Growing New Gardeners

A gardener in the making: Robin Siktberg at 16  working at Sunnybrook Farms.

What you do matters, even if it seems insignificant at the time. There has been a great deal of talk in the greenhouse industry about how to get younger generations involved in gardening. We have talked about it too.
Appealing to new gardeners is a focus of two of the priorities of Greenhouse Grower’s Grow Initiative – Cultivate New Customers and Invest in the Industry. Sometimes it is just one tiny thing that flips the switch for someone.

In my case, it was a neighbor who was passionate about plants. From kindergarten on, I used to hang out when she gardened, “helping” her weed. But I was really hooked when she formed a neighborhood garden club with a few other kids, and we propagated African violet leaves, mint cuttings and spider plant runners. Thirty years later, I still have a descendant of that spider plant. I became a lifelong gardener (and plant buyer) because someone took the time to show me how.

My first job in horticulture was at Sunnybrook Farms Nursery in Chesterland, Ohio, a third-generation grower-retailer operation. It was an ideal place for a kid who loved plants − they sold everything from cacti to perennials and grew most of their own herbs. I learned propagation, potted bare-root perennials and unloaded endless trucks of annuals. I worked the cash register, loaded plants into cars and wrote plant labels. And always, the watering.

In the late summer we harvested armfuls of field-grown herbs and hosted an herb fair. To this day the scent of sweet Annie and basil instantly make me a teenager again. Once more, someone took the time to teach me – I worked there all through high school and graduated certain that my future was in plants.

I was right. At Ohio State I was immersed in plant identification and worked in the greenhouse learning production techniques. Afterwards, as the horticulturist at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, I managed seven acres of gardens, taught classes on all kinds of topics and met many impassioned gardeners. Working as editor at the Herb Society of America was no different – they had equally impassioned (dare I say obsessed?) gardeners.

I loved every aspect of this industry with which I’ve been involved, and I’m excited to dig in as the new editor of Greenhouse Grower. This position blends two lifetime passions of mine – writing and plants. I’m glad to use them both to help provide the information you need about your structures and equipment, production techniques, business trends and ideas, and new varieties – everything for which this magazine is known.

What are you doing to make a difference? We need to grow young gardeners as well as plants. It could be a marketing program that cultivates new customers or support of school gardening efforts by offering money, equipment, expertise or plants. It could be through educating retailers on how to keep plants healthy so their customers have success with their purchases, or it could be through a personal relationship, as I had. I’d love to hear about what you are doing – because it matters.

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2 comments on “Growing New Gardeners

  1. The little kids next door, ages 2 and 4, come over everyday to see the greenhouse. In early spring we talk about how the sun warms the inside and helps the plants grow. This year they planted pumpkins and watermelons from seed. Their favorite part is taking a new plant home every day. Also the neighborhood day cares come over and pick out plants for mother's day.

  2. I sell plants at a Farmers' Market in a rapidly growing suburban area outside of Houston, TX. I talk to and encourage new gardeners every Saturday. There are lots of 1st time homeowners who want to grow vegetables and herbs, perennials and annuals. They're ready to listen and learn. I'm there every week so they can come and talk to me about any problems they might be encountering. And, because I grow my stock myself, I have what is in season and will do well for the area… further ensuring their success.

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