Six Steps To Help Even Novices Write Compelling Garden Articles

writing generic image free sourceGarden retailers are often called upon to perform tasks far outside what they’re comfortable doing, from taxes to merchandising to writing stories for your store’s blog or for the local media.

Don’t let anyone fool you – writing isn’t easy. It takes a lot of practice and thoughtfulness. But it is possible to learn a formula or two that can help even the least-experienced writers connect with readers. This six-step formula spells out exactly how you can tap your own experiences to write not only competently, but in a way that allows readers to relate fully to what you want to say.

If you answer customer questions on a regular basis, then this writing hack is perfect for you.

Step 1: Identify the most common question being asked.

It’s always a good idea to get your staff to share customer questions they heard during your weekly staff meetings. Doing so is an easy way to know what customers are thinking and what they want. And it will give you great fodder for your store newsletter and blog.

Each week, identify an issue customers ask for help on. This will be your story’s topic. Most of the time, if several customers are dealing with an issue that week, most of the community is also trying to figure out how to deal with this gardening problem. Timing your topic to when your audience wants to read about it is just as important as how you write about it.

Step 2: Ask your staff to share a customer’s personal story related to your chosen issue.

Now we’ll spell out how you will write about this topic.

Let’s say that one week your staff says they had dozens of people ask for help on keeping deer away from their gardens. Ask them to describe some of the specific stories customers were dealing with. Did someone just plant a full bed of hostas, spending hundreds of dollars in the process, only to have it eaten overnight? Or maybe someone took a video of a doe and her fawn crossing her backyard and shared the cute scene online, only to wake up two days later to find a large herd treating her yard as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

A personal story evokes sympathy and emotion in those hearing it (or reading it). So it’s always a good idea to offer a personal anecdote before launching what you want to share with your readers. The more details you can give, the better. Mention names if the customer permits you to. Describe the types of plants in the yard, the time of day.

As an example, if one of the scenarios I mentioned about deer was real, I could write:

“Arlene Johnson was delighted when she saw a doe and her fawn emerge from the trees lining her North Olmstead home at dusk one afternoon last week. She picked up her phone, then quietly opened her backdoor to video the pair. The video she posted that evening to her Facebook page shows the duo walking cautiously across her back yard, pausing to look around frequently. Arlene loved that she was seeing nature at play.

“Two days later, she sat in front of the same window she first spied the deer from, and checked her Facebook status. Hundreds had viewed the video she took. Just then, she saw a movement out of the corner of her eye, and glanced outside.

“To her dismay, she saw 9 deer in her yard, and they were all standing in her garden beds, enjoying her coleus and rhododendrons.”

Notice I mentioned the woman’s name and the community she lives in. I then describe the problem she’s experiencing in a way that others can relate to.

I also told the story in only 7 sentences. All I wanted to do is set up the problem Arlene Johnson was facing. If you call your customer to get more details, you will likely write down many more notes that you’ll want to use. That’s normal. Just write enough to make readers want your tips on how to handle the issue.

Step 3: State you know how to deal with the problem identified in the anecdote

This step transitions readers from your anecdote to the main part of article. It’s usually just one or two sentences to let readers know you’ve got the answer.

If I continue with the deer anecdote from above, here’s what I might write:

“Arlene had a deer problem on her hands. When she called us for advice, I told her about the five steps I use at home to battle hungry deer.”

Step 4: List the solutions

This step is the meat of your article and where your in-store experience comes in handy. Simply type out the recommendations you usually make, and you’ve got the majority of what you want to say.

Start with the first piece of advice you’d give. State it in a short sentence, then offer any extra information you think they will need to know.

Here’s an example:

“1. Plant deer-resistant plants in beds not next to the house. Think about the types of plants you see when you walk through the woods. Most are thorny and and tough. If the first plants deer come across when they venture out of the trees are sweet and tender, then those plants will not survive long. Luckily, there are many, many plants that are unappealing to deer and most stores will mark them as deer-resistant.”

Continue with the rest of your ideas, continuing to list them. In this example, I added a number to the idea and bolded the first sentence, before offering a brief explanation. This technique makes it easy for busy readers. They can scan the article quickly, making note of which tips they already do or know about, before stopping on advice that’s new to them. This is a technique that not only helps your readers, but it makes writing easy for you. You don’t have to worry about transitions to the next item. Just finish what you have to say, then start the next bit of advice you want to share.

If you take a look at how this article is organized into six steps, you’ll see I’m following my own advice. Organizing this article in this way makes my advice easier to absorb, doesn’t it? The same trick will work for you.

Step 5: Restate how easy it is to deal with the problem if these steps are followed

Once you’ve completed your list of tips on how to deal with the gardening issue, reassure your readers that they really can deal with this on their own and do not need the mythological green thumb to succeed.

Continuing with our example, here’s what I might write:

“These steps have helped me keep my own garden in good shape, despite living next to a wooded park, and they will help you do the same, too.”

Step 6: Offer a follow up of the customer’s story

This final step brings your article back to your opening anecdote. Ask your customer how your advice worked and share her answer with your customers.

Again, here’s how I might write it if I continued with the deer Arlene anecdote:

“I spoke with Arlene yesterday about how the deer situation is doing. She decided to install deer fencing along the back of her yard, and she reports she still gets to watch the deer, but only when she takes her family onto hiking trails.”

So there you have it. This is a formula that can work again and again, because you’ll be changing the topics each time you write to whatever your customers are talking about most.

Leave a Reply

3 comments on “Six Steps To Help Even Novices Write Compelling Garden Articles

  1. Carol, all of your ideas are great. One of the basics of journalism is the old adage of who, what, when, where, how and why. Those 6 little words create the story for the reader and show the difference between a professional and someone who was told that this was their new job. at the garden center/nursery.These days there are many people who write the way they speak, which might be fine in a conversation with their friends but not necessarily in a newsletter or blog. Whoever is writing for the company should know the basics of writing so that the message they convey is clear and concise without being condescending or confusing. If the facts are correct, humor and being down to earth in the article will come across as genuine and show that careful thought about the customer’s problem was taken into consideration.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Denise! Your comment points out a simple solution: if you have the resources, invest in hiring a professional writer. This article is a shortcut for novices, but if you want more variety and more than one article a month, a professional is your best bet.

  2. Love the concrete tips–but be sure to ask your customers if you can use their names in the stories first! Some publicity shy folks might be very unhappy seeing their names in print–particularly their full names!

More From Retailing...
iPad In Garden Center

June 27, 2016

Inspiring Summer Customers Without A Word Being Said

Now is the time of year to sell your customers what they like, rather than what they need. According to industry consultant Ian Baldwin, one way to do this is to use silent selling techniques and devices that help validate a purchase.

Read More
Oconomowoc

June 27, 2016

Fire Destroys Greenhouses At Oconomowoc Landscape Supply & Garden Center

The fire not only consumed the Wisconsin garden retailer's structures, but also major equipment like dump trucks. In all, the owners estimate $1.2 million in damage occurred.

Read More
Stocking spring plants at Petitti Garden Center FEATURE

June 23, 2016

How Growers Can Help Retailers Sell More In Spring

Fresh from a busy spring season, retailers share their wish list of things growers can do to make spring generate even more sales.

Read More
Latest Stories
iPad In Garden Center

June 27, 2016

Inspiring Summer Customers Without A Word Being Said

Now is the time of year to sell your customers what they like, rather than what they need. According to industry consultant Ian Baldwin, one way to do this is to use silent selling techniques and devices that help validate a purchase.

Read More
Oconomowoc

June 27, 2016

Fire Destroys Greenhouses At Oconomowoc Landscape Suppl…

The fire not only consumed the Wisconsin garden retailer's structures, but also major equipment like dump trucks. In all, the owners estimate $1.2 million in damage occurred.

Read More
Stocking spring plants at Petitti Garden Center FEATURE

June 23, 2016

How Growers Can Help Retailers Sell More In Spring

Fresh from a busy spring season, retailers share their wish list of things growers can do to make spring generate even more sales.

Read More

June 20, 2016

7 Garden Retailers Announced Closings This Month

Several established garden stores announced they were closing at the end of the 2016 season. Most of these retailers are decades old, including one that is closing after 133 years in business.

Read More

June 20, 2016

Industry’s First Plant Pricing Survey Is Open

The green industry has almost no research on plant pricing. With an industry that struggles to survive on slim margins, that's a problem. This survey is designed to help address the need, and we invite everyone to participate.

Read More
IGC 2016 Valley Forge Casino Resort

June 20, 2016

Stuff You’ll Want To Check Out At EIGC

Planning on attending the Easter Show For IGCs? Here's a list of new and interesting things you'll want to do while at the Philadelphia show.

Read More
Retailers Sharing Sales Info Feature Image

June 13, 2016

How Open Are Garden Retailers With Their Financials?

We asked garden retailers with whom they share their various reports, from the P&L to slow moving SKUs. See if your own openness matches your peers.

Read More
Hillermann Bathroom Sign FEATURE

June 13, 2016

The 2016 Bathroom Awards Is Open For Contestants

Working on the premise that a business that pays attention to its restrooms is a business that focuses on the customer, Garden Centers of America's annual award for best bathroom invites garden retailers to submit their most creative and appealing restroom photos and descriptions.

Read More

June 12, 2016

Check Out The Before And After Of Lowe’s Greenhou…

Lowe's added covered shopping in its plant yard, dramatically expanded its gift shop, and moved its parking lot and entrance from the street-facing front to the side. Take a look at the dramatic transformation!

Read More

June 7, 2016

Indoor Gardening Program, Modern Homesteading, Will Lau…

Modern Homesteading, an exclusive certified dealer program to fast track independent garden centers into the exploding indoor growing market, will make its debut at Cultivate’16, which takes place in Columbus, July 9-12. Created by Sunlight Supply, the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of year-round gardening supplies, this new program offers retailers a turnkey indoor gardening line of products. “Gardening indoors makes it easy for anyone to grow fresh year-round, no matter the season, weather or conditions, either in kitchens or classrooms,” Sunlight Supply’s founder, Craig Hargreaves says. “And with the growing challenges to gardening outdoors brought on by severe climate conditions, soil infertility and pest issues, growing food indoors is not only easy, but necessary.” Growing indoors is a fast growing trend. According to IBISWorld, a global business intelligence leader, hydroponic equipment stores had revenues of just under $1 billion in 2015 and the market is projected to continue to […]

Read More
Al's Garden Center store front FEATURE

June 6, 2016

GCA Extends Early Bird Rates For The Summer Tour To Jun…

Garden Centers of America (GCA) is extending its Early Bird Savings for the Summer Tour in Portland, OR, to June 10. A GCA  press release cites a late spring for most Northern garden center for why it’s allow the $50 savings per registration to be extended to June 10. Registrants are also encouraged to book their hotel now to take advantage of special discounted rates at host hotel Embassy Suites Portland while rooms are available. GCA Summer Tour-goers enjoy a discounted nightly rate during this high-demand summer booking of just $199. GCA has also arranged with Embassy Suites Portland hotel officials to extend this special discounted rate to June 10. The hotel’s downtown location is in the heart of the Pearl District, surrounded by a wide selection of restaurants and food carts offering a delicious variety of dining options. Built in 1912 and renovated two years ago, the hotel combines historical ambiance with all of the modern […]

Read More
Rogers Gardens employee container garden assembly FEATURE

June 6, 2016

It’s Time For Garden Retailers To Start Hiring Ag…

Perhaps our industry has finally reached a point where there's simply too much work to be done for the number of employees on the payroll.

Read More

June 6, 2016

Old Fashioned Marketing Still Works At Countryside Gard…

Countryside Gardens in Hampton, VA, sent out one of the best marketing messages I’ve seen in a long time. In its June 2, 2016, e-newsletter, the first item read: Have you ever had a party to celebrate a plant blooming? If you have ever seen a night-blooming cereus in bloom, then you know why gardeners that have one of these plants will invite friends and neighbors over to enjoy them. What is so special about this plant that would make people venture out late in the evening to witness its blooms? Well, the blooms are as big as a saucer and 4 to 5 inches deep. Expect immaculate white petals, a wonderful OMG fragrance like none other. The plant blooms only once or twice a year. Yes, when a night-blooming cereus blooms, it is indeed a special event. Each plant can have several flowers blooming at once depending on its size. […]

Read More
bee

June 6, 2016

Maryland’s Neonicotinoid Law Goes Into Effect

Beginning January 1, 2018, Maryland will ban sales of products containing the neonicotinoid class of pesticides throughout the state of Maryland, save to licensed operators. The Pollinator Protection Act was allowed to pass into law when Governor Larry Hogan neither vetoes nor signed the bill at the end of May. The law that passed had a significant change from the bill that first passed both the state House and Senate. Those versions banned the sale of plants that had been treated with neonicotinoids. The language related to that ban, however, was struck out during the final reconciliation before a final vote. The ban focuses primarily on retail sales of neonicotinoids. The Act does allow certified applicators, farmers, and veterinarians to use neonicotinoids. However, language in the bill refers to a six-month neonicotinoid study being conducted by the EPA, instructing the Maryland Department of Agriculture to revisit its rules of allowable use of neonicotinoids once […]

Read More
Pollinator-friendly perennials are a big hit with eco-concious consumers

May 27, 2016

Which Pollinator Terms Appeal Most To Consumers?

A team from the University of Florida tested several promotional phrases, from the specific ("butterflies" and "bees") to more general.

Read More
IGC App For 2016 Shows

May 26, 2016

IGC Shows Release Free Apps To Help You Plan For Both T…

Free event planning apps for each show are now available for download in the Apple App Store and on Google Play.

Read More

May 23, 2016

Ian Baldwin Sees Several Garden Trends Developing This …

The garden industry consultant reads the mid-spring tea leaves and sees several trends emerging.

Read More

May 23, 2016

Manhattan’s Urban Garden Center Suffers Second Di…

Two years after a nearby gas explosion destroyed the store in Manhattan's Spanish Harlem, Urban Garden Center had a four-alarm fire that disrupted a popular train route, and the garden retailer is now dealing with an angry community.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]