Thorny issues arise in Armstrong Garden Centers rose garden contest

Don’t call me a sore loser. I was soundly thrashed, but not fairly in the Armstrong Garden Centers $500 rose garden contest. Was the test rigged or just poorly run? Here are the facts: There were rules and the rules were broken by the winner.

The winner, Sandi Norton, received 270 likes. In second place was Leni Vinzon Boe. She had about 253. I had only a scant bit over 100 and finished third. Boe wrote on the Armstrong Garden Center FB page:

Leni Vinzon Boe “Congratulations, Sandi, for winning the contest! I’m sure the roses will grow well under your care. I wish you the best and may God continually comfort you and give you peace.”

However, Boe also contacted an anonymous source and stated ” I noticed that it seemed longer than mine. I just counted and it has more than 150 words.” Boe doesn’t want to be a whistleblower (Who does?) and she doesn’t really want a rose garden. She already has 30 roses. She hoped to win and sell the roses for some cause. I guess that’s fair, but wasn’t the intent to set up a gorgeous garden somewhere amongst the Armstrong Garden Center client base, something to come back to a year later and photograph?


What rules did Norton break? Boe was correct. Norton’s essay was over the limit. My count done by MS Word gives the total of 193. Below is Norton’s essay; you can copy and count for yourself.

When I met my husband Richard in 1994  he was immediately aware of my passion for gardening. In the spring of 1995, he bought some roses for my garden. The roses bloomed beautifully for many years and even my youngest son when he started dating told me that he didn’t need a florist because the roses in the yard were so beautiful. Richard would tell me that he didn’t need to buy me flowers because he already gave me the rose garden, which I loved just like him. Over the years, the roses became diseased and never became healthy so they were removed from the garden. Richard passed away suddenly from a heart attack in August 2012. I would love to have a rose garden again to plant for him that will remind me of him every time they bloom and so that when he looks down from heaven he’ll see that there are beautiful roses for my Valentine. I have recently gotten involved with the Master Gardeners for Riverside County and am learning so much about everything in the garden, I think the roses would have a much better chance of survival. 

The contestants were also not allowed to “like” or vote for themselves. If you understand how Facebook works, then you’ll understand that by not being able to “like” your own essay, you don’t have the same instant link set up. Only one other person voted for their own essay. This person was not in the top ten.


The third violation of the rules was also easily discovered. Two businesses voted for Norton: Heatherbinns Hopkins Juice Plus and Skipper Films.  Skipper Films is a media/news/publishing FB page for Billy “Skipper” Hughes.  Heatherbinns Hopkins Facebook page is private, more like a personal page in that respect compared to Skipper Films.



Billy Skipper Hughes (sales coordinator at PSAV Presentation Services) also voted for Sandi Norton.


The contest set up wasn’t the best. Posted complaints included problems with people “liking” on one’s own Facebook page instead of the contest page.

Jessica McGill Berberich asked “Where do they go to like our page?” Berberich later wrote, “Some people are liking my post instead of clicking through. This is confusing some of my friends and family.” This was a problem that I also encountered.

The essays were set up in a slideshow album so if you clicked more than once, you might, like Kathi Farrow vote for the next essay instead of the one you wanted. Kathi Farrow ended up”voting” for Jennifer Wass instead of Kevin Farrow, the preceding essay. She wrote: “I am Andrews mom, and of course I love this story. Racheal and Andrew and good together and today they share a darling baby 3 mo. old daughter. Love to the three of them. Mom”

My friends had the same problem of knowing where to “like” and I learned the limitations of Facebook and general behavior of people. Mass email “conversations” are less effective on Facebook then person contacts. However, Facebook will limit the number of people you contact because if it were that important you would have like it already, right? Either that or Facebook hasn’t really come to terms with how email is used in the real world outside of the FB social network.

On the positive side, besides learning more about Facebook and my FB friends and frenemies, I found out one of my friends also loved roses and had suggestions for my dream movie-related rose garden. She also has a Barbra Streisand, a rose that is purple and fragrant. I’m acquiring one (having given my original one away when I moved into a Pasadena loft from Sun Valley) this year. We discussed the Julie Newmar rose and I would pair it with the newer rose called Dark Knight.

My husband and I looked at various roses including Gracie Allen and George Burns,  Dolly Parton, National Velvet, Elizabeth Taylor, Lassie, Cleopatra, Cary Grant, Eva Gabor, Lucille Ball (but no Desi Arnaz),  Ronald Reagan (and possibly Nancy Reagan), Bing Crosby, Marilyn Monroe, Ginger Rogers, Bob Hope, Henry Fonda, Grace Kelly, Monaco, Sophia Loren, Ingrid Bergman and Audrey Hepburn. Ian, my husband, feels there should be a Fred Astaire rose. Maybe we’ll try a Kickstarter campaign for that.

Back to the Armstrong Garden Center love story contest for a $500 rose garden, let’s sum up the situation. The number of words was a pretty obvious disqualification. It makes you wonder if the people running the contest just thought everyone would read the rules and follow them. Oddly enough, the rose contest rules were quickly removed from the Armstrong Garden Center website, but the contest rules for the last year’s Garden Makeover are still posted on the website.

Sandi Norton’s essay was one of the first few posted and thus listed more prominently on the timeline for Armstrong Garden Centers. The others were listed the same day but in larger numbers. That would also have been an advantage. The no voting for oneself rule was also pretty clear and it was easy to find out if anyone had done so. I disagree with this rule because even presidential candidates can vote for themselves.  Still only one other person besides Sandi Norton broke that rule. The stuffing the votes problem with one person voting more than once…that could lead to problems if Armstrong Garden Centers decides to hold more contests. Armstrong does know about these violations, but hasn’t made any public statement.

This is not exactly the cloak-and-dagger story of “The Orchid Thief,” but who would have thought a little $500 rose garden competition would bring up such thorny issues and give me an opportunity to use my investigative journalism skills. Investigative journalism was the only class I totally bombed in during my master’s program at USC so keep that in mind.  Pasadena ignited  my passion for roses and it was in Pasadena I became a journalist of sorts so in many ways, this is a tale that belongs to Pasadena.

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