I have to admit that each month after I turn in my completed column, I feel a sense of accomplishment – and relief – and am happy to click “complete” on my Outlook task list. But I swear, no sooner do I finish than it feels like Sally is reminding me when the next one is due. [Editor’s note: Guilty as charged.] Not whining, just sayin’!

I keep a word document with a running list of potential topics for future columns. And each month, if need be, I’ll open it up to try to get the creative juices flowing. I must admit, however, I’ve used up all my “extra” ideas except one. I’ve looked at this subject each month and for whatever reason, have decided not to use it – perhaps because I think a better topic has come along, or I fear I won’t approach it in a “politically correct” way.

I know I don’t have the answers to everything, and so instead of going it alone, I’ve decided to take my Grandpa’s advice and ask for help. I’m going to turn the tables this month and ask you to brainstorm this particular subject matter with me. Here goes nothing …

As an industry, we are very segmented. I believe our different specialty groups get along well enough, but I believe we tend to be like draft horses with blinders on, focused on only what we can see. It seems we’re pulling in opposite directions when if we worked more as a team, we could accomplish twice as much to benefit our industry and ourselves.

I am proud to have been asked to play a small part of bringing diverse associations together. Lead by the vision, passion and persistence of Treasurer Kirk Brown of Joanne Kostecky Garden Design Inc. of Allentown, Penn., the Garden Writer’s Association board of directors created a standing task force titled the “Association Outreach Initiative,” of which I’ll act as Chair.

This group is charged with reaching out to other industry groups to see how we can collaborate for the benefit of our members in areas such as education, membership services, networking and, maybe most importantly, increasing potential business for GWA members (and their counterparts in other organizations). This is a new initiative, and I look forward to seeing what doors can be opened.

I’ve talked in previous columns on how I feel we could be missing the boat when it comes to collaboration; in particular the green industry and two groups who have direct contact with consumers – garden writers and master gardeners. But there is another group who may be equally as important, who I also consider direct “influencers” of the gardening public; these are the landscape architects.

Before I go one step further, so as to not offend anyone, I consider landscape designers to be “influencers” just as valuable as LAs. However – and let me emphasize that this is my own experience – I find that landscape designers overall are a more approachable group who are involved in networking within our industry. I wonder if our passion for digging in the soil is a common bond that more easily connects us.

But, for whatever reason, I’ve always felt this great divide between the green industry and LAs, and I’m just not sure why. And therein lies my question: How do we, individually as companies and/or as an industry, successfully reach out and connect with landscape architects? How do we encourage more and better dialogue and face-to-face interaction?

Looking for answers, I attended the ASLA annual meeting and trade show in Chicago a few years back. A few encounters stood out:

  • I spoke with a wholesale nursery rep and he said an attendee asked him, “Why are you even exhibiting?” Perhaps with my hort background I’ve always assumed that having “landscape” in a title meant that plants were the foundation of the landscape architecture business. But perhaps that is not the prevailing point of view? Maybe the plants are considered to be just another amenity like bricks, outside lighting and so on?
  • I spoke with a professor from a college in Illinois who told me that for their degrees, they decreased plant ID classes from two to one, and now they were going to make that single class strictly about prairie plants. Sigh. Prairie plants are nice natives and all, but in my mind not providing a balanced education is a disservice to those young people. She agreed that students need to know their plant material better. When I repeated back to her that comment, and asked why they are limiting plant ID classes, she stood up and walked away.
  • I spoke to an LA from a Big 10 university over a high-priced lunch on the show floor. She loved plants, so of course we had a lot in common and hit if off! She was one of three LAs on staff at the university. During our discussion she confided that the head designer never specifies species or cultivars – just genus – and when pressed for specifics he says he doesn’t care. Wow.

Thus you can see that I left Chi-town even more confused than ever. But, my Grandma taught me to never give up, and I won’t. I guess I just have to keep pecking away, trying to find the answer on how to connect with LAs. I hope it’s an answer that will eventually come. As Robert Schuller said, “Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure; it just means you haven’t succeeded yet.”

Maria Zampini is the president of UpShoot LLC. Her company’s focus is “living, sharing and supporting horticulture” through new plant introduction representation including LCN Selections. She can be reached at maria@upshoothort.com, and her website is www.upshoothort.com.