December 6, 2022
Congress memories
Interview by Scott Barber

Having attended every Congress since 1975, Tony DiGiovanni has a lot of memories from the trade show floor. And now that he has retired from his role as executive director of Landscape Ontario, he has no plans to break the streak. Landscape Ontario Podcast host Scott Barber featured Tony on a recent episode of the show, where he reminisced on the important moments and events that have remained with him over the years.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say LO Congress?

It’s actually the beginning of my career. I’ve been going to Congress since 1975, and I have not missed a single one. Back in ‘75, I was a student at Humber College in the landscape technology program. Our class was tasked with building a student garden. So that was my first experience with LO and Congress. We all got together and, you know, we had to work hard to build this wonderful garden.

It was really intense and it was a lot of fun. And I still remember it. From nothing, from an empty hall we built a beautiful garden and everybody just loved it. So that’s what I remember. You know, when you say Congress, it takes me back right to the very beginning of my career in horticulture.

The other thing I remember really clearly was a presentation by LO’s first president Glenn Peister. Back then, my dream was to be a musician. I had taken a year off to pursue music with a band, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. So I decided to go back to school, and I chose landscaping by chance.

My girlfriend’s father, who would become my father-in-law, happened to be a salesperson for Ball Horticulture. I noticed the pretty catalogues in the back seat of his Chevy Impala. And honestly, that was one of the reasons I decided to give the course with plants a shot. The plants in the catalogue were pretty, and they looked cool.

So I enrolled in the landscape tech program at Humber, but I really didn’t know much about the industry. I wasn’t sure if there really was a future career for me in it. I wasn’t sure if I could make a living. And to be honest, my father thought I was crazy. He didn’t understand how he could bring his family all this way — from Italy — to work in the garden. He thought I was nuts. And I became apprehensive. I didn’t know if it was right for me. But the student day at Congress was a turning point in my career.

Congress had a student day when horticulture and landscaping students could visit the show for free. Part of the event was a presentation by Glenn Peister in the theatre at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto where Congress was held at the time. Glenn talked to a room full of students telling us that there was life after school, that there was a career waiting for us, and that it was an important career that did important things. He spoke with such enthusiasm; I still remember it.

Why is Congress important?

Congress is community building accelerated. And that’s what LO is really all about: building community. I’ve used this phrase for a long time, because I truly believe it. LO is a community for mutual benefit and mutual improvement.

And it’s not just about business, although of course it is an important aspect of LO and Congress. But it’s the social connections. The personal relationships. I’m excited for the show every single year because it’s like a homecoming for our profession. You get to see the whole trade together under one roof. And the scale of it, the amount of people, all of the different exhibitors, is so impressive. It’s community building on steroids.

At the end of the day, Congress is a market. And markets have been around since time started. And you need markets for exchange. Markets create prosperity. Trade is important. What you have is a whole bunch of exhibitors and a whole bunch of their clients that are interdependent. And at an event like Congress, you find out what’s new. What new equipment is available. What new products are coming out. These are things that can help you do what you do even better than you did before.

Learning is such a big part of it, too. There’s a ton of learning

that goes on and it happens in different ways. It happens formally through the conference program. I can still remember so many speakers I’ve heard at the Congress Conference who have inspired me; who have taught me something I carried with me for years, whether it was something technical, or it was business related.

Then there is the social component. The meeting after the meeting. It’s going out to lunch or dinner and developing relationships of trust. Having fun, making friends. It’s bonding with your colleagues. Or an attendee bringing their staff as a way to show, ‘hey, let’s have some fun. Let’s go as a team to see what’s new and to meet with our suppliers.’

And something else I’d like to mention is how important the exhibitors are. They are really the people who make the show possible. And not only that, but their support of Congress has a huge impact on making it possible for Landscape Ontario to do all the work it does.

What are you looking forward to most this year?

Even though I’m retired, I plan to spend all three days at Congress in January. And this year, more than any other really, it will be a homecoming. After missing out on the last two shows due to the pandemic, it is going to be so nice to see everyone back together. One thing I hope to get a chance to do is speak to students. That’s something I’ve always enjoyed over the years, because you never know the impact you can have on someone’s career and their life.
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This interview was adapted from an episode of the Landscape Ontario Podcast, published in November 2022. To listen to the podcast, visit, or search for it on your favourite podcast app.