Day 1: Austria – a tour around Vienna

Martina Schullian, IGCA President, along with a few ICCA members, recently toured Vienna and we are excited to share their experiences with you in the form of a virtual Inspiration tour!

Click here to view the full tour of Vienna that includes visits to:
– Lederleitner
– Scheer
– Starkl Pfaffstatten
– Kramer&Kramer


The International Garden Centre Congress is going virtual

“You don’t miss the water until the well runs dry!” This adage has sprung to the minds of many in the garden centre “world” ever since it became known that the pandemic has forced the cancellation of the International Garden Centre Congress this year – sixty years after the event was staged for the first time.

Is this really such a tragedy?

Time and again, whispered comments were to be heard from a number of regular participants who felt that the Congress had actually become tiresome: more or less the same programme of visits to garden centres every year, involving bus journeys lasting for hours. And the habitual, tedious routine at the congress: a full week’s “all-inclusive” programme with round-the-clock entertainment and activities, mingling with a group that would usually comprise about 200 colleagues from the sector.

Back in its heyday 25 years ago, the Congress truly was a pilgrimage to countries where garden centres and their concepts far outstripped the rest of the world. A modest number of nations took turns to stage stunning displays of their pre-eminence, serving as shining examples to the rest of the world. The Congress was an impressive catalyst for the sector’s evolution – and several of the nations whose “backward” enterprises were once laughing stocks have come to eclipse their former role models.

So has the Congress become obsolete?

Why on earth is there still a need for a week-long garden centre congress? Previous generations of Congress participants used to glean knowledge from beer-swilling deliberations lasting into the wee small hours, but nowadays a couple of adroit search queries from one’s own office workstation will yield the same findings – with none of the concomitant symptoms of alcohol consumption. To tap new sources of inspiration, easily affordable city breaks are always available at the drop of a hat. And personal networks can be expanded internationally via LinkedIn without having to fight tooth and nail to overcome language barriers.

However, we only become truly aware of what lies at the very heart of this perennial torture (or tourture, if you like) when it is taken from us: digital technology can never compensate for shared experience and informal face-to-face conversation as the basis for motivation and innovation.

This is why Martina Schullian of Bolzano in Italy, the current President of the International Garden Centre Association (IGCA), is a strong advocate for retaining this worthwhile annual event – albeit with some essential adaptations to contemporary conditions. And given that “contemporary” and “adaptation” are words that tend not to be found in the lexicon of the association world, she is making use of the pandemic-induced break in the Congress cycle to take the innovative step of launching the first ever “virtual inspiration tour”.

So where should we go to learn?

The nation chosen to host the first “virtual inspiration tour” is Austria – a country that does not have a national garden centre association. This means that Austria lacks the resources to stage a lavish Garden Centre Congress. The virtual congress format provides the perfect alternative for a country that is innovative in its own unique way to showcase itself to the garden centre world. And as it turns out, Austria has plenty to offer:

the fusion of service and trade is evidenced by trendsetting horticultural companies in showrooms that are in no way inferior to smaller garden centres. Modern nurseries also focus deliberately on interior design: they aim to be the first port of call for aficionados of stylish living – whether indoors or out in the open. Very special premises are being acquired for this expansion, ranging from feudal castles to gorgeous industrial complexes – no location is too “off-beat” to become a garden centre.

The “virtual inspiration tour” upon which we are about to embark presents this avant-garde movement spearheaded by our Austrian colleagues. Online participants in this tour will gain an authentic impression of Austria’s garden centre world, and perhaps they will be motivated to travel to Vienna themselves and visit one or other of these enterprises. Members of the international garden centre community can be sure of a warm welcome at all times.

The “virtual” version is not a long-term substitute for the “normal” Congress. But the online format provides inspiration and is intended as a “travel guide” for anyone who prefers – for the time being – to seek out ideas individually rather than in a large group.

The IGCA President also has an ulterior motive, of course: “The good collaboration on creating the documentation for the “virtual” tour will perhaps spur our Austrian colleagues on to establish their own national association and to become an official IGCA member some day,” Martina Schullian notes. So Austria could quite soon be organising an official Congress: “The array of garden centres around Vienna is not only very diverse, but also extremely contemporary and stylish. They provide a fantastic source of inspiration for our IGCA community.”

Naturally, Martina Schullian also hopes that the “virtual” Congress and any trips that individuals may undertake will help to maintain a sense of anticipation for the next Congress where we shall be together again. Because – to quote another apposite adage – “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

Erwin Meier-Honegger