How The Greenhouse Industry Can Propagate Gardeners The Same Way It Propagates Plants

Jared Barnes, North Carolina State University
Jared Barnes, North Carolina State University

In 1765, John and William Bartram were exploring the Southeast, when they discovered a never-before-seen white-flowering plant. On a later expedition, William collected seed and shared Franklinia alatamaha (Franklin Tree) with the world. It’s a good thing he did. Within approximately 40 years, most report that Franklinia was never seen in the wild again. Many theories exist on why the species went extinct in the wild, but the important thing is that its survival is safe due to the actions of a few.

Fast forward 250 years and we are faced with the loss of another organism from its natural environment — the gardener. We don’t know exactly why numbers are dwindling (changing generations, competition from other hobbies, and green blindness may play a part), but we know gardeners have been disappearing. And, we know that we need to do something.

But, what can we horticulturists do? We are experts at propagating plants but may lack a strong background in youth education, marketing, or human behavior. One day I asked myself, “What if propagating gardeners was like propagating plants?” Perhaps the horticulture concepts we understand could simplify this complex problem.

Germinate Passion

For seeds to germinate, they must imbibe water. Young gardeners, too, must absorb something before sparking their passion, and that something is wonder. Wonder is the seed of passion. I’m sure you remember the horticultural wonders you experienced in your youth, like the mucilage forming within minutes after sowing basil seed or watching a moonflower open during a twilight game of hide-and-seek. Horticulture is full of wonder, but it may not always be easily visible.

I had this revelation after reading “Pearls Before Breakfast,” a 2007 piece in The Washington Post by Gene Weingarten that asked a simple question: How much money would one of the best musicians of our time (Joshua Bell, who can earn $1,000 per minute playing) make if he played classical pieces on one of the most expensive violins in the world during 43 minutes of Washington, D.C., rush hour? After 1,097 people passed him, 27 people gave $32.17. Only one person actually recognized him, and that’s where he got $20 of his meager earnings.

Wonder isn’t always intrinsic. Sometimes it takes those of us who are wonder-full to share it with beginners.

Amateur Cuttings Take Root

Amateur gardeners are just like cuttings; both need the right conditions to help them take root. Something as simple as the plant names that roll off our tongues can overwhelm those who don’t yet have a good foundation with horticulture.

That’s where stories can help. I know many quarrel over trademarks and branding, but what we need to fight for are plant stories. Knowing how a plant came to the market, where it originated, and the breeder or finder’s story helps amateur (and experienced) gardeners feel more connected to their plants. Stories are what connect and unite us as a culture. Without stories, plants are just hollow names.

One of the best stories behind plant names and namers is that Linnaeus danced. Yeah, the boring, old guy that came up with that awful binomial nomenclature system; he was the Justin Timberlake (or Michael Jackson) of his time. In “The Plant Hunters” by Tyler Whittle, you’ll read the story where hundreds of students scoured the countryside with Linnaeus looking for new species in the 1700s. After class, they would return to town, celebrating their new finds, and often the night would end with Linnaeus out-dancing his students to a Polish jig! Think of how many more people would love (okay, appreciate) Linnaeus and the binomial system if they knew that he could cut a rug.

A More Perfect Union

Grafting is a technique used where two different plant parts (scion and rootstock) are brought in close proximity to form a beneficial union. We can also graft hobbies and interests with horticulture to form beneficial unions.

An Edible Evening At Stephen F Austin
Held in the Sprout garden at Stephen F. Austin State University, the event “An Edible Evening” drew more than 100 visitors for a night of edible gardening, cooking, and education, and most important of all — fun.

At Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, TX, where I am a professor, my students in Fruit and Vegetable Production and I grafted concepts together during an event titled “An Edible Evening.” It took place in the Sprout garden on campus, a garden that I steward, which is designed with food in mind.

Onto gardening, a venerable rootstock, we grafted food and cooking. We had a local chef come and provide cooking demonstrations with some of the produce from the garden. We also grafted education. Students divided into groups and focused on teaching different steps in the fall edible gardening process: seed starting, transplanting, cultivating, and harvesting. And, we grafted fun. We had pumpkin bowling and face painting for families that came to the event.

In all, about 100 people from the community came. The following week when my class had a reflective brainstorming session, a comment that surprised me was attendees told my students they didn’t even know fall edible gardening was possible!

This concept of grafting, of course, was for an event. However, in many cases what you are trying to graft is another branch in a person’s already full life. Finding an interest someone has that coincides with gardening is important so the graft will take. People who have never gardened before are interested in home brewing, technology, cooking, making their own dyes, crafts, and so much more. Our challenge is to find the right scion that will connect to these rootstocks of life.

Some may scoff at comparing people to plants, but I believe that using this propagation language can help horticulturists visualize an answer to the question of how to do better at getting people to engage with plants. It’s going to take all of us in the end. Remember, those Franklinia seeds didn’t just jump into William Bartram’s pocket. He had to reach out for them.

Topics: , , ,

Leave a Reply

More From Greenhouse Grower's GROW...
Laura Drotleff

April 23, 2018

Opinion: Why the Floriculture Industry Must Be Willing to “Humble Brag” About Itself

There is potential for our industry to provide talking points for growers to promote sustainable production efforts. It’s not exactly bragging — it’s simply and humbly speaking the truth.

Read More

April 23, 2018

Griffin Hosting Cannabis Growers Workshop in May

The half-day program in Colorado will focus on several aspects of crop fertility and nutrition delivery strategies.

Read More

April 20, 2018

Your Weekly Chance to Market the Positive Vibes That Flowers Bring

Each week between now and the end of the year, American Floral Endowment will post a new video promoting flowers.

Read More
Latest Stories
Laura Drotleff

April 23, 2018

Opinion: Why the Floriculture Industry Must Be Willing …

There is potential for our industry to provide talking points for growers to promote sustainable production efforts. It’s not exactly bragging — it’s simply and humbly speaking the truth.

Read More

March 26, 2018

How Dickman Farms Used a New Event to Expand Its Custom…

Last fall, Dickman Farms hosted “Carve & Brew,” a new event in which young adults were able to carve a pumpkin, taste craft brews from two local microbreweries, and relax with friends and neighbors.

Read More

March 22, 2018

Why Your Efforts to Sell Plants Fall Short and What You…

It’s time to look at outside industries for ideas and inspiration on what we can do to operate more efficiently in today’s economy.

Read More

March 20, 2018

Seed Your Future Dinner Celebrates Focus on New, Young …

During a Seed Your Future Leadership Meeting Fundraiser dinner at Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania's Ag Secretary thanked the Seed Your Future initiative for its efforts to create awareness of horticulture and careers in horticulture.

Read More

March 1, 2018

7 Ways You Can Control Your Business Destiny With Lawma…

As business owners and industry leaders, your job description should include being active and engaged in our political system.

Read More
Steve Garvey, Dallas Johnson Greenhouses

February 25, 2018

How Two Leading Greenhouse Growers Are Committed to Qua…

Greenhouse Grower recently asked its two most recent Head Grower Excellence in Quality award winners about the steps they take to improve plant quality. Here’s what they had to say.

Read More

February 21, 2018

Four Ways to Get Your Staff to Care About Quality

It can be a challenge to convince your employees to care as much as you do about your business and the quality of products you are providing. Here are four suggestions for making this happen.

Read More

January 22, 2018

Four Ways to Attract Employees With a New Approach to C…

AgBiome is a participative, self-managed organization where no one has a boss. Instead, employees self-assemble as teams around organizational issues that need to be tackled, and internal experts help drive important decisions.

Read More

December 27, 2017

How CareerUp Helps Young Professionals Level-Up

The mission of CareerUp is to equip young professionals with the skills to maximize their career potential.

Read More

December 26, 2017

Richard T. Meister Scholarship Winner Encourages Indust…

This year’s scholarship winner says young people need experiences that challenge them and allow for creativity and innovation.

Read More

December 21, 2017

Greenhouse Grower’s GROW Initiative: How You Made…

To create a competitive advantage, you must consistently experiment with and learn from new ideas. Greenhouse Grower’s GROW initiative provides you with cutting-edge ideas and actionable advice that results in greater profits in everyone’s pocket.

Read More

December 15, 2017

Your AFE Donations Will Be Matched Between Now and the …

Between now and December 1, any donations made to the American Floral Endowment will be matched up to $20,000.

Read More

December 8, 2017

HortScholars Program Now Accepting Applications for 201…

Do you know any college students currently in a horticulture-related program? This unique program gives them a chance to connect with industry leaders and make new connections at Cultivate.

Read More

December 5, 2017

GROW Summit 2017 Tackles Marketing and Business Managem…

This year’s think-tank style event brought together leaders from across the green industry to deliberate on topics such as disruptive marketing, cost accounting, and Millennials, to name a few.

Read More

November 27, 2017

Why It’s Important to Get to Know Consumers at th…

One way to learn about consumer behavior is to get boots on the ground and engage with them.

Read More

November 9, 2017

Dümmen Orange Throws Support Behind Seed Your Future In…

Dümmen Orange has announced it will pledge $450,000 over the next three years to Seed Your Future, the non-profit organization whose mission is to promote horticulture in the U.S. and inspire people to pursue careers working with plants.

Read More

November 1, 2017

Thanks to the 2018 GROW Sponsors

There are a number of industry organizations that help make Greenhouse Grower’s GROW Initiative a success.

Read More
Marshall Dirks, Proven Winners

October 28, 2017

5 Rules for Creating a Lifetime of Outdoor Garden Memor…

Many customers are time starved. Their most important asset is time, not money, so be realistic about the investment of both when they are buying plants.

Read More