New at the Native Plant Show 2018

For industry professionals who have attended The Native Plant Show before, this year will offer a number of new classes and exhibits.

The biggest change in this year’s show, however, is its scope. In keeping with the show theme, “Making native plants the new norm,” for the first year ever, the public is invited to attend. Classes and programs such as Native Plants in Pots, Edible Native Plants for the Garden, Fashion Accessories with Native Plants, and Step-by-Step to a Florida Native Yard were put on the schedule with those completely new to native plants in mind. Wholesale growers exhibiting at the show are preparing to answer retail-scale questions. A continuous native plant sale, from 10:30 Thursday morning to 6:30 Friday evening, will let homeowners leave the show with everything they need to put life back in the landscape. 2018’s Native Plant Show will definitively prove that native plants have broad popular appeal.

Why native plants haven’t yet been market leaders in the horticulture industry, according to native plant professionals, has to do with the way most Americans buy their plants. “The big-box stores [mainstream garden centers, like Lowe’s and Home Depot] never gave natives a chance,” landscape designer Arnold Rutkis says. “Stores [with locations] in multiple states looked for plants that could be grown in multiple states.”

“It’s uniformity and replication — I want what the neighbor has,” Steve Turnipseed, president of the Florida Native Plant Society The Villages Chapter says.

“People demand the plants that aren’t from Florida,” says Kirsten Sharp-Ortega of Green Isle Gardens. “When you explain that these plants aren’t from Florida, they don’t understand. It has to do with education.”

“Growing native plants [commercially] is harder,” owner of Green Seasons Nursery Roger Triplett says. “Most nurserymen and garden centers do not understand native plants. They only understand what’s been shoved down their throats [by big horticulture] for the past 60 years.”

Triplett and partner Mark Holdren acquired their nursery in 1995. The prior owner started with sea oats in the 1970s. For the latter half of September, Triplett was out on beaches in Florida and Alabama in 90-plus heat collecting seeds from sea oats. Thanks to recent hurricanes, this year has been particularly good for harvesting sea oat seeds. Triplett and his partner have increased the growing capacity of Green Seasons Nursery by more than 1000-percent.

“There was this vision [in the 80s],” Florida Association of Native Nurseries executive-director, Cameron Donaldson, says. [Native plants] make so much sense. It’s going to go gangbusters. It hasn’t yet. And meanwhile, it’s really hard work. . . [The existing nursery owners] are exhausted. We’re basically talking about farming, and it’s hard work. In Florida, it’s hot hard work.”

With two timelines in perspective, that is, when the existing native nursery owners will retire, and when more Florida ecosystems deteriorate, the Native Plant Show’s board decided to take native plants directly to consumers this year. There have already been a few signs that the market in 2018 is finally ripe for native plants.

“We have a lot of new landscaping contractors that are showing up [to the Native Plant Show], a lot of new landscaping designers coming,” Triplett says. “Every year more and more [of their customers] ask for native plants. . . In part, it’s coming from general conservation. The Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, even gardening magazines have spoken positively about native plants.”

Indeed, the 2018 survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects lists native plants at the very top of the top ten projects with the expected highest consumer demand. In second place came drought tolerant plants. In third place came low-maintenance landscapes. In eighth place came reduced lawn area.

To see the survey in its entirety: