The Public Marketing Of Horticulture
The demise of home and garden shows begs the question: Do we matter to consumers?
March 18, 2011
I am fortunate to be invited to speak in many horticultural venues. I thought for sure it was my good looks, but no such luck. People actually want to hear about what we do.
I have been doing this for some time and am noticing a trend in the public marketing of horticulture that is a wee bit troubling. Perhaps it has snuck up on us, but without noticing we have become somewhat irrelevant.
Most of the time, I speak to you - the industry. We have been educating each other, sharing thoughts, problems, answers and the joys and despairs of what we do. Whether educators, growers, retailers or brokers, we are all trying to enhance our businesses through efficiency and marketing - but we constantly talk to each other.
Evolution Of Garden Shows
Ten years ago, I was often invited to speak at "home and garden" shows in Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta and other parts of the country. I would be on some decrepit stage, competing with the guy in the next booth over who was hawking Ginzu knives or the newest 18-speed whirligig blender - or something equally useful. But at least there was one plant person talking about gardening.
People listened and learned, but even then, there were few speakers about the "garden" part of the show. Attendees were also able to visit vendors of plants, bulbs and garden accessories along with the local radio garden guru broadcasting live from the show - all vying for time with window sashes, hot tubs and gutter guards.
In the last five years, though, home and garden shows have not needed us. Whenever I visit such shows (and I do so very seldom now), it is depressing. The knives have given way to kitchen sets, the sashes have become entire window treatments, the gutter guards are front and center and, oh my, I can't imagine a single house in Cleveland without a hot tub.
As for the "garden" part, a few hardy souls have some vegetable seeds and bulbs and maybe a maple or two, but the few vendors on the "garden" side of things are selling garden gloves, tools and nozzles, not to mention ceramic mushrooms and mailbox numbers. Is it only me or do those tools, gloves and nozzles not need a garden in which they can be used?
Growers Missing An Opportunity
While I am upset at the demise of home and garden shows, I am not surprised. This is nothing more than a reflection of the demise of the "G" in HGTV. As far as public persona of "gardening" in the home and gardening market is concerned, we have become extraneous.
Yet, it is not some "they" that is keeping us from interacting with the public. I have also noticed that even in the few true surviving garden shows, the public is faced with many more vendors of gizmos and gadgets, photography and paintings than with plants and gardens. The Southeast Flower Show in Atlanta was beautiful - smaller than ever because of the difficulty in obtaining sponsors - but really quite lovely. There was only one nursery selling plant material, but oh my did he do well. He sold a ton of plants from his small booth and earned even more public relations for his nursery. Why were there not more? Perhaps we have given up on the public. Perhaps we think they are irrelevant. I sure hope not!
I don't wish to sound pessimistic. Maybe shows are flourishing all over the country and I am not visiting the right ones. I am truly optimistic about our future. I think we are going to have the best season ever. People will buy our plants, our retailers will sell more deck furniture and spring will renew the passion to create. The lack of a public persona for gardening has always been a problem, but we seem to be muddling along just fine anyway.
As for me, I keep waiting for invitations to speak at the next home and garden show - those Ginzu knives were really neat.
Allan Armitage is a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga. He can be reached at email@example.com.