Digging In Gathering-Winter Workshop

The Digging In Winter Workshop held in Philadelphia was a sold-out success!  Thanks to all who participated and to our generous sponsors, The Magnolia CompanyStar Valley Flowers and Enliven Planters who made the day possible.  Garden author and columnist Marianne Willburn  of The Small Town Gardener joined us that day and shares her thoughts in the article below about our exciting industry as well as new things to come for Digging In.

It’s the scent that hits me first.  Spruce. Juniper. Cypress and arborvitae.  Buckets filled with fresh, resinous evergreens – and near them, still more buckets containing magnolia, boxwood and armfuls of winterberry in red, yellow and orange.


I’m standing in the warehouse of the Wissahickon Brewing Company in Philadelphia; and just for today, it’s been transformed into a design studio for the Digging In Gathering.  In a half an hour, professional container designers from all over the nation will converge at this sold-out event – excited to sharpen their skills before the insanity of the holiday container season begins and December becomes a blur.

Andrea Gasper, organizer and founder of Digging In, is sorting out final preparations with Paul Kawozka and Dan Nichols of Enliven Planters, who have generously helped with this event, and who will be speaking to the attendees about everything from sourcing materials to whether to use fresh berries in a natural composition.

Finding Their Tribe

High up on everyone’s wish-list however is a feeling of camaraderie.  Many container businesses are small operations, and the work can consist of much time spent on one’s own.  Today’s gathering allows business owners from the coast of California to the suburbs of New Jersey to meet in person, exchange ideas, laugh about common concerns and be given a fresh, new perspective for the year ahead.

And what fabulous way to gain that perspective! During a day filled with lectures, demonstrations, great food and hands-on workshops fueled by adult beverages, I was able to talk with several designers about their businesses and their clients.  With each conversation I became increasingly aware that there is no ‘one way’ to run a successful container business – and that’s a great thing.  Coming to a conference like Digging In helps attendees to streamline many processes that they all have in common, but still reinforces the beautiful individuality that characterizes each business.

“Many of my clients are Jewish,” Julie Friedman tells me.  She owns Exteriors Landscape Design, based in Rockville, Maryland. “They’re looking for something other than the typical red and green holiday theme typical of most winter planters.”

Though evergreens are always a base, Friedman also works with the warmer earth tones of materials such as magnolia and willow, and the greys and blues of eucalyptus to last throughout a cold winter. She, like many other designers at the gathering, relies primarily on word-of-mouth between happy clients to grow her business, and recognizes that in a new age of subscription services to everything from clothing to groceries, busy middle-income professionals see her business as a life-saver.

Container garden services bridge the gap between what clients want to see and what they can actually pull off themselves – granting them that ‘Ahhh’ effect each time they walk through their front door. In a crazy-busy world, many see the service as a form of self-care.

Finding a subscription container service

As the idea of subscription container gardening becomes more popular, large and small companies are still figuring out how to move beyond word-of-mouth and reach potential clients with a service much of the public never knew existed.

Paul Kawozka  Danielle Stewart  Dana Voyles

Nearing the end of the conference, I asked attendees how that public can find them – Google ‘subscription container service’ and you’re just as likely to end up with computer application services as a professional container designer. The general consensus seemed to favor asking garden centers and landscape designers if they offered the service or could recommend someone, although asking neighbors with great container designs on their doorstep can lead you to the great designer behind them.

Andrea Gasper wants to offer something better. Later over the phone, she talked to me about new plans for the Digging In website.

“It can be tough to find great professional designers who specialize in containers, so we’re putting together a state-by-state database of designers to help the public see who’s working in their area.” She told me.

Gasper is working out the details now, but will be reaching out to professional container gardeners throughout the United States to make this a true resource for the general public.  She hopes to have the service live before the next autumn season.

Value that goes beyond money

After a day watching professional designers in their element, and witnessing how quickly they can create spectacular, personalized design, I can see the incredible value in adding this service to everyday life.

Jill Dagget- Fist Impressions

Shelly Schoonover- Patio Petals

Gina Khalifa-Urned Elegance

And, despite the showy, luxurious nature of these arrangements and their front-and-center position, many container designers would tell you that purchasing a subscription is not just about impressing other people.

“Instead, people should see it as a way of creatively enhancing their lives – about giving themselves a gift every time they walk through their front door.” says Gasper.

She and other container designers know that what we experience each time we approach our entrances can change our entire day – but they also know that with increasingly busy lives, too many of us are staring at a half-dead Alberta spruce.

They want to change that – rescuing us with a red cape and a pair of pruners.

“I tell my clients, it’s a piece of jewelry.” Says Mardi Letson, container and garden designer in Asheville, North Carolina. “It’s a beautiful welcome home.”


Marianne Willburn is a garden writer and author of Big Dreams, Small Garden. You can find more at smalltowngardener.com  She is also a talented designer as seen here at the workshop!