What do 10,000 horticulturists and a heatwave have in common? They can all be found in Columbus, Ohio each July. The OFA Short Course expo is considered the melting pot of the American horticultural industry. For the past 84 years the biggest plant show in the USA has drawn a vast collection of suppliers, producers, breeders, growers, retailers, landscapers and agents. You’ll find them all in a networking frenzy discussing new plants, emerging trends and sales targets.
Columbus in July is hot – the final day of the show being a scorching 43° Celsius. Despite this the city is surprisingly green. The streets are lined with mature trees and the shopfronts popping with potted blooms. Even the petunias perform well under these seemingly trying conditions. Seeking refuge inside the convention centre you’ll find 7 acres of displays. It’s a lot cooler indoors as they turn the air con onto high to keep the plants fresh for the entire show. My tip is to take something light to throw on when inside. When you’re at a big show, comfort is important.
Way back when, the OFA (Ohio Floristry Association) put the show together to showcase the local flower industry. It later partnered with the American Nursery and Landscape team and went on to represent the full spectrum of the garden industry. Everything from new plants through to the latest horticultural technology is on display. Listen closely and you’ll pick up languages from over 20 different countries. The shows attendees include a 20% international contingent.
One of these countries is Australia. Companies such as horticultural agents PMA (Plants Management Australia – which I represented there) visit the show as it provides a great place to view new releases and to further develop international relationships. It is at events like this that we can arrange to bring new varieties back into Australia to trial, and to promote our Australian-bred plants to overseas markets.
One such plant that has the US buzzing is Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’. This striking variety was bred in Victoria and is famed for its multi-coloured foliage and its amazing hardiness. With the US climate so widely ranging, any plant that performs in the snow through to the hot tropical zones is bound to be well received. Mention ‘Ascot Rainbow’ to some of the key US producers and suppliers and you’ll be rewarded with a huge grin.
Walking around the show is a great way to pick up on pending horticultural trends. The American market is big on bright displays of annuals, with potted colour always popular. Nearly all the top selling perennials share the common link of variegated foliage. This is a market keen on coloured foliage and vibrant blooms.
Succulents are also popular, having gained momentum in recent years with the trend towards ‘green roofs’. In some states it is now a legal requirement that new commercial buildings have a certain percentage of their roof covered in plant life. A few producers are supplying big numbers of ‘tile carpets’ – ready made carpets full of plants like sedums that will survive happily on roof tops, absorbing heat, cold and moisture.
It’s always interesting to compare the horticultural industry across the world. Different plants sell in different zones. It’s a lot like the fashion industry really. If you’ve ever travelled internationally one of the first things you’ll notice are fashion trends – and it’s no different in the plant world.
If you get the chance to visit a large horticultural show, take the opportunity. They give a great insight into the industry. Although aimed at professionals in our industry, OFA is a great insight into the future and gives a sneak peak into what your garden may look like in a few years time. Oh – and if you make it to Columbus next July, include a visit to Jeni’s ice creamery for some unusual flavours such as riesling poached pear or wildberry lavender– it’s the talk of the city.