December 12, 2018
Past, present and yet to come
A thumbs up from eieihome’s Adam Brandon (left) and LO’s Denis Flanagan in between filming at Tree Valley Garden Centre in Stouffville, Ont.
By Denis Flanagan CLD
LO Manager of Membership and Public Relations
Denis FlanaganI recently shot a video in the greenhouse of a Landscape Ontario garden centre member that gave some seasonal decorating tips to homeowners. In between takes, I had time to chat with the owners of the company and reflected on my own personal involvement with the garden centre sector, as well as some of the major changes that have taken place over the last few decades.


Over 30 years ago, I was initially hired as a landscape designer for the family-owned Weall and Cullen garden centre business. My job was basically to design fairly simple planting plans for customers. My renumeration was based on commission of plant sales. I personally found this a great motivator, and it forced me to set business and personal goals, which to this day, have helped to shape my future. At Weall and Cullen, I was in good company, with the likes of Paul Olsen, Bob McCannell, Barry Benjamin, Art Vanden Enden and Scott Beaudoin, all of whom became very successful and remained great contributors to Landscape Ontario. After a few years, and with the encouragement of Mark Cullen I was given the responsibility of running the expanded landscape division. At its peak in the 1980s, our division contained 20 landscape designers and 10 authorized installers, with plant sales of over $2 million. Many of the designers (Janet Ennamorato, Beth Edney and Wendy Boyle), went on to create their own design companies, and continued to expand their skills by attending seminars and conferences offered by Landscape Ontario. Since those Weall and Cullen days, landscape designs have become sophisticated and quite technical, often with an emphasis on hardscaping elements.


Today we are witnessing the garden centre sector going through tremendous change. Some business operations are closing altogether, since the land they occupy is valuable real estate to developers who are keen to purchase it. Other companies have changed their marketing strategy and are catering more to the landscape contractor by adjusting their hours of business, carrying larger sized nursery stock, and supplying bulk products. The stores that choose to remain in a strictly retail environment have expanded their product lines to include gift items, clothing, and in some cases, even specialty plants such as tropicals, bonsai, alpines, hydroponics and specialty fruits and vegetables. We certainly saw this diversity while judging the independent garden centre entries in this year’s LO Awards of Excellence program. Garden centres are striving to become destination spots with unique products and holding many special seasonal events.

Yet to come

The ongoing competition with the mass merchants means independent garden centres will have to continue emphasizing their strengths, quality products, knowledgeable staff and great service in order to be of value. With the rapid pace of technology, whether it be inventory control or social media marketing, independents will have to adapt and embrace.

The recent legalization of cannabis in Canada is already starting to make an impact on plant retailers. With acres upon acres of greenhouse space now devoted to cannabis production, other, more popular gardening plants may be in shorter supply. We all know that supply affects pricing, so depending on who you ask, this latest trend could simply cause a blip, or create a long-term market shift. Only time will tell.

The shortage of available labour is an increasing concern to all sectors of our profession. Landscape Ontario’s recent strategic planning sessions identified this shortage as the number one issue that we, as an association have to address.

Whether it is current buying trends, plants, marketing, or labour, the many conference sessions and sector-specific events at Congress will have something of interest for you.
Stop by the LO membership booth at Congress and give us your thoughts and ideas. We hope to see you there.
Denis Flanagan can be reached at or at 905-875-1805, ext. 2303.