Why America Needs Plant Evangelists

Carol Miller resized for online
Carol Miller

Consumers under 50 years old aren’t all that different from those over 50. Humanity doesn’t change all that drastically from generation to generation. But when it comes to gardening, we’ve found that this group really is dramatically different from their elders.

For the past three years, I’ve been working with Dr. Bridget Behe of Michigan State University through our own 10% Project to better understand why gardening and plants have decreased in popularity, and to figure out if we as an industry can reverse that trend.

We’ve conducted research in Georgia, Ohio, and most recently, in Ontario, Canada. The Canadian study is still on-going, so I’m not free to share specifics from that study. However, the results so far are in line with what we’ve learned from other parts of North America.

Here are two points I think everyone in the industry should be aware of.

People Aren’t Spending As Much Time In Their Yards As They Used To

If you only go into your yard to mow the grass, you’ll associate the term “gardening” with chores. Younger consumers focus more on all the work involved and see little of the pleasure that beautiful gardens can provide.

The great outdoors is appealing, but today’s consumers experience it away from home. It’s in a ball field for the kids’ game, on hiking trails, or at a nearby waterfront. Dinner party guests are more likely to gather around a kitchen island, not the grill or patio. Kids play indoors or attend structured programs like sports or dance classes. No yards involved.

At first glance, this seems like too big a trend for our industry to counter. Luckily, our research shows that parents worry about how disconnected their children are from nature. They want them to understand where food comes from, and they want them to have family memories built around the seasons.

There’s a tremendous opportunity to appeal to parents. Marketing messages can tap into their desire to keep their children healthy and help them build self-sufficiency. Growers and retailers can offer their expertise on which plants are ideal for beginners. They can identify and assemble all-in-one kits and projects designed to make gardening fun and successful.

Younger Consumers Don’t Know A Lot About Growing Plants, and They Hate Feeling Ignorant

We haven’t done a good enough job of making plants approachable. Consumers see a beautiful yard and assume only someone with an arcane, mystical understanding of nature can achieve that type of success.

That same attitude used to exist for interior design and cooking. But personalities and popular television shows have helped make everyone feel like they have some skill.

While we may not be able to control the programming at HGTV, we can act as ambassadors to our own communities. That means we all should get out to venues where people gather and emphasize how fun and easy it is to bring plants into daily life. We can all find ways to meet our neighbors and community leaders and help them understand plants better.

These barriers are not insurmountable. In fact, consumers are right on the brink of falling in love with gardening the way they have with cooking and home improvement. All we need to do is show them the way to success.

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3 comments on “Why America Needs Plant Evangelists

  1. As an old old gardener I see a lot of things that are generational gaps. Most young people would rather buy produce than grow it…..that is because it is easier, what they dont see is the chemicals applied to make the produce look saleable…..chemicals that I have strong reason to believe are cancer causing…..the 2nd thing is young kids are not taught to garden…..as a child I remember my mom giving me bean and radish seeds to plant, she did this because both sprout rapidly and produce something you can eat……as a child picking and eating what I planted was a miracle, I was forever hooked with gardening. when I was a kid mom was home all of the time, dads salary was enough to support our family, now it is just the opposite, both parents work to make ends meet, gardening has taken a back seat to other chores both parents work on after their regular job . Perhaps gardening could be taught in schools at entry level.

  2. Great article. We have built a platform for ‘Plant Evangelists’ on Plantsmap.com so that others can learn and be inspired by them. We hope to cure ‘plant blindness’ across demographics and make it an inviting place for anyone to join in regardless of experience or growing interest. It allows for a shared knowledge base to learn together but at the same time you get to keep your own plants and collections as yours with your information. Our demographics so far show a nice equal range from 18 to over 65.

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