Seen at the “OFA Short Course”



Welcome to the business side of gardening – the trade show!  First let’s get the name out of the way first – because what kind of name for a trade show is “OFA Short Course”?  See, it started 85 years ago as the Ohio Florist Association show, but it grew into something huge and international, and now that it’s merged with the ANLA (American Nursery and Landscape Association), it’s on its way to a new name, finally.

And the “Short Course” part of its name is a tip-off that unlike most trade shows (strictly booths with people selling their wares) this one has a slew of talks and seminars (140 of them) and they’re well attended.

I’ve attended a trade show or two but had never seen so many big machines for growers:


Or a robot like this:


There were also plants, lots of them.


Annuals galore.  But it was a particular perennial that caught my eye – the ‘Cheyenne Spirit’  Echinacea below left that blooms in 4 or more colors on a single plant, thanks to 11 years of research.  Like all new Echinaceas, it could be a dud but the Ball Hort salesman I spoke to swore by it.  More will be revealed.


I also learned that the grafted tomato on the right is a hot-seller (at $14/15 each) because it combines the best qualities of hybrids and heirlooms in one plant.  I’m told that the result is great taste and yield plus resistance to disease.


The show included lots of ways to display plants – mostly in containers but also this cool wall.  And a touch of humor is a welcome sight in any trade show.

At trade shows I’m always happy to report running into some People I Actually Know, and here are a few I found at OFA.


Publisher Paul Kelly (St. Lynn’s Press) with three of his authors.  From left, Christina Salwitz, Helen Yoest and Kylee Baumle.


Katie Moss Warner was at the show for America In Bloom.  She’s the past prez of the American Hort Society, past head of gardens at Disneyworld, and a force in the world of gardening.


From the let, perennials expert and frequent guest-Ranter Allen Bush.  Christina again with another force in gardening – Shawna Coronado.  And Michael Geary, CEO of the show and of ANLA, talking to us “press” at the nice luncheon they put on for us.  “This is the New  York fashion show of our industry.”


I don’t know this guy but admire his ability to man a trade-show booth and keep fit at the same time.

The Battle of the Shows!
In other industry news, OFA is expanding to include lots more space for retailers and it’ll then be the “world’s largest trade association of independent garden retailers.” Yes, they’re going after the Independent Garden Center Show,  and I heard lots of enthusiasm for that move.  Seems there are more than a few past IGC attendees who’d like an alternative to a show that’s so personality-driven – especially when it’s the personality of CEO Jeff Morey.  And I can see why.  When I attended his show I was shocked that the opening ceremony concluded with attendees being led in prayer, a very Christian one at that.  Way to be inclusive, Jeff!


  1. Good to hear about an alternative to the IGC Show. I attended for the first time last year and also was surprised about its “star quality” line-up and the prayer at the start, which I thought was totally out of place. Anyway, OFA’s beef-up sounds like a good idea.

  2. Wow, I can’t think anything uglier than an Echinacea that blooms in 4 colours! Then to further disgrace the Native North American’s by naming it what they did. Of course the salesman swore by it, that is his job! I could write my own rant about what I see at these ‘Trade Shows’! It seems the uglier it is the more pumped these rep’s are at the shows. You gotta be careful or you will get sucked into their vortex of psychedelic flashbacks – !!!!:p

    • I’m right with you Amy in regard to the salesman having reason swear by whatever they’re peddling. Everyone says theirs are the best. As someone whose job it is to weed through that and decide what to grow and in what number for the retail and landscape market, I can tell you, flashy sells and a pile of people are hot for this plant. Is it the best Echinacea on the market? Not in my opinion. But it’s more affordable than most of the rest of the hot colors and after so many repeated failures with the paradoxa hybrids, there are plenty of folks who will be drawn to the price point. My personal favorites in Echinacea right now are Echinacea pallida (yes, the unadulterated species. Gasp!) and Echinacea ‘Southern Belle’ which rocks my socks.

  3. Sounds like a fun show! I attend the ProGreen Expo in Denver each year, but their trade show is not nearly as extensive as it looks like this one was. (PG is all about classes and seminars – my brain weighs twice as much by the end of the week.)

    That Echinacea doesn’t look like much to get excited about, but part of it could be the lighting – everything looks jaundiced under the lights they put in those big convention spaces.

  4. I too want to revisit that Echinacea. Cheyenne Spirit is a seed variety and I’m almost certain you only get one color per plant. You could get multiple colors per pot if they were multi-seeded or if there were multiple plugs per pot, but I think that’s the exception rather than the rule. We trialed 20 pots of this variety this year and (by what I assume was simply bad luck) had only one color across all pots (and only one seeding per plug). Having seen them in other trials last year, I was, like you, taken by the color range, but I was also disturbed to see the yellow so much taller than the other colors. The general compact nature of the plant (yellow excluded), the flashy colors, good branching and the accessible price point (thanks to seed) mean it will definitely show up prominently at retail.

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