain stores certainly take a slice of what you’re supposed to be getting paid.”

 Masters are now a player in the State. Even though they only have a few stores at this stage, Donald says there are more coming on line and like their chief competitor, Bunnings, are demanding their 3, 5, or 8% discount off the grower’s standard wholesale price, even 15% in new stores. And Donald says nurseries simply can’t afford that.

 “If you take 3, 5, 8% off our people, they’re not viable. But then again, the big boxes do move a lot of plants. If the big boxes weren’t there most of our production nurseries would be in diabolical trouble. Provided they’re doing their costings right, provided they know what they’re doing, they can still be making a living – perhaps not what they should be making – but they’re still making something out of it.”

 What's selling?

Turning to what is selling in the way of green goods in Queensland, Donald believes it’s pretty steady across the board, with the exception of Australian natives. “Outside natives are not moving as well because people’s blocks of land are reducing in size.

 “There’s not that outdoor garden you might have associated with homes 10-15 years ago; you’ve now got a 400 square metre block. You’re not putting in a 20 foot tree in the backyard. You don’t have that much space. Potted colour’s still very popular. People can put a pot on their front veranda, but they can’t put in a gum tree.”

 And to end on a positive note, Donald says the myrtle rust (see ComHort June/July 2012) many feared would see botanical gardens and parks wiped out, is not causing the problems that were anticipated. He says the rust is well established in most areas of the State now, and in an intensive nursery it can be quite devastating, but most nurseries are treating their stock when they’ve got it and are not too adversely affected.

 “We’re not seeing it moving around like it was but it doesn’t seem to be causing the problems in the wild that we were expecting. It’s not the kiss of death we were led to believe it would be.”


WA -- combined approach is working well
for both landscapers and nurseries

MARCH 2013 -- A woman who had her own successful landscape design and construction business is now Chief Executive Officer of the Nursery and Garden Industry Assn of Western Australia, NGIWA.  Esther Ngang assumed the role early last year and is also Executive Director for the Landscape Industries Association of WA, LIAWA, a position she has held for five years.

 Esther says similar associations work closely together around the world and she is endeavouring to make that the case in WA. She is envious of the combined NZ nursery and landscape conference taking place in Queenstown this year, and hopes to stage a similar event before too long in her region.

 “It just makes sense,” she says, in part because it opens a better dialogue between growers and end-users.

 “It’s good to have the conversation happen as to what can be grown, or what the challenges are in having a particular plant grown; increasing the information flow of what nurseries have to the landscape designers, landscape architects and landscape contractors.”

Difficult to find the more unusual plants

Esther feels plant supply in WA is generally not an issue for most landscapers who tend to use the same core lines – magnolias, dracaenas, yuccas, frangipanis – in their work.

Where it is a problem is with those designers or landscape architects who seek to be a bit more creative in their projects.

 “They are the ones who always say they would like to have something different. And that’s when they are frustrated; looking for something grown that is different, or grown in great numbers, or in sizes that will make an impact if the project is submitted for judging for awards of excellence within a year or two.”

Often the plants they are looking for aren’t even that unusual – Esther says they may have been widely available in the 70s and 80s for instance, but fallen out of fashion. A number of ‘water-wise’ plants fall into that category, and Esther thinks they should really be incorporated in today’s designs, but nurseries no longer widely grow them. “They’re just not trendy as per what you see in the retail landscape magazines.”

 Ester feels the landscape industry generally could benefit from greater familiarity with planting options; ironically, she says plants aren’t even a compulsory unit in a landscape architect’s professional studies. The landscape sector is also often poorly informed about new plant releases or changes in growing methods. Esther recalls a landscape architect’s plans coming through to her own business only two years ago, specifying pot sizes that were no longer industry standard and a lawn growth type that had been unavailable through major suppliers for several years. These factors, Esther believes, make working toward a closer relationship between LIAWA and NGIWA members all the more compelling.

 A bigger problem, she says, are the building design architects who try to design landscape and planting schemes themselves without involving a landscape architect. “This is not just a WA problem but evident in many parts of the world, including some internationally renowned projects.”

 Currently Esther says the landscape industry in WA reflects the economic activity in the State, with those operating on the commercial side doing well.

 “Mining towns are still trying to do the right thing, so there’s still money going in there. And there is a lot of pressure in the metro areas to have active public open spaces - lawns and trees etc. Landscapers in those areas are still very busy.” She says some may tell you it’s quieter than maybe four or five years ago, but in comparison to other Australian States, Esther believes they have plenty of work.

Landscaping a mixed bag

On the residential side, she says it is divided, with those landscapers and contractors focused on medium to high end new homes, happy. “Those people (their clients) still have money and they still like to engage the professionals to do it right, to do it well and to do it savvy.

 “Landscapers who design only for the lower end market can be a bit on the quiet side, but our members that are in the well-established market, who have been targeting the medium to higher end, they’re still flat tack busy.”

 At the lower end, Esther says the building of project homes, with gardens designed and installed for anything from $5000 to $20,000 slowed around three years ago with the global financial crisis, and landscapers relying on that trade have struggled. “This is in part because clients in that market are now more likely to take on a diy effort, or builders have reduced the landscape packages offered to their clients.

 “The diy side is good for the garden centres and nurseries though, because people do pop in to buy plants and bagged soil and mulches – and then try to do it on their own. There are pluses and minuses depending on where you sit.”

 April in WA sees NGIWA presenting the 42nd annual Garden Week. The five day event showcases garden, landscape and outdoor living, and Esther says it is typically the point in the year where the industry starts to recover after Summer and gear up for Spring. This year there is an inaugural collaboration between six associations – nursery and garden, landscaping, horticulture, irrigation, turf and compost – presenting up to four landscape concepts at the show.

 Esther says the key message of this joint promotion is ‘choose a professional’, with the aim to present what could be designed and installed in a backyard, but emphasising the importance of using professionals to design and implement the work: using their skills to come up with the best design for each home, with easier maintenance around water restrictions, wise plant choices and lawn survivability tied to appropriate irrigation and soil improvement.

 This Summer in WA was very hot, as it was through most of Australia and, Esther says, not surprisingly homeowners weren’t that keen on gardening or buying plants, which has had an impact on both nursery and garden centre trade.

 She notes some nurseries in the State are focussed on supplying the big companies – those with buying and distribution power -- but not specialist garden centres.

 “For some nurseries it’s a good thing, to be able to trade in volume, but for others they may be limited, in terms of margins.” Esther points out that WA currently has a limited number of independent garden centre chains operating in a collective buying manner, and this is a challenge for growers and industry suppliers alike, in terms of wider options for their products.

 NGIWA has detected panic among some retailers with the increasing presence of the big boxes in the State, but Esther says they’re urging these garden centres to think laterally, think differently. “Avoid slashing margins to compete on price. Find a point of differentiation and capitalise on the niche.”

 An over-reliance on social media to promote themselves may also be a retrograde step, she believes.

 “Customer service is so important now. We see garden centres as very much people/relationship-type businesses, creating an exciting or positive experience during the visit. Retailers sometimes forget to focus on good information face-to-face, or picking up the phone and talking to their regular customers.”

 Social media may be missing the target

Esther says businesses are bombarded with advice telling them if they don’t get on Facebook or Twitter they could be losing out, but she feels all of that social media just doesn’t reach out to the people most likely come in and purchase something. “And if they do pop in and want to buy something and your staff are too busy on the computer, sending out emails or Face-booking, the opportunity is wasted. Customer service for those who have finally walked in the door is actually far more important.”

 Esther does concede that social media works for some businesses. In certain suburbs where there is perhaps a core of the older generation, an older style garden club membership still works best, but there are some garden centres elsewhere that have successfully used social media and are drawing people in that way. It’s about getting the balance right.

 “The interesting thing is we have a member in WA that is one of the most successful on-line garden centre businesses for the whole of Australia, called Plants4Perth. They have an amazing number of Generation Y and Generation X members that have no time to pop into the garden centres, or in fact may have relatives from overseas or inter-State that are keen to get plants delivered to their relatives in WA.

 “So they have been doing really well for Valentine’s Day, birthdays, Mothers’ Day etc. They’ve been very clever in their lateral thinking, and their client base is actually the younger generations. So they have to use social media well and they’ve definitely found a niche. They’re pretty savvy when it comes to that sort of thing.”

 Esther says garden centres, including some of the newer ones, need to put more effort into drawing in the younger generations by way of interior design, placement of items, creative features, or the placement of plants with pots and sculpture and accessories. She says it’s not just the baby boomers or retirees who want to visit garden centres, and that is definitely not the prevailing demographic where some are situated.

 “I think that there is more that we can do to emphasise such things as the mental health side of gardening, or to enjoin Gen X and Gen Y who maybe are not gardeners, but would be quite happy to pop in to engage someone to design and install for them.”

 The message to members from both NGIWA and LIAWA is to seek out new opportunities in non-traditional areas and think laterally -- and embrace the younger generations as customers with spending power.

Trading uneven and hard to analyse

JANUARY 2013 -- Craig Norman has two perspectives when he speaks about how things are going across the Tasman -- that of his own business and that of the national scene from his vantage point of President of the Australian NGIA.

In terms of his own business he says it’s probably the best year he’s ever had; but nationally, he says the results are really mixed, depending on where you look.

Craig is MD and owner of Wholesale Plants and Products, a wholesale horticultural market on the northern fringe of Adelaide that supplies plants and allied products to the landscape and garden industry throughout South Australia and beyond.

“I represent about 80 different nurseries that have their product on display here. And on top of that I will purchase and procure from probably another hundred nurseries, then on-sell to the industry.”

His business is strictly wholesale with landscapers his major client group, but he also supplies florists and retail-based garden centres; basically anyone who’s dealing with a horticultural product.

“The landscape sector of my business is probably worth about 80%. The rest of it is mainly retail garden centres, and the majority of that is what I class as country retail. Metropolitan Adelaide gets serviced by suppliers’ sales vans here, but country retailers come to me on a regular basis.”

Craig bought the business in 1999. He was a customer himself at the time, being the State buyer for Mitre 10. “I found it a great place to come and view product. Instead of me travelling around 20 different wholesalers in one day I could see it all in one spot.”

That continues to be one of the business’s strengths. And he says his location is easy for his customers to get to. While he would love to expand, his present site doesn’t have the space to do so, but moving to another location wouldn’t be as convenient for his clients.

Some doing well, some struggling
Looking at the national picture, and with his own business having what he describes as a “huge” season, Craig says it can be difficult to understand why others aren’t faring so well.

 “We try to analyse it as a board at NGIA and we can’t.” He says there are pockets around Australia that are doing really well, but some in the industry are struggling.

 “You can’t put your finger on it and say it’s the GFC (Global Financial Crisis). It’s not floods - we haven’t had them for a little while. It’s not drought, we’re out of drought. It’s really difficult. There’s not one thing you could put it down to.”

 Craig says the landscape industry is also reporting mixed messages, with some saying it’s the quietest they’ve ever been, and others trumpeting their busiest six months on record. He says he’s tried to analyse whether it’s specific landscapers – their knowledge or their workmanship – but even those he’d rank as A-class are having mixed fortunes.

 In part this may be because the commercial landscape scene is suffering from a lack of new projects, reflecting the impact of the economic downtown, and Craig says some commercial landscapers have folded. But he believes others doing domestic work have seen their work increase probably threefold. There is however significant competition. Even so, he notes very few landscapers advertise, even in the Yellow Pages, relying instead on word of mouth referrals.

 Craig says landscapers and perhaps the TV garden programmes are leading a nationwide swing back to old-fashioned gardens, with lots of colour and a vege patch. Cordylines and flaxes morphed into dianellas and lomandras, but now flowering plants are in demand.

 The NGIA tries to help stimulate consumer interest using print, with Craig saying most States publish gardening magazines. “I’m involved with one which is a joint venture between the local SA nursery industry and the landscape association of SA. It’s a quarterly magazine that goes out to the general public. Most States have a very similar publication.”

 Better Homes and Gardens is pretty much the only television gardening show screening in Australia these days. The ABC network does have Gardening Australia but Craig says the demographic of that is probably 55+, whereas Better Homes and Gardens approaches the late Gen-Y age group and upwards. “It screens in primetime, depending on what time football’s on!”

Sudden blast of heat
takes the trade by surprise

JANUARY 2013 -- The ceo of the Nursery & Garden Industry Association of Victoria, Euan Laird, says the temperatures blasting Victoria in January came as a shock. The State hit with what he termed a very sudden, very dry spell of extreme heat.

 “We had an absolutely fantastic Spring, coming off three years of really solid rain after the 10-year drought, so things were looking fantastic. And it’s just gone dry. I don’t think we’ve had a decent rain since Christmas.”

 Euan feels the industry had been enjoying an average to above-average season to date. Crucially the weekend weather had been good and people have been getting out in their gardens plus there was moisture in the soil. Christmas trade was also good. “So it’s been a real sudden shock to the system I think.

 “But at least we’re still getting fine weekends. That’s one good thing. It gets people out and about. Obviously in the fire zone things are a bit different, but predominantly as yet those are outside the major metropolitan areas, here in Victoria at least.”

 Toward the end of January there were still no water restrictions in place. “Our water storage is probably in the best state it’s been in for three years. So it’s a really odd mix of circumstances right now.

 “We built a desalination plant three years ago. It’s now on line ready to go and we currently don’t need it. That may change as Summer progresses. I was looking at some data yesterday, and the last few weeks have seen the highest water use per person on average for the last four years on a weekly basis.”

 Euan believes the worst for garden centres and nurseries may be still to come, with the long term forecast predicting continued hot weather. “It’s quite early. It will impact more on the industry over the coming months than it has to date.”

Similar picture in NSW
Meanwhile, the picture in NSW is much the same. Sydney sweltered with a record-breaking temperature of 45.8 deg C on 18 January, though Nursery & Garden Industry NSW & ACT Business Development Officer, Bob Wynyard says it was even warmer in the west of the city -- “about 46.5 I think”.

 The scorching heat follows an extended period of exceptionally widespread hot weather for Australia in which the nation experienced its hottest day on record on January 7, with the country’s average maximum temperature hitting 40.33 degrees. The extreme weather, which has exacerbated bushfires, also saw the government's weather bureau upgrade its temperature scale by introducing new colours to cover projected forecast highs. At one point in mid-January, central Australia was shown with a purple area on the bureau's forecast map, a new colour code suggesting temperatures were set to soar above 50 degrees.

 Bob says the sheer intensity of the sun is giving some garden plants a hard time.

 “Certainly the heat has damaged a lot of plants. Anything with a fleshy herbaceous leaf in direct sunlight, or that cops a bit of direct sunlight. Things like agapanthus. They actually do prefer a little bit of shade and a lot of them do grow in dappled light here, but anywhere in the sun you’ll find that they’ll be burnt up.”

 Bob has also noticed shrubs like camellias getting scorched and says anything that’s sent up new shoots in the last week or so would’ve been pretty well torched up. But the effect of the heat on garden centre trade has probably not been too noticeable. Bob says January is traditionally a quietish time for them anyway and he has the impression that many people are still away, out of the cities.

 Christmas trade in the region was, he says, pretty good from all accounts. “I think it depends how well geared up they are for it. People I spoke with had planned and they did extremely well. I think if you get the right stock in, talk to your customers and keep them informed, they’ll come in.”

 Bob was not aware of any nurseries in NSW or ACT being directly impacted by bushfires when he spoke to us towards the end of January, but he says he’d be surprised if there hasn’t been some damage somewhere.

 As with Victoria, Bob says he believes there is little or no likelihood of water restrictions in Australia’s southeast. “There’s plenty of water in the dams in and around Sydney so I think we’re set for a couple of years. And they do have a desalination plant which is still putting water into the dams. I don’t think it’s a problem at all at this stage.”

Lack of consumer confidence

makes trading hard work

DECEMBER 2112 -- “Generally retail is still very soft,” according to Robert Prince, ceo of the Australian NGIA.

“Myer, one of our big department stores, have said they were buoyed at achieving 1.3 percent growth in the last quarter, but there’s still an overall lack of confidence in that retail area. We have an economic climate that’s still very, very tough.”

Robert says the Australian Reserve Bank hasn’t moved on interest rates, which are still higher than NZ’s, and there are increased costs coming through in such things as electricity, health insurance and water.

“There are a whole lot of issues out there cumulatively that add up and still knock back consumer confidence. And then we’re heading into the uncertainty of when an election is going to be called, which is always good fun for business as well.”

Reflecting on Spring trading, Robert notes the significant impact the weather has for most in the horticultural industry, whatever the prevailing economic situation.

 “You would say that in all the States, except Western Australia, we were going into Spring without water being an issue. Even in the Queensland market the new (State) government has relaxed all water conservation measures.”

But while nurseries and garden centres in most States currently have plenty of water, Robert is cautionary. “One of the things I think people haven’t recognised is if you use lots of water you pay more for it. Water’s not expensive in its own right, but pumping water is. You’ve got the energy cost.” Businesses need to factor higher power bills into their costings, along with everything else that has increased.

Robert says Queensland was faced, up until a couple of weeks ago, with not having had any rain for 5-6 weeks, so it was warmer and drier, but mid-November brought some severe storms to Brisbane and northern NSW.

“Early on there was the expectation that we were going to go into an El Nino weather pattern – dry again – but that has now been cancelled and the Bureau of Meteorology is saying we’re back into what they term as normal, with normal Summer rains and activity.”

Victoria was cool and wet through August, September and October, so things were a little bit slower there than expected, but daytime temperatures nudged 30 degrees and a series of glorious weekends in NSW and South Australia in late September had garden retailers reporting the best year for a while.

One problem many faced was a lack of stock, particularly early season colour. Robert believes that was in part due to the cooler weather in Victoria where a number of large nurseries are based. With things being a bit cooler there, plants were delayed and slower to come into flower.

“That seems to have overcome itself now. There’s lots of colour around again. But I think growers hadn’t taken a punt on big numbers. They’ve been a bit conservative in their quantities, and even new lines were selling out very, very quickly.”

Chains now the key players
As in New Zealand, the major home improvement chains are key players. There has been a lot of activity from both Bunnings and Masters in particular. Masters opened another Sydney store on 17 November, so Robert went along for a look and found four to five nurseries instore actively promoting their products.

“Clive Larkman (Larkman Nurseries) from Victoria was up here in Sydney behind a counter and a cooker, demonstrating how to use and cook with herbs and enthusing gardeners on his products.”

Robert says the place was buzzing with lots of stock going out the door. He feels that Masters are leading the way in utilising grower-point-of sale instore, which is something Bunnings don’t have.

He also visited one of Sydney’s largest garden retailers, Flower Power, in November and found them very busy as well, with customers pushing trolleys full of plants. “The weather conditions we’re having in the

Sydney market are very good and things are buoyant. A couple of growers I’ve spoken to say they’re having their best year for two to three years too.”

Wider economy worries

The year hasn’t been without its challenges however, and Robert re-iterates the uncertainty surrounding the wider Australian economy. He says the nursery and garden industry has faced some serious financial issues, particularly in the last 12 months, with some fairly sizeable operations failing and flow-on effects reaching into the general trade. “We don’t know how close some of them are running to the wire, but if it’s been a good season they might hang in there.”

Even the landscaping areas have taken a hit. Robert says some of the bigger landscaping contractors that were with the larger commercial infrastructure projects haven’t come back yet and new building development in the commercial area has slowed. “In the urban areas things are tough, and some of the nurseries growing plants specifically for commercial landscaping projects have had a particularly tough couple of years.”

He is unsure how growers and landscape contractors working with revegetation projects in the mining industry are faring, as the industry has limited contact with this sector.

South Australia: dry,

but recovery is in the wings

APRIL 2012 -- Seven years of drought have taken their toll on the nursery industry in South Australia, and even though this year has seen a return to more normal rainfall, Geoff Fuller, ceo of the Nursery & Garden Industry Association of SA (NGISA), feels the industry has been a victim of its own marketing.

“The thing was that we spent an enormous amount of time selling the worst message we could for our industry: don’t water; save water. We were very successful at that and now we’ve got to try and turn it around.”

Initially, many of the State’s nurseries responded to the drought by growing more natives, but Geoff says that wasn’t the answer. “So we did a couple of surveys with the local ABC to get the public’s view of what was growing well in their gardens and what was dying.

“Amazingly a lot of standard horticultural plants like roses came out extremely well; camellias came out extremely well, as drought hardy. You didn’t get the magnificent bush that you can by flooding with water, but you did still have a magnificent flower for some reason. And it turned out that a lot of people were prepared to spend money on the water allowances they did have to keep their gardens alive, even barely.”

So the growers switched tack again, promoting solid plants that were informatively labelled and could still retail at a price that wouldn’t break the bank. Geoff says that seemed to work.

And retailers concentrated on promoting the water conservation message.

“NGISA worked in with SA Water on our major campaign, based around mulching and improving soil structure. We pushed drippers and proper dripper control.” The SA Government lifted water restrictions last November, but Geoff says whenever there’s a big spike in water use it is still the home gardener held to account.

Roadside revegetation projects have contributed to the recent opening of a couple of large production nurseries in the State. Geoff is a little surprised by their arrival, believing that existing nurseries were supporting the landscape industry very well. However, the newcomers are arriving on the back of interstate companies picking up contracts on major roading infrastructure projects.

“They’ve only just started, but I think they’re setting up so that they have continuity of supply.” He suspects that part of it may lie in the numbers required and the product mix, both outside of what was able to be secured locally. He comments that revegetation historically has not been a major earner for nurseries in the SA.

Interestingly, NGISA is itself involved in a major reveg project. The area around Lake Alexandrina, to the southeast of Adelaide, is fed by the Murray as well as a number of smaller rivers. “At the moment we’re looking after twelve community and school nurseries that are growing 750,000 trees for revegetation of the Lower Lakes area. It has been severely hammered by drought with no flow down the river.”

Education is a key focus of NGISA. Their office is on the TAFE School of Horticulture campus and Geoff says they have a lot of input into the curriculum.

“We’re able to lecture the advanced TAFE students, giving them an insight into our accreditation schemes, both retail and wholesale and the industry as a whole. When we speak to these students they listen because we’ve been there, done that. The sheer scope of it is something they’re better prepared for, and we enjoy that role.”

Geoff explains that his team stress to the students that ours is not a high-paid industry. “We tell them it is however, one you will get absolute enjoyment out of. One thing we do tell them is that our industry is still family-based in the main, and that any advancement in the early years is often just not possible because the sons/daughters are there; Mum and Dad are still controlling things.” Geoff says the message is one of patience. “If they’re prepared to bounce along in middle management and enjoy life, they can have a wonderful career.


Shortage of trained staff at retail a problem

“We are struggling to get trained retailers. The public are asking a lot more questions, wanting to know more. In the past if something died, it was ‘oh, it’s my fault.’ Now they will query. We’re encouraging the queries, but getting those people trained is long term.” This is being addressed but Geoff says it will be a while before the first graduates hit the shop floor.

On the retail front, NGISA is eyeing the arrival of the Master’s Home Improvement chain in the State. The first will be at Mt Gambier and is scheduled to open in August. Geoff notes that when Bunnings first appeared on the scene it was an anxious time for many too, but he believes the only garden centres affected then were those that were going to go anyway. “It certainly took a major share of the retail business, but it was one of those natural progressions.”

Geoff says NGISA has a good relationship with Bunnings even though they are not members. Masters to date have been somewhat standoffish. “They seem to be holding a heck of a lot against their chest. We respect commercial confidentiality, but they are going to come in here and we’d love to work with them.”


Masters already causing closures

Geoff understands that the news of Masters imminent arrival in Mt Gambier may have already forced the closure of one of the Mitre10s.

“There were too many down there anyway and I think the Mitre10 boys are very smart businessmen. It’s no use chasing good money after bad. I think that Masters will find it very difficult in some of our provincial cities because the country areas are suffering.”

On a positive note, Geoff says the national NGIA held its biannual conference on the Gold Coast in mid-March and he was delighted that Newman’s Nursery of Tea Tree Gully near Adelaide was announced the national winner of the Best Medium Garden Centre for 2012. “It was very exciting; the room erupted. All of the entries were amazing garden centres.”

Geoff does believe the early signs of an upturn in the economy are now there. “Everything in South Australia has been slow in real terms. The glory days are gone – we’ll never get back to what we had – but in balance, I think we’re getting there. We’re still positive that it will pick up slowly but surely.

However, there are a number of people in the industry who will have to make the tough call as to how much more they can invest, because they’ve been hit hard. If we have a good Autumn, which we desperately need, the cash will come in; if not, then they’ll have to get through the Winter period and wait for Spring. That’s a long six months.”

-- This interview reprinted from NZ Commercial Horticulture Magazine Apr/May issue 2012

Australian Nursery Registers include details on more than 15,000 companies in the Australian nursery industry
News Snippets :

Casual and cool chic are the trends for 2013

A recent survey shows that 41 percent of Germans say the garden is their favourite place to spend their time in Summer. They are also willing to give up a few things in order to enjoy their own bit of green space -- 52.5 per cent said that during the warmer months they would be willing to give up television in favour of spending time in their garden, and almost 42 per cent would even give up their sofa.

Organisers of the big Cologne trade fair spoga+gafa, held last September, included these facts in their pre-show publicity, saying it bodes well for companies selling items for the outdoors.

The trend toward high-quality products continues to get stronger, they say. Casual, cool lounge creations, chairs and easy chairs with delicate latticework, and outdoor furniture that has an indoor feeling are all becoming increasingly popular.

Younger consumers in particular are looking to “chill out” and relax outdoors — but things have to be chic. So for the 2013 season, manufacturers are presenting casual, cool lounge sofas and playful creations which invite people to just “hang out.” Furniture boasts quality materials and elegant designs without giving the effect of being too formal. The trend colour for next season will be blue.

The boundaries between indoor and outdoor are becoming more and more blurred. Outdoor furniture is now being made in typical indoor forms, rocking chairs for example, and uses materials indistinguishable from interior textiles. Manufacturers are also offering stylish garden houses, rainwater tanks that have the look of expensive stonework.

IGCA Congress
Registrations open

Registrations have opened for the International Garden Centre Association Congress, this year to be held in Melbourne, October 6 to 11.

There will be a pre-Congress tour around the ‘Surf Coast’ of Victoria, and included in the Congress will be visits to local garden centres, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Cranbourne, the Victorian Trade Day, Warner’s Nursery and a propagation nursery, plus the usual social events.

For more details visit or contact Leigh Siebler on 0061 3 9889 545.

Masters says it is pleased with progress
Masters, the new box store chain launched in Australia by Woolworths and US home improvement store chain Lowes, says it is making good progress and is delighted at feedback “from home renovators to tradies.”

In a newsletter to shareholders late last year, Woolworths noted that 15 Masters stores had been opened by the end of June 2012, and that of the 150 sites it planned to secure over five years, 112 were already in the pipeline.

Masters also launched Australia’s first on-line home-improvement store in June, with a reported 10,000 visitors a day.

Discounts if it’s raining
The UK had an especially wet Spring and early Summer last year and both nurseries and retailers were trying some innovative ways to get sales moving.

In an effort to attract foot traffic on wet days, North One and West Six garden centres in London were offering customers a 10 percent discount on all purchases made on rainy days.

Growers and retailers also introduced a “Summer is the new Spring” campaign to tell consumers it’s ok to plant during the warmer weather.

The Horticultural Trades Association’s business development director, Tim Briercliffe, speaking in mid-Summer, said: “Now is a great time for people to plant. Sales are not going to rescue the season but they could help. The ground is wet, which it isn’t normally at this time of year, and the message is gardeners have not missed the boat.”

A “Plan it, Plant it this Autumn” campaign was also planned for the end of Summer. – Horticulture Week

Online sales set to
continue to grow
Online sales for garden products in the UK grew to an estimated £220 million last year and will almost double to £400 million by 2016, according to a report by research group

The report says the internet now accounts for around 5 percent of the overall UK garden products market. It says in recent times many store-based retailers have recognised internet retailing as a growth area and developed transactional websites whereas initially the internet garden products market was mainly serviced by small specialist garden products retailers trading purely on the internet.

The report notes that the trend to grow-your-own has helped to underpin the general garden market in recent years, with the horticultural, tools and leisure sectors benefiting in particular.

Green walls could be the best
answer to city air pollution
Landscaping city streets with living walls could cut pollution by up to 30%, far more than previously thought, according to scientists at Birmingham and Lancaster universities.

Horticulture Week magazine reported Birmingham’s Professor Rob McKenzie as saying: “Because pollution cannot easily escape street canyons, green walls of grass, climbing ivy and other plants have a better opportunity than previously thought to act as a filter.”

The research showed that: “Green walls emerged as clear winners in pollutant removal. Street trees were also effective, but only in streets where the tree crowns did not cause pollution to be trapped at ground level.

“The benefit of green walls is that they clean up the air coming into and staying at street level. Planting more of these in a strategic way could be a relatively easy way to take control of our local pollution problems.”

Government figures estimate the number of premature deaths in the UK caused by outdoor air pollution at between 35,000 and 50,000 per year.

Front yards turning
into parking lots
Seven million front gardens in the UK have been dug up and paved to provide car parking, according to a recent study.

The study showed 26 million homes in Britain have a front yard but councils across the country are receiving tens of thousands of consent applications each year from people wanting to turn them into parking areas.


 QR codes on retail signs trigger
promotional videos

 A new business is getting under way in Australia offering garden centres a range of videos that are triggered when shoppers scan a QR code displayed beside plants or products. The videos can provide more information about the merchandise or maybe direct customers to complementary add-on sales like fertilisers or growing media. The possibilities, owner Cam Burton believes, are wide open.

  Cam is a self-confessed plant nerd. The Brisbane landscape gardener did his apprenticeship working for his cousin, well-known Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens landscape architect, Andy Laidlaw. A particular passion for Australian plants led Cam to environmental organisation, Greening Australia, where he currently trains workers in their Queensland nursery.

  “I train long-term unemployed, and I realised that with these guys, going through the textbooks became a bit of a waste of time. They obviously struggled to learn. So I’d go through YouTube and find things that were relevant and give them short bits of information.”

  It was in engaging his students this way that Cam found the inspiration for his new business. “It’s all going to be video and it’s all going to be on these smartphones. Everyone’s going to carry one of these around. There’s no turning back.”  So Cam went out and learned all about filming and editing and began to build a library of short video clips on various plants.

  He likes to work directly with retailers to tailor-make individual solutions for them. He says his videos are valuable in being able to offer on the spot advice to customers when a staff member may not be to hand.  He also envisages signs with prominent QR codes being incorporated into themed displays. “For instance, there’s one I’ve done with Magnolia Little Gem. Imagine if you had a cluster of Little Gems to sell. There’s this sign on corflute with a QR code to scan that gives the customer a video to watch. It’s able to be accessed simply by scanning the QR code from a smartphone.”

  But Cam says the fledgling business won’t just be about QR codes and he’d gladly tackle a promotional video for a nursery or other horticultural enterprise to include on a website or DVD. His main focus is to work alongside people in the industry to come up with solutions that work for them.  “I’ve mainly concentrated on the QR codes side but the other stuff is just as easy to do as well. Everyone I’ve spoken to in the industry loves the idea so I’m about to get out there and start going around the garden centres. It is still very new!”

  And Cam says he would happily work with anyone in NZ who might be interested in what he has to offer. The website shows some of his work to date.




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