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Garden trend for 2019: Get real, says Burpee chairman


George Ball, chairman of Burpee Seeds, says authenticity is the trend in gardening. (Photo: Dean Fosdick of Associated Press, courtesy Burpee)

Relevance appeals to millennials as well as boomers – as does fun



Burpee Seeds’ George Ball, the man who keeps a 143-year-old brand relevant, sees 2019 as a year of opportunity for the gardening industry.

“This is a decisive period of time,” Ball said in a phone interview. “It’s critical, both in terms of demographics and technology.”

Ball bases his prediction on two major gardening audiences: boomers and millennials.

“Our big challenge: One is fading out while the other is fading in,” he observed.

Right now, those trends are converging in a way where gardening appeals to both groups.

“In gardening, we’ve reached an absolute sweet spot,” said Ball, 67. “It’s time to really go forward and go for us aging baby boomers – I’m one. But even more crucial, we need to go for the up-and-coming gardeners, the millennials.”

In the digital age, gardeners of all ages can be overwhelmed by information, he added. Some topics -- chemical use, plant breeding, changing weather – add to uncertainty.

What people forget is gardening should be fun.

“In gardening, the B.S. is over; that’s what will be different this year,” he said. “Go back to traditional plant breeding, seeds that grow and gardens that work. Gardening is about playing. That’s why we garden.”

Boomers and millennials equally like to play, Ball added. But the key to reaching both audiences comes down to relevance.
Burpee's tomato seeds include a Baby Boomer
cherry variety. It's the red cherry lower right. (Photo:
Kathy Morrison)

“Baby boomers grew up inventing relevance,” he said. “That’s been passed on to millennials. They think they live, breathe, eat relevance.”

As Burpee’s ambassador as well as chairman, Ball finds himself surrounded by millennial gardeners in their 20s and early 30s. The question he gets asked often: “Are you real?”

“There’s this whole authenticity thing,” he said. “But gardening is about as real as it gets.”

He gets questions about GMOs. (Burpee doesn't sell any GMOs and breeds its plants the old-fashioned way.) Heirlooms vs. hybrids? (“Some heirlooms are really great, but others are not starters,” Ball said.)

“I’m a plant scientist,” he said. “Traditional plant breeding is just coaxing out of the gene pool what wants to get out.”

Sometimes it’s golden orange cherry tomatoes that taste like honey drops (called Honeycomb). Others, it’s wine-purple speckled striped petunias (Starry Sky). They’re among dozens of introductions in Burpee’s new 2019 catalog (
www.burpee.com ). More on those new plants and many more next week.

Meanwhile, Ball urges gardeners – and garden companies – to see the real fun in gardening.

“I felt last year was a sea change,” he said. “We got away from the B.S. The trend now is to keep it real.”

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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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