Why America Needs Plant Evangelists
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.