As your new Regional Director I’m here to persuade you that there will be plenty of time to rest when you’re dead.  The season may be over, but there’s still growing to do.  You’ve got to feed your floral needs with more than cocoa and catalogs by the proverbial cozy fire.  I know a place where you can dig flowers without getting dirty.  But before I divulge that secret, let me tell you about my business.
    

This year, my sixth in production, my husband Lou and I will be expanding from growing two and a half acres to five acres of flowers on our family farm in Gainesville, Virginia.  We sell to high-end florists in the D.C. area, at three farmers’ markets, provide flowers and designs for special events and weddings, and conduct design workshops.  Each year we get closer to our dream of transforming the farm into a successful and profitable agritourism site.  People often tell me that when you find work that you love it doesn’t feel like work.  Now I know what they mean, and I’m by no means ready to call it quits for the year.
    

My plans for next season are set for the most part; orders are in, and market applications submitted.  Plugs grow on at neighboring greenhouses, cool-season crops are wintering over nicely, and our hoophouse is full of anemones, ranunculus, sweet peas and poppies.  Overall, a great start.  I only hope that Mother Nature cuts us a break in 2008.
    

No rain (11+” below normal), high temperatures and an old pump combined to make last season our most challenging yet.  Luckily, sales at our markets increased because of consistent market attendance, higher prices, and a new wireless credit card machine, a necessary convenience for our customers who carry little cash.  I was amazed at how often customers planning to spend $3 to $5 increased their purchases significantly when they learned we accepted credit cards.  So sales are up, life is good, and I’m savoring my successes.
    

Without the avalanche of plant material due to arrive in a month or so, it’s easy for me to feel confident.  Surely we’ll have more rain this year; surely there will  be more customers; surely I’ll have more applicants than jobs to fill; and surely I’ll thwart any threat, be it thrips, aphids, mildew, rot, etc.  This is about the time Lou turns to me and says, “Don’t get cocky.  Go find out what you don’t know!”  For years I felt deflated at this request, my carefully laid plans somewhat tenuous.  But, I found a solution; one that I hope will help you too.
    

Grab your family, friends, fellow growers and/or mentors and head to the Philadelphia Flower Show (www.theflowershow.com) from March 2 through 9, 2008, for a little “market research” (aka FUN ).  The show, started in 1829 by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, is the largest indoor flower show in the world. Housed at the Pennsylvania Convention Center it encompasses 33 acres under one roof including 10 acres of exhibition space in the main hall.  It’s simply an amazing celebration of flowers and gardening, attracting 250,000+ visitors annually.  Now that’s a market!
    

Although I’m hardly a show expert, typically the main hall is grouped into several major areas. This year’s theme “Jazz it Up!” New Orleans-style promises eye-popping displays by national and internationally renowned floral and landscape designers showcasing some of the hottest, trendiest, and most beautiful flowers and plants of the season.  Huge, lavish displays rule this area, but at this show even the tiniest bloom is revered.
    

Have you ever wondered just what your customers do with your flowers behind closed doors? Competition is fierce among individuals and garden clubs for sought-after blue ribbons in areas of floral design and horticulture including miniature arrangements, window box displays, garden arbors, indoor plants and more.  It’s well worth the wait in line to see the diminutive dioramas and equally impressive array of jewelry.  Competitors are judged on their ability to interpret the chosen theme while adhering to strict fabrication guidelines.  For instance, the jewelry is entirely crafted of plant materials: seeds, nuts, pods, etc., and each entry includes examples of each material used in its natural state, along with the finished piece.  Exotic coral necklaces made from the tops of spent daylily bloom stalks were my favorite.  So allow yourself enough time, at least a day, wear comfortable shoes, and choose your companions wisely. For the past two years I’ve attended with my good friend and talented floral designer Marion Butterworth.  As a former ASCFG member and grower, Marion possesses all the qualities of the perfect show-going companion.  A fellow flower addict, she’s interested in all aspects of the show, from the tiniest plant to the tallest topiary.  As Marion’s design abilities contribute to the success of both our farmers’ market sales and our special events throughout the year, it’s important to feed and inspire our collective imagination and creativity.  Marion also likes to shop, an important quality when navigating the impressive retail area.
    

The show boasts 140 vendors of everything from beautiful flowers and plants to a complete array of garden accessories, tools, gifts and more—monthly deer control service! $350 muck boots! Hammocks!  Well fortified after great Philly cheese steaks, we investigate every display, try out all the new gadgets, and shrewdly eye new  glove designs, asking ourselves if they really will last daily punishment season after season.
    

This is the place to get the latest and greatest in gardening.  I picked up a versatile weed weapon, the CobraHead weeder, now available at Johnny’s Selected Seeds of Winslow, Maine (www.johnnyseeds.com).  If you’re interested in value-added products, our favorite wreath designs were from Greensleeves from Millville, Pennsylvania (www.greensleevesflowers.com). For garden accents we loved Sandstone Gardens from Joplin, Missouri (www.sandstonegardens.com).  These companies distinguished themselves through superior products and/or designs along with effective and attractive displays.
    

Naturally, the most impressive retail displays of flowers, fresh and dried, willow bunches, wreaths, and bulbs were by ASCFG members.  In 2008, Farmhouse Flowers and Plants will join veteran show vendors Cramers’ Posie Patch and Oregon Coastal Flowers/ZCallas.  As I write, Dave Dowling is busy erecting another greenhouse exclusively for show lilies.  I look forward to all the new varieties these formidable growers will have and their knowledgeable culture recommendations.
    

Last year, chatting with Keith Cramer about show prices of tuberose bulbs ($4+ each!) got me thinking about marketing them myself at spring plant sales and markets.  Selling these bulbs for $2 each or 6 for $10 accounted for welcome early-season sales.  I found that my pre-bagged bulbs sold the fastest.  These sales required no planting, no irrigating, and no harvesting.  What didn’t sell I planted for cuts later in the season.  That one gleaning from the show proved well worth the price of admission.
    

So treat yourself to a trip to Philly, enjoy the show and/or lend a hand to one of our members.  If you can’t make it, check your local listings for shows closer to you.  Get out and find out what you don’t know, get inspired, and profit from it!