Some years we look forward to it and some years we just go but this first week of January is MANTS time for Nurserymen and Horticultural professionals within striking distance of Baltimore. Held at the Baltimore Convention Center and featuring nearly 1000 exhibitors, this is a huge trade show. I have been going for at least the last 25 years, either as an employee of Behnke's Nurseries, Karen Upton and Sons Landscaping, Senator and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, or The National Arboretum. Actually, I have gone on my own occasionally; it's well worth 15 dollars to have access to the displays of plants, gardening tools, heavy equipment!, and whatnot. Information flows. In the Mobjack display I saw an incredible specimen of weeping Styrax japonica that was at least 6' tall.
Today it was a great place to be while we were getting some of what begins to look like 2.5" of rain. The show runs Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I usually avoid the first day (today) because it is normally the most heavily attended. It wasn't crowded today though. I am picturing companies that maybe used to send 15 people sending 1 or 2 or 3. It was nice to be able to talk to Don Shadow (Shadow Nurseries) for 10 minutes before another customer stopped....usually you have to wait in a huge crowd just to say hello!
The Research Unit and the Gardens Unit did nursery outreach today at the show. We went out in teams of two to distribute information: a sample of the new Arboretum Introduction Callicarpa 'Duet', and posters featuring our plant introductions to targeted nurseries. I was paired with Margaret Pooler from Research. Margaret is a research geneticist and shrub breeder, obviously the brains of our team. After distributing the largesse to our targets, we discussed the condition of the industry with them and solicited recommendations for things we could do to improve the state of things. Good conversation but no epiphanies. Our first stop, Hawksridge Farms, has always caught my attention. Among more usual offerings, they list some very cool and very unusual plants. I asked Rick Crowder, the General Manager, how those plants, the plants I like, fared in the marketplace; apparently they aren't the greatest sellers, but he vowed to continue to grow them anyway.
Here's the thing; I have heard that story before. I heard it later that day from a friend, Cindy Watson, of Cam Too Camellia Nursery. They have been growing some less common Stewartia species but gave them up because there was no demand. The problem is that there is a demand; there are people who want those plants. There may not be as many customers for the exotics as there are for the more common taxa, but we are out there. The problem is making the connection between the source and the demand. I have no ideas!