When I interviewed Joe Lamp’l for this month’s Perspective column, his message — that we need to make gardening as sexy and cool as the Food Network has made cooking — really resonated with me. I hadn’t thought of it quite that way before. Since I already like gardening, nobody has to make it cool for me. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to think he’s right.
What’s more, I think gardening is poised in a perfect position to become as cool as cooking. It has all the ingredients (pardon the pun): it has a natural connection with the organic, get-back-to-the-earth movement, it’s outdoors — good for exercise and health, it fits in with the locally grown food trend, and it blends well in a multitude of ways with the lifestyle trend of creating personal spaces for entertaining and relaxation that express individual creativity.
Lamp’l’s comparison with the food industry is right on the mark. In a few short years, the Food Network and its stable of celebrity chefs transformed cooking from a chore to a creative outlet. All of the supporting elements — cookbooks, table settings, cookware and appliances — have changed from necessary tools to items that are fun to purchase, which also means people will spend more on them.
Gardening, in my opinion, simply requires a spark to push it over the edge from a hobby to a lifestyle. Television, with its power to define trends and motivate people, is the obvious instrument. If gardening could have its own Rachel Ray who can not only show what’s possible but is easily attainable, we’d be on our way. Lamp’l and the hosts of the few true gardening shows out there, are mostly on PBS (I love PBS, but it doesn’t have the mass appeal of some of the other networks). Shows like Curb Appeal on HGTV are terrific, but not everyone can afford an entire front yard redo — and they can make landscaping look expensive and like a lot of work.
Horticulture needs someone who can make gardening seem simple and at the same time, inspire people to try it, even in a small way. Inspire is the key word here; if a chef on the Food Network can inspire me — a non-cook — to go to three different grocery stores in search of jicama, something I never heard of, non-gardeners can be inspired to plant a strawberry jar or window box for the first time. We need to show them what’s possible and make it seem fun and easy — because it can be and is, if you’re not doing a full-blown renovation.
What can we do as an industry? A number of things. First, lobby the television networks to include more gardening shows in their lineup. Give them the reasons in the second paragraph of this column. On a local level, offer yourself or one of your employees for a radio or television program in which you can answer gardening questions or show people easy ways to incorporate plants into their lives. Third, provide the ingredients — the New Varieties Guide in this issue is a testament to how you’re already doing that — and embrace the edibles trend. It’s growing, and it’s not going away soon. Plants that provide both beauty and nutrition are a perfect fit for the lifestyle of the next generation of gardeners.