Perennial Farm showcases Solution Gardening
GLEN ARM, Md. — The Perennial Farm has had multiple hosting responsibilities this summer including the recent late July workshop on herbaceous perennials and the morning sessions at the Maryland Nursery, Landscape and Greenhouse Association’s Field Day 2019.
Along with an overview of the farm’s extensive offerings, the sessions at the latter event included an insider’s look at the logistics behind both their order and delivery processing and their e-commerce operations.
Ed Kiley, the Perennial Farm’s director of sales and marketing, began the overview stop with a brief history of how they moved from doing both landscaping and growing plants to just growing plants, and then, more recently, to “selling solutions” to satisfy the needs of both their wholesale and retail customers. The last evolved out of their trademarked plant labeling programs — “Treadwell, The Landscaper’s Choice” and “Deer-Leerious, Plants Deer Don’t Like to Eat.”
In time, their trademarked label programs led to a realization, “we were no longer selling just plants,” said Kiley, “we were selling solutions” to gardening design.
That concept has been captured in their most recent program, Solution Gardening, on which Kiley said they hope to develop and promote a certification program for garden centers. It builds on a pocket-sized book full of graphics and plant photos, which Dr. Allen Armitage, a horticulturalist and key advisor to The Perennial Farm, called “back pocket horticulture.”
After a brief introduction of the book and his new gardening app, Armitage spent some time discussing what’s new in perennial horticulture. Despite several questions posed by attendees, later lunch conversations revealed some doubts around the practicality of his recommendations.
For instance, Armitage proffered coreopsis grandiflora as a native flowering plant that, with deadheading, could be kept blooming and providing color throughout the summer. “I don’t have time to deadhead to keep it blooming,” countered Tim Overstreet, Park Superintendent for the Horticulture and Land Management Division of Howard County’s Department of Recreation & Parks.
Overstreet had attended MNLGA’s Field Day 2019 to “see what’s new and durable.” He was particularly interested in low-maintenance ideas to help refresh the formal gardens at Belmont Manor, a county-owned historical mansion, which had become a wedding event destination.
“It’s become such a wedding place,” he said, “you can’t even get into the place on weekends between April and November.”
And, although Overstreet, as with a few of the other attendees questioned some of Armitage’s recommendations, they all did appreciate how some of The Perennial Farm’s programs could help out commercial garden centers and landscape designers.
Of the two remaining stops in the morning presentations, the e-commerce stop drew the most questions and comments from each group’s attendees. Katie Watson, daughter of owner Rick Watson and one of The Perennial Farm’s e-commerce specialists, described along with Liz Karrenbauer, another e-commerce specialist, how they built their online sales through both their own retail website and Amazon.
“Amazon presented the most challenges,” said Watson, “especially in terms of plant descriptions and punctuation.” Amazon had certain style guidelines that retailers on its marketplace had to abide by, she said. She also explained “it took many months to set up barriers to block the 11 states that we’re not certified to ship to” due to Amazon’s desire to restrict its customer base as little as possible.
Once they began taking orders, they quickly realized they had too many box sizes and they “went from 10 different box sizes to 5.” Karrenbauer then explained the assembly line process they have set up for pulling and packing the plants when the orders come in.
In response to a question about order volume, Karrenbauer further explained, “On Mondays in the spring, we were getting upwards of 200 orders to process because we only ship Monday through Thursdays.” Fridays were excluded, Watson explained, to ensure that the plants are arriving promptly at their destination and not spending the weekend sitting somewhere in a UPS warehouse or local U.S. Post Office.
Thanks to Amazon’s bigger retail platform, The Perennial Farm has seen enough growth in their retail e-commerce operations to make it worth working through the initial issues, the specialists said. And, although the bulk of their operations still center on wholesale customers, “we are here for the retail customer as well,” said Watson.
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P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925