CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Anna Ball has been in the gardening business for many years, starting in the seed office of Ball Horticultural and moving to the top of her family's company, one of the nation's largest sellers of commercial seed for flowers and ornamental crops. The company also owns W. Atlee Burpee, a major seed seller to home gardeners.
"We always let our varieties do the talking: the Wave petunias, Early Girl tomatoes," Ball said at the 2011 International Master Gardeners Convention in Charleston last month. But she gave the audience a business perspective of the broader horticulture world, including insight into the current trends.
"People want plants with a purpose. We started in the business of feeding the soul of the world, creating beauty. Recently, we found we need the gardens of tomorrow to be more than just about beauty -- they will be about plants and people and that relationship. We call it the Three E's: economic benefit, environmental benefit and emotional and health benefits," the CEO said.
Ball listed many ways plants help the environment, and she gave a few other interesting benefits of plants. She said a study by the University of Illinois of three similar apartment buildings, one with no trees or shrubs, one with a few plants, and one that was lushly landscaped, had widely varied amounts of crime. The building with the most plants had, by far, the least amount.
"Crime plummeted in the heavily landscaped one. They think, in part, it was because the women who lived there spent a lot of time outside, tending to their territory." She also said plants along roadways slow traffic.
Another trend in the business is plants with drama. Someone once described her company's bedding plants as "timid," and she realized that had to change.
"People want 'in your face' in their plants today," Ball said. "It doesn't have to be complicated, it often just needs to be more vertical."
Ball said green walls are a popular trend around the world.
"The problem with green roofs is that you can't see them! In Seoul, Chile, Paris, we see a lot of interesting plantings on the sides of buildings. We see vertical farming in Abu Dhabi, Singapore -- just follow the money and that's where you'll see the latest trends."
Ball said the "old" trend to gardeners -- sustainability -- is the hot new trend in the industry. She joked that the garden center has become the "carbon offset center." Gardeners have been aware of the environment for years, but the trend is away from the 10-by-10 Victory Garden to incorporating edibles into the landscape.
Ball talked about the shift in where Americans buy their plants.