Convention is a source of inspiration to green industry professionals.

The jam-packed exhibition hall at the New England Grows event in Boston.

February is a slow month for garden and landscape businesses in New England. That makes it a perfect time for people in the gardening business (like me!) to visit New England Grows, the biggest winter gathering of green industry professionals in the Northeast. The three-day trade show and educational event in Boston is the place to catch up with colleagues and suppliers, learn about new plants, tools, techniques and trends, and get jazzed about the spring season.

I always look forward to this opportunity to see what’s ahead for the new growing season. This year, I roamed the aisles of the trade show looking for innovative products and ideas. The more than 600 exhibitors included manufacturers, plant growers, pest-control suppliers, purveyors of garden art, publishers and representatives from public gardens. Here are a few of the coming trends, products and ideas that I brought back:

1. A focus on earth-friendly products. West County Gloves is changing the fabric they on the back of their gloves to include fibers from recycled water bottles. A wholesale nursery offered landscape roses in biodegradable Eco-pots instead of black plastic containers. The number of companies offering natural pest controls increases each year as the companies offering chemical controls lose ground.

Harvest Moon echinacea

Harvest Moon is one of many new echinacea cultivars.

2. An emphasis on plant foliage, form and color. Sophisticated and traditional containers planted with succulents, ferns, grasses, coleus, and tropical plants with nary a bloom in sight. The lack of colorful flowers at the show was noticeable!

3. Native plants and cultivars are hot. Garden center customers shouldn’t have any trouble finding perennial echinacea, phlox, baptisia, gaillardia, and grasses to fill their landscapes this spring.

4. Folk art and rustic garden décor. Woven willow fences, stone and pottery animals, antique-looking furniture and handmade pottery with an ethnic flair were poised to take up residence in the garden.

Despite gloomy economic projections for 2009, I felt optimistic and hopeful as I walked among the potted trees and shrubs, picked through the seed packets, admired the newest perennial offerings, and chatted with vendors. We all had the sense that we are in the right business to help bring peace and renewal back to our customers and communities. It’s still February, but spring’s promise is right around the corner.

Ann Whitman

Horticulturist, Gardener’s Supply