To Make The Public Fall In Love With Plants, We Must Take Initiative, Be Passionate And Repeat Ourselves

Kelly Norris, Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
Kelly Norris

My college professor, a regarded scholar in the fields of agricultural teaching and pedagogy, used to remind me that most humans only commit an idea to retrievable memory after encountering it on average 17 times. As a result of that lesson, I feel like a broken record, ever-repetitive in hopes that someone will hear something I say for the 17th time. I struggle with the paradox I face standing in front of so many trade conferences around the country — how can an industry brimming with talented, creative professionals wander along for almost a decade without ever hitting stride?
The problems we wrestle with are not unique to a particular economic condition. They are structural. Like a crack in a good foundation, they’ll give way to greater faults.

Sure, on a practical scale of numbers, if nothing changes about the percentage of people who garden in the next 30 years, there will still be more gardening consumers. Why? Gen Y numbers from 10 to 15 million more than Baby Boomers, depending on your definitions and demographic inkling. These are simple proportions, but no insurance policy. It’s a sullen state of acceptance, which we hardly have to embrace.

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. I believe in the power of influencers — we are not forever bound to what the public wants. In so many words, noble as grassroots groundswells are, people (particularly Gen Ys) are influenced by those they deem to be experts. It’s high time we start behaving like them.

We Must Be Dynamic

Collectively, this was one of the dominant messages from Greenhouse Grower’s 2013 GROW Summit in October: As an industry, we must work to change the mindsets of the audiences we serve, while working to change our own, as well. To get something we’ve never had, we have to do something we’ve never done.

Not only does our mindset have to change, but so do our products. The marketplace today is glutted with an enormous variety of plants in virtually all categories. But where is the wow factor? Where is the compelling reason for anyone to give a damn about the latest alyssum or petunia hitting the benches this spring?

That’s not to say there aren’t stunning developments that come along. (Digiplexis, anyone? It’s a bigeneric cross for God’s sake!) And while we have more new plants coming on the market than perhaps ever before, you have to ask — what kinds of plants are we out there promoting? Is our plantsmanship driven by passion or common denominators?

We Must Be Passionate

Recently, in a conversation with a donor to our institution, I was reminded of the selling power of passion. She said, “I love witnessing someone’s passion to care enough about something to convince me that I should, too. It’s addictive.”

When we’re passionate, we’re relevant, because we give people a reason to care. Our job is to sell our relevance. Without plants, gardens and the joys of making beautiful and edible spaces, our lives would be less rich. If a brand can’t sell the idea that its plants are compelling, a brand isn’t delivering. By definition, a brand is an identifiable factor that sets a product or experience apart from its competitors. How often today are brands identifiable by consistently amazing plants with lasting market appeal instead of plants good enough for fancy POP for a season or two? Leading food personalities 50 years ago didn’t accept post-war, packaged food as mainstay, but rather endeavored to pursue craftsman ingredients for a more genuine meal. The success of their beliefs and their passion is obvious half a century later as we readily embrace a relevant, new American culinary identity — local, culturally diverse and seasonally fresh.

We Must Be Stylish

Yves Saint Laurent put it best: “Fashion fades, but style is eternal.” Perhaps nobody really knows what will settle out from fashionable into stylish. Plants wax and wane in popularity, spinning around the botanical clock from peak popularity to shadowy obscurity. Regardless of what remains, gardeners want gardens to look like them — savvy expressions of their personalities and attitudes, no matter the scale. Ultimately, American horticulture needs to accept that if people can’t see themselves gardening or see their desires for quality of life reflected in our work, they won’t support it. Wallowing around, talking about how people have no time to garden will not inspire anyone to consider doing more gardening.

We Must Be Visible

We have to inspire an audience to want something they don’t yet know they need, to inspire them to see the cultural relevance in horticulture. In the world of public horticulture, where I work, we have a lot to do to improve the public’s literacy. We have to aspire to artful interpretations of horticulture that not only captivate people, but instill in them a renewable relationship with gardens.
When beautiful, functional landscapes permeate our living environments, the generational impact this has on perceptions of quality of life is incalculable. If you really believe in tomorrow, do more than just plant a tree. Plant a tree where someone will see it and grow with it. When people form relationships with their environments, they become eternally
invested in them.

We Must Be Compelling

The last thing new consumers want is something simple. They aren’t dumb. Gen Ys, after all, value doing — the process and its subsequent experience. In a life spent tethered to technology, not out of choice but out of cultural necessity, the value in doing something becomes hyper-compelling over merely the illusion of it. The challenge isn’t to make gardening simple, but rather to make the experience accessible and enticing.

We have to make a loftier, yet believable, message that conveys the lifestyle of gardening beyond canned cover shots of major shelter magazines. While we have reach as an industry, it isn’t pervasive.

We Must Be Revolutionary

What’s your next big idea? We have to go to work and focus on the people who matter and give them what they want: a truly great gardening experience, no matter where we work between innovation and consumption. We have to commit to the idea of cultivating the customers we want along with products that they want, even if we have to tell them 17 times.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “To Make The Public Fall In Love With Plants, We Must Take Initiative, Be Passionate And Repeat Ourselves

  1. This doesn’t seem terribly complex to this baby boomer: Our quality of life depends on our state of health. Our state of health is linked to the health of Mother Earth. Gardening helps restore a small portion of the damage human activity does to the Earth. Gardening is essential to our quality of life. Too bad this isn’t as obvious as it should be.

More From Grow Initiative...

March 4, 2015

Nexus Corporation’s Cheryl Longtin Encourages Women To Seek Volunteer Leadership Opportunities

When Cheryl Longtin came to the horticulture business in 1994, she applied her experience in the automotive industry to promote the adoption of more technology in greenhouse production. Longtin says horticulture, with its rich family tradition, has long promoted women in the industry compared to other industries, but women in horticulture must continue to seek out opportunities to provide volunteer leadership in organizations that shape the future of the business.

Read More

March 4, 2015

Second Annual GreenhouseConnect Will Bring Growers and Suppliers Together in San Diego This October

Following a successful inaugural event in Tampa last fall, Greenhouse Grower has announced the dates of its second annual GreenhouseConnect: October 26-29, 2015. Representatives of an expected two dozen leading greenhouse operations from across the U.S. will join senior-level suppliers at Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego for several days of one-on-one strategic meetings, a growers-only roundtable, informational sessions and a variety of networking events.

Read More
cultivate'15 logo

March 4, 2015

Cultivate’15: AmericanHort Announces What’s New

In an industry that has seen major changes occurring at a fast pace, many industry professionals leave Cultivate with their heads spinning and no clear idea of how to regroup and strategize. Cultivate’15 is “Changing the Game.” As this year’s focus, Changing the Game will call your attention to the ways in which our industry has changed and your opportunities to compete successfully.

Read More
Latest Stories

March 4, 2015

Nexus Corporation’s Cheryl Longtin Encourages Wom…

When Cheryl Longtin came to the horticulture business in 1994, she applied her experience in the automotive industry to promote the adoption of more technology in greenhouse production. Longtin says horticulture, with its rich family tradition, has long promoted women in the industry compared to other industries, but women in horticulture must continue to seek out opportunities to provide volunteer leadership in organizations that shape the future of the business.

Read More
Smart Herb Garden

March 2, 2015

Smartpot Uses Sensors And Cartridges To Ensure Success …

Click & Grow helps make it simple for consumers to grow their own herbs and spices at home, even if they have little experience with plants.

Read More

March 2, 2015

Student Flash Mob At TPIE Has Roots In Floriculture

The local FFA students who entertained TPIE attendees in 2014 and 2015 received industry donations of plants and a greenhouse structure to help expand their horticultural program.

Read More

February 12, 2015

GROW Perspective: What Is It You Do Again?

The industry is very good at talking about what we do and how we do it, but has almost completely lost touch with talking about why this work is important. As an industry, we need to promote our professions as vital to healthier living.

Read More
bee photo

February 11, 2015

26 Ways Growers Improve The Green Industry

In Greenhouse Grower’s annual State Of The Industry Survey, we asked how your operation is living the GROW Initiative’s five pillars: How are you driving consumer success, cultivating new customers, demanding quality, investing in the industry and sharpening business management? Through your candid responses, we learned about some of the ideas you’ve implemented and steps you’re taking for 2015. Here are just a few.

Read More
Noble Foundation

February 3, 2015

Lloyd Noble Scholars Program Application Period Now Ope…

The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation is offering college students an opportunity to work side-by-side with the Noble Foundation’s renowned agricultural consultants and researchers through the Lloyd Noble Scholars in Agriculture program, a summer internship that provides students the opportunity to enhance their in-class education with real-world application and experiences.

Read More

January 7, 2015

GROW Summit 2014 Homes In On The Issues That Keep You U…

During Greenhouse Grower’s third annual GROW Summit in December a number of ideas, questions and calls-to-action transpired. Here are a few of the highlights.

Read More
GROW Logo

January 6, 2015

Growers Resolve To Educate Public About Their Operation…

See what growers plan to work on for their 2015 business resolutions.

Read More

December 22, 2014

National Garden Bureau Launches Therapeutic Garden Prog…

National Garden Bureau has chosen the Growing Solutions Farm in Chicago as the first beneficiary of its annual fundraising effort "Growing For Futures."

Read More

December 19, 2014

Hydroponic Food Production Course Serves Up Life Lesson…

Students in the new HORT 331X Hydroponic Food Crop Production course at Iowa State University are producing more food than they can eat, so they began donating the vegetables they produce to a local food pantry and free meal program.

Read More
GROW Logo

December 8, 2014

“The Cheapest Generation” Will Be Tomorrow&…

Members of the Millennial generation aren’t buying cars and houses the way their parents did, and according to a recent article from The Atlantic titled “The Cheapest Generation,” it might be more than an effect of a bad economy. So what does this mean for horticulture? Industry members weigh in.

Read More
Katie Nickolaus

November 25, 2014

Proven Winners Names 2014 Scholarship Winners

Looking to promote industry leaders of the future, Proven Winners has established a $15,000 scholarship program that awards students in three distinct areas - breeding, marketing and growing.

Read More

November 24, 2014

GROW Perspective: We Need To Think Bigger

Garry Grueber of Cultivaris and Global Breadfruit says the horticulture industry must evolve to help solve the problems of world hunger and food insecurity.

Read More

November 13, 2014

NY SunWorks’ Greenhouse Project Aims To Build 100 Labs …

NY SunWork's Greenhouse Project aims to build 100 labs by 2020. With 15 greenhouse project labs built and 11 more in development, it’s on its way to reaching that goal.

Read More

November 4, 2014

Millennials Rank Gardening Among Top 5 Leisure Activiti…

United Kingdom consumers, aged 25 to 35, have rated gardening as a top five favorite leisure activity.

Read More
Ken Altman

October 27, 2014

GROW Perspective: Why I Give Back To The Industry

Ken Altman of Altman Plants knows a thing or two about the green industry, including the importance of contributing to the industry he loves.

Read More

October 21, 2014

Plants, Gardens Of The Future Will Be Radically Differe…

Over the next 20 to 30 years, Garry Grueber of Cultivaris and Global Breadfruit says the horticulture industry will need to address such issues as population growth, feeding a hungry world, less availability of water and land resources, rampant climate change and increased focus on the environment and sustainability.

Read More

October 13, 2014

Costa Farms Celebrates Indoor Plant Week With A College…

Cost Farms kicks off 2014 Indoor Plant Week by sharing plants with college students amid song and dance.

Read More