Virtual Learning

Winter months, for those in the garden center industry, are all about some welcomed “down time”, repairs and improvements to infrastructure and attending trade shows and educational seminars. One of the largest trade shows in the country is the MANTS show (Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show), typically located in the Baltimore Convention Center in downtown Baltimore, MD. An enormous show that displays new products, it is also an opportunity to network and educate yourself with its many exhibitors. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) did away with so many things we took for granted, forcing us into new avenues, and MANTS was no exception.
The 51st annual MANTS show was far from normal. While the size and scope of the show may have been reduced, because of online attendance only, the rewards were significant. The MANTS Business Hub was its answer to a virtual exhibition hall. An alphabetized exhibitor list and features such as new product information, brief descriptions of companies, show specials, press releases, appointment requests, images and videos all helped navigate and customize business to fit your needs. Gone was the day of standing in line to meet a company’s representative. This virtual experience propelled you to the front of the line whereby when you clicked on a particular company of interest, almost immediately, you were met with a follow up email. More importantly, for me, was the opportunity to listen in on various webinars and “chat” with industry experts in real time. People gathering from all parts of the globe, connected by Zoom meetings, enabled you to listen and participate with some of our “industry giants.”
The first Zoom meeting I participated in was listening to Raymond Evison from his nursery on Guernsey Island, an island in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy. A pioneer in the clematis world, Mr. Evison has 30 Chelsea Flower Show awards to his credit, a monumental achievement! Raymond Evison spoke directly to modern production methods where he produces about 2 million clematis. His breeding efforts have led to clematis types known for more flowers per plant, deeper colors, healthier selections with compact habits. Varieties like Tranquilité™, Diana’s Delight™, Nubia™, Rebecca™, Sacha™, Picardy™ and Samaritan Jo™ were touted as some of his personal favorites. He went on to explain how his varieties undergo vigorous testing around the world to ensure their viability. The ability to speak directly, via the “Chat” button, to the gentleman who has spent six decades researching and breeding some of the world’s best clematis was daunting and exciting all at the same time.
Monrovia Growers had a Zoom meeting featuring new and exciting plants which they have developed. Ping Lim, a rosarian pioneer, discussed building Altman Plants’ True Bloom™ rose program from California. True Bloom™ roses have won numerous awards, including ones at the Biltmore International Rose Trials. Better heat tolerance, fragrance, disease resistance and their ease to propagate, prove their worth in today’s landscapes. The Syn-RG™ group hosted a series of webinars, all of which I attended. Dr. Michael Dirr held my attention the longest speaking about new and exciting Hydrangea coming soon. Froggie™, Azure Skies™ and Rock-n-Roll™ all seem to hold enormous promise. Yet another Zoom meeting discussed new varieties of boxwood, now available for purchase, and the cultivars bred to meet boxwood blight “head on”. One exciting webinar discussed new and improved varieties of carex, delphinium, liriope and hellebore, and their breeding, from the Netherlands. The Syn-RG™ group did a wonderful job hosting their talks and proved yet again why cutting edge plants, Handpicked for You®, continue to dominate sales in the IGC (Independent Garden Center).
Trepidation and apprehension have always been feelings I’ve had when it comes to registering for the MANTS show. Always in the beginning of January, the risk of snow, and our company’s contractual obligations to remove it, has me registering late for MANTS most years. This year there were no excuses not to attend, as the MANTS Business Hub will remain online for 90 days following its opening. Entomologists, breeders, growers, educators and really the entire “green industry” came out and supported MANTS from all corners of the globe and I for one was grateful for their endeavors.