A container garden contest and silent auction is a unique and fun fundraiser that can produce big results; I coordinated this event in my workplace at a government agency and it was an incredible hit.
A lot of people — both men and women — enjoy gardening.
And even more people don’t have green thumbs but love to buy attractive planters for their porch and yard.
That’s what makes this event a winner.
What is a container garden contest and silent auction
To raise money and draw both gardeners and buyers to participate, hold a container gardening contest and display the entries for up to a week in a prominent spot where everyone can admire them.
Print silent auction forms and place them next to each of the entries and let the bidding begin!
The gardeners who donate container gardens and get the highest bids win the contest and get a prize.
And people who place the highest bids on entries get to take home some beautiful flowers.
How to promote the event
1 — First, pick a catchy name.
My event was the Thriller, Filler, Spiller Container Gardening Contest.
We picked that name because the most beautiful container gardens incorporate tall, dramatic plants (thrillers), shorter plants surrounding the thrillers (fillers) to fill the arrangement out and plants that cascade over the side of the container (spillers) — and the concept is known as thrillers, fillers and spillers.
Gardens can be made with bright, contrasting colors (lime green and dark purple, for example), monochromatic shades of a single color, or a variety of colors. The choice of color and type of plants to include is up to the garden creators.
2 –Hold the event during a growing season (spring to early summer is good in North America).
3 — Announce the event via colorful flyers, posters and other media, including a graphic with a container garden and arrows pointing out examples of thrillers, fillers and spillers, so everyone understands the concept. Also include the URL of a website that shows a wide variety of container gardens, to give people ideas for entries; just Google “container gardens” or “thriller, filler, spiller.”
4 — Contact people you know are interested in gardening and ask them to donate one or more plants. They’re likely to do it, and the worst that can happen is they say no!
5 — Make a few creative container gardens yourself to insure there are an adequate number of entries. (I scoured Pinterest for ideas and bought flowers at the local nursery to fill a toy plastic dump truck, a wooden “treasure chest” and a stuffed football purchased from the local Goodwill; they were different from entries in standard pots and turned out to be popular.)
6– Set an entry deadline and announce the contest well in advance of that date so gardeners have time to gather and/or grow plants to the size required.
7– Take professional-looking photos of each entry, assigning a number to each, and publicize them for maximum exposure. Place containers on colorful placemats or dish towels to make the flower colors pop.8 — Do not indicate who donated each entry, so auction bids are based on the container gardens themselves, not the popularity of the person who created it. Alert individual donors that they’re responsible for watering and caring for their donations during the display period (don’t want any plants to die!)
9– Display the entries in a high-traffic common area and make attractive signs showing the assigned number for each entry; place a silent auction bid sheet and a pen next to each entry. Select and mark a reasonable minimum bid for each entry.
10– Stand back as people come out to “ooh” and “ahh” over the beautiful entries and notate their bid amount and contact information on the respective bid sheets. They’ll discuss the various plants and will also speculate on who contributed the arrangements — and that’s part of the fun. (Expect some last-minute action, too, as people hold out to outbid the high bidders by $1 or more in the final few minutes; this can be pretty exciting!)
11– On the designated day to award prizes, hold a short event to announce the container gardens that got the highest bids, and present a green thumb (or thumbs up) trophy to the first place prize winner, and smaller prizes to second and third place winners. Take photos of the donors with their winning container gardens and display them and/or publish them in the employee newsletter.
12 — Contact the high bidder for each container garden, collect their money and watch as they proudly walk away with their purchase!
Plant display tips
1 — Pick an indoor display location with indirect sunlight or under a skylight (not a dark room) and lots of foot traffic.
2 — Make one or more large signs pointing to the flower display to catch the eye of passers-by.
3 — Make card stock paper tent signs with gardening sayings; position them on the table among the container gardens to make the shoppers smile. Some ideas include: (1) Sometimes I get so excited I wet my plants (2) Feel free to talk to these plants; they understand (3) A few plants short of a full flat (4) I don’t remember planting this…
4 –Plan ahead to display hanging plants on rods, hooks or other devices for optimal presentation.
5 — Bring colorful placemats and dish towels and arrange containers on them to make the flowers pop! The placemats will also sop up any unexpected leaks as donors water plants during the display period.
7 — During the display period, expect some dead leaves, water and dirt on the display table. To make cleanup easier, cover the table in advance with plastic sheeting or vinyl outdoor tablecloths, in addition to placemats or dish clothes under each container. Survey and clean the area daily.
8 –Ants or other bugs may also appear. Have some ant spray or non-chemical repellent on hand to spray the inside edges of the tables and on table legs (places potential customers won’t touch).
This fundraiser generated $548 the first time we did it — and we had 17 entries. (OK, I made three of them to be sure we had more than one entry!)
It was heart-warming to see how much everyone seemed to enjoy creating the container gardens, looking at the plant arrangements, talking about gardening and bidding on the donations (as well as trying to outbid others!)
We plan to do it again in the future and we’re sure it’ll get bigger and better each year!
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