Garden Writers Association – A Rewarding Investment

Garden Writers Association–A Rewarding Investment

(Note: This month’s One To Grow On is written by Dr. William H. Carlson’s son William R. Carlson.) 

Regular readers of this column know that my dad strongly believes that it is important to spend as much time marketing your products as you do growing them. (For more on that, check out the Marketing Your Product section of his book “One To Grow On,” available through MeisterPro at

I want to take this opportunity to share a resource that can help you market your products and build your customer base, the Garden Writers Association (GWA).

GWA is an organization of more than 1,800 professional communicators. Members include book authors, staff editors, syndicated columnists, freelance writers, photographers, landscape designers, television and radio personalities, consultants, catalog publishers, Extension agents and more.

My first experience with GWA was in 2000 when I was managing director of the Flower Promotion Organization (FPO). We were anxious to find media channels to publish stories on the daily use of cut flowers, so we sponsored a dinner and rented a booth at GWA’s annual symposium that year.

The symposium allowed us to interact with writers for publications ranging from small garden club newsletters to large daily papers and many of the people behind large national publications such as Better Homes and Gardens. We developed relationships with writers who needed material, especially in the winter months when things were slow. Those months just happened to be the best months for cut flower stories.

The result was that, over the next six years, nearly 30 million people read stories on the daily use of cut flowers written by members of GWA. It was a win-win situation for both of us. 

A Relationship Others Would Envy

In my previous professional incarnation–working for politicians and as an advocate for growers–I had often found relationships with the media difficult and adversarial. Reporters often contacted me with a story already in mind. They were just looking for some quote from me that would fit their agenda. I developed an appreciation for why politicians seem to say the same thing over and over again. In many cases, they’re just trying to stay out of trouble and lower their chances of being misquoted. 

That relationship changed when I entered into the promotional arena in the floral industry. Most garden communicators are avid gardeners themselves, and many are master gardeners or have horticultural degrees. The members of GWA are dedicated to communicating the joy of using the products we produce.

We share the goal of relaying accurate information to the interested public and “hooking” the uninitiated into the world of gardening. At a typical GWA symposium, people from many aspects of the industry share ideas with writers, photographers and other garden communicators. Writers and communicators in turn, share with us what the public is thinking. 

Member Profile

Who are the folks who communicate so persuasively about our industry for the general public? The Garden Writers Association Web site,, lists a membership profile.

The top five self-identified career categories are freelance writer (36.3 percent), lecturer (31.3 percent), freelance writer/photographer (25.6 percent), horticultural consultant (23.0 percent) and book author (22.3 percent). The numbers add to more than 100 percent because most members list themselves in multiple categories.

Many of the top columnists and communicators (photographers, bloggers, lecturers, TV and radio personalities, etc.) are active in GWA. A recent survey of the membership indicates that 30 percent make most of their income in garden communications. It is estimated that members of GWA reach millions of people each week. 

Not Your Father’s Garden Writers

I was honored to serve on the GWA’s strategic planning committee this year. Our charge was to keep GWA relevant to its membership five years from now in a media world that is quickly changing.

There is no doubt that the emergence of the Internet has changed the dynamics of the communications industry. You can simply track the shrinking advertising dollars spent in recent years on newsprint, radio and television. Certainly, fewer newspapers today have a dedicated garden columnist than just a few years ago. More people are getting their information about gardening from the Internet or other specialized sources.

Garden writers have recognized these trends and are adapting to the new communication dynamics. Many of the education programs at GWA’s 2007 symposium were devoted to Internet topics such as blogging and podcasting.

A 2006 survey of GWA members indicated that 49 percent had their own Web sites and that an additional 20 percent would like to get their own Web sites. Of those who have a Web site, about half post articles for consumer use. 

Your Local Ambassadors

Most GWA members write locally. In the same 2006 survey, 61 percent of the respondents indicated that their articles appeared in local or regional publications. Odds are your customers are reading content provided by a GWA member.

GWA members also interact with the public as speakers at community events. A 2007 membership survey indicated that 51 percent of members spoke in support of their communications work, 16 percent consider themselves professional speakers and 25 percent are business owners or employees who speak as part of their jobs. Typical venues were garden clubs (89 percent), botanic garden shows/educational events (51 percent), flower/home/garden shows (50 percent), master gardener meetings/events (48 percent), horticultural societies (35 percent) and green industry conferences (35 percent).

In addition to the national symposium, GWA has regional organizations. Most regions hold at least annual meetings and communicate with fellow GWA members via newsletters. These regional conferences provide an affordable avenue for growers and garden centers to reach local writers and communicators, who in turn communicate with the general public. 

Consumer Trends

In this increasingly competitive environment, members of GWA decided that it was important to get a pulse on what consumers were thinking so members could stay relevant to their readers. With that in mind, the Garden Writers Association Foundation (GWAF) started to conduct consumer surveys a few years ago. I have had the privilege of serving on the committee that oversees these surveys since 2005.

Our committee is charged with providing useful consumer information and trends for GWA members to write about and providing useful consumer insights to the industry.

We conduct four surveys during the course of the year, two in the spring, one in the summer and one in the fall. Recent questions have covered consumer attitudes about organic/sustainable products, garden retail outlets questions, and where consumers get their gardening information. Here are some of the key findings from surveys in 2007: 

Organic/Sustainable Label

Plant food, garden fruits and vegetables and potting soil top the list of garden-related organic or natural products that consumers are more inclined to buy (29 percent, 28 percent and 25 percent, respectively). Almost a quarter say they would buy organic or natural-labeled pest control products, while one in five prefer to buy organic or natural-labeled vegetable seeds, garden mulch and flowering plants, trees and shrubs. 

Retail Outlet Preferences

A shift in consumer attitude signaled a market gain for garden centers and local retailers in 2007. The Early Spring Gardening Trends Research Report released in March 2007 by the Garden Writers Association Foundation (GWAF) found that more consumers planned to purchase most of their spring garden plants at a garden center or local retailer (47 percent) compared to mass merchants (44 percent). In prior years, consumers said they favored mass merchants over garden centers.

An analysis of consumer preferences indicated that quality-driven consumers favor garden center shopping and price-driven buyers favor mass merchants. For the past three years, a consistent “quality over price” attitude is evident among households. Of course, with the changing state of the economy, we will continue to track this trend and see if it holds up in 2008.

Changing Consumer Information Sources

In 2007, one third of consumers used the Internet to research plant or product information. Only one in 10 consumers planned to use the Internet to purchase plant materials or seeds, purchase gardening supplies or for garden design inspiration. We are following up on this question in 2008 to see how the trend evolves. 

What Can You Do?

Join GWA and encourage your local writers and garden communicators to do so, too. For information on how to join, visit, click on About GWA and go to How To Join. Become active in your local region and interact with the garden communicators in your area.

In these tough economic times, it is even more imperative to separate yourself from the competition and become an informational resource to these wonderful people who communicate with our customers. 

Leave a Reply

More From Finance/Operations...
Colorado State University 2015 Container Field Trials

November 29, 2015

2015 Colorado State University (Fort Collins, Colo.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.

Read More
Coleus 'Colorblaze Velveteen' (2015 University of Tennessee Field Trials)

November 28, 2015

2015 University of Tennessee Gardens (Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for University of Tennessee Gardens in Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn.

Read More
Feature Image Cob 700 (NewLux)

November 28, 2015

16 LED Lighting Solutions For Your Greenhouse

Narrowing in on the right LED lighting product often comes down to considering your specific crop needs and growing requirements to see what works best for your application. Here are 15 LED products to take into account when choosing the right fit for your greenhouse.

Read More
Latest Stories

November 25, 2015

Everything You Need To Know About the New England GROWS…

Held In Boston December 2-4, New England GROWS includes a comprehensive conference program, a trade show, and with six special programs that teach new skills and provide opportunities to network with colleagues.

Read More

November 20, 2015

Lessons Learned From The California Drought

For those of us who live in the areas of the country that experienced harsh winters and significant rain over the past three seasons, water has become a nuisance in some cases, rather than a blessing. I can’t count the number of times I have wished to be able to send the snow or the rain to the West Coast, tied up with a big red bow. But think about how we’d feel if we didn’t have the snow and the rain, and we were experiencing the same dry conditions that the residents of California, Oregon and Washington have. With fresh water supplies dwindling in regions of the world, and the resistance of residents in states like Michigan to share water from the Great Lakes, it’s likely that the next civil or world war could be fought over our most precious resource. California’s epic drought should cause everyone to look […]

Read More
Jill Calabro

November 3, 2015

AmericanHort Names New Research And Science Programs Di…

Jill Calabro will bring strategic direction and oversight to research funding by the Horticultural Research Institute, the research affiliate of AmericanHort.

Read More
SBI’s ANY Device Application allows growers to quickly determine availability-featuer

November 2, 2015

SBI Software’s Solutions Help Simplify Logistics For G…

The company focuses on helping growers improve their existing processes with solutions for site fulfillment, replenishment, inventory management and more.

Read More
Griffin Expo15 seminar

October 28, 2015

Griffin’s Hits Record Attendance With 2015 Expos,…

Griffin Greenhouse Supplies set new attendance records with its 2015 Expos. Its 2016 Expos are set for August 31 and September 1, 2016, in West Springfield, Mass., and September 21-22, 2016, in Lancaster, Penn.

Read More

October 28, 2015

Possum Run Greenhouses Taken Over By New Owners

Justin and Lynn Marotta have placed Possum Run Greenhouse and Gifts into the hands of new owners. John and Caroline Bletner, a newly married couple, took over the Bellville, Ohio, property October 2, according to an October 24 article in the Mansfield News Journal. The Marotta family has run Possum Run Greenhouse and Gifts for 41 years. When the Marottas announced in April the greenhouse operation was for sale, they said they were looking for an energetic couple to take the business to the next level, which is what they found in the Bletners, the article reports. The Bletners have hinted they’ll be “opening to a larger market” and that the retail side will “look different.” They’ll hold a grand re-opening the week of April 22, 2016. Staff are staying on board and the Bletners are maintaining many of the suppliers. The 200-plus varieties of fuchsias Justin brought to the greenhouse […]

Read More

October 25, 2015

We Could Be Growing More Green Infrastructure Plants Th…

At her Cultivate’15 presentation in July, Shannon Currey of Hoffman Nursery challenged the horticulture industry to get involved while green infrastructure is still developing, saying that a good start is to offer more plants that fit the unique needs of this market.

Read More
Integration Key To Compliance For Specialized Crops

October 22, 2015

Integration Key To Regulation Compliance For Specializ…

Growers considering supplementing ornamental crops with cannabis will enter into a new world of governmental regulations where key business systems will be indispensable for successful crop management.

Read More
Kate Santos Operations Director Dummen Orange

October 21, 2015

Kate Santos Explains What The Sale Of Dümmen Orange To …

Over the weekend, Dümmen Orange announced that the Dümmen family has sold its majority stake in the Dutch flower breeding company Dümmen Orange to European private equity firm BC Partners. The deal is valued at more than $560 million, around 11 times its core earnings, according to a Reuters press release. The company, owned by the Dümmen family and investment firm H2 Equity partners, has locations all over the world, including farms in Central America and East Africa. This is BC Partners’ first foray into the flower business. We caught up with Kate Santos, operations director for Dümmen Orange, to find out how the company’s sale to BC Partners affects Dümmen Orange customers, if at all. Here’s what she told us: Why did the Dümmen family decide to sell their shares? Why to a private equity investment company? Similar to the reason that H2 sold its shares to BC Partners, all […]

Read More
The tradeshow at the Cannabis Business Summit & Expo — outside of the occasional 1960s vibe, perhaps — would feel familiar to most growers

October 19, 2015

Have Cannabis Growing Expertise, Seek ‘Golden Ticket’

Many horticultural growers might start cultivating cannabis tomorrow if they could secure a license, the equivalent of a “golden ticket.” But these are hard to come by, and the number and criteria vary greatly by state

Read More
Lurie Garden Millennium Park

October 16, 2015

Green Infrastructure An Opportunity To Redefine How We …

Green infrastructure is an emerging market that has important ramifications for the horticulture industry. That is, if growers, designers and other industry players take a proactive approach to grasp the opportunities that come their way.

Read More

October 5, 2015

Smart Business Sense At Tidal Creek Growers Yields Succ…

Tidal Creek Growers stays competitive by focusing on what really turns a profit. It helps the large operation successfully balance contract growing with growing for retail garden centers.

Read More

October 4, 2015

ePlantSource Adds 5 New Partner Companies

ePlantSource has announced an additional five companies that have been added to its partner distribution list. Not only do the additional partners offer more supplier options to ePlantSource customers, but the website now also provides a more diverse product list with the addition of bulbs, clematis and many new varieties. New partners added for the 2015 – 2016 season: A.D.R. Bulbs Lennon Farm Greenhouses Micandy Gardens Pacific Growers Roseville Farms “We make it a priority to respond to our customers, and we have had many requests for additional options and a more diverse product line, so we are continually evaluating suppliers that work well with our non-traditional approach to the sale of live goods,” says Gary Falkenstein, President and CEO of ePlantSource. “We feel that it is good for our company, our customers and the industry as a whole to keep looking forward and seeing how we can improve and expand how […]

Read More
Cannabis marijuana

September 8, 2015

Supplemental Lighting Benefits For Growing Cannabis In …

The cannabis industry has moved out of the basement and into the light, and with this shift in politics and regulation occurring worldwide there is a need for growers to change the way they think about lighting and energy consumption.

Read More

September 2, 2015

Delegation Is Key To A Successful Greenhouse Operation

In a packed room at Cultivate’15, speaker Bernie Erven presented key steps growers need to take to improve their delegation skills, the benefits of delegating and the dangers of not learning how to delegate. This is a skill, he says, that everyone needs to learn. “For all of you who are part of a family business, you are choosing not to do things the easy way,” Erven laughed, as he presented a list of ways to know whether or not you’re an effective delegator. The owner of Erven HR Services, LLC, Erven has been working with and observing family businesses for many years. In his presentation, he said, he didn’t share anything that he hasn’t seen first-hand. You might not be a good delegator if you: Tend to be a perfectionist Work more hours than anyone else Lack time to explain clearly and concisely Are often interrupted Enjoy what you used to […]

Read More
AmericanHort logo

August 20, 2015

David Savoia To Serve As AmericanHort’s Interim P…

Following Michael Geary’s announcement that he has resigned as president and CEO of AmericanHort, the association has announced that CFO and Senior Vice President for Operations David Savoia will serve as interim president and CEO while the board conducts a search for a new staff executive. Craig Regelbrugge, the senior vice president for advocacy and research, will support Savoia with the association’s external affairs. Geary announced August 12  that he will be leaving his position after September 30 to serve as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, an organization dedicated to creating business opportunities in the architecture, engineering and construction industries. “As some of you know, I grew up connected to the horticulture industry so this was not an easy decision for me,” Geary said in an eMail. “I have loved working with our organizations and our talented members, staff and partners. However, my choice to return full time to Washington, D.C. will allow me […]

Read More

August 18, 2015

Michael Geary Is Leaving AmericanHort

AmericanHort president and CEO Michael Geary announced last Wednesday that he will be leaving his position at the end of September to serve as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services. “I am writing to share with you that on October 8 I will begin a new professional chapter as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, an organization dedicated to creating business opportunities in the architecture, engineering and construction industries,” Geary said in an email. His last day with AmericanHort will be Sept. 30, 2015. “As some of you know, I grew up connected to the horticulture industry so this was not an easy decision for me,” he said. “I have loved working with our organizations and our talented members, staff and partners. However, my choice to return full time to Washington, D.C. will allow me to be closer to my family and aging parents and to re-engage with another industry […]

Read More

August 15, 2015

Ball Horticultural Co. Buys Conard-Pyle/Star Roses And …

Ball Horticultural Co. plans to add Conard-Pyle/Star Roses and Plants to its family of breeding and distribution companies, according to a press release dated August 14, which announced the company’s recent acquisition of the famous introducer of Knock Out Roses and other perennials and woody plants to the market. Ball plans to capitalize on the expertise of its Ball Ornamentals woody ornamentals division, as well as Conard-Pyle’s market-leading position as a top rose breeder to strengthen its product line. The sale is scheduled to close by the end of September 2015. Conard-Pyle’s in-house breeding division NovaFlora, along with its intellectual properties and the distribution, production and administration facilities of its wholesale division are also part of the acquisition. NovaFlora is the driving force behind the Star Roses and Plants brand. “Conard-Pyle has been the leader in roses in its market and has been actively diversifying its offering with other woody […]

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]