Bruce Butterfield, National Garden Survey Researcher, Dies

Bruce Butterfield, National Garden Survey Researcher, Dies

bruce-butterfield-and-ngs-imageThe man who headed up the National Gardening Survey for the past 35 years, Bruce Butterfield, has died. He was 67 years old.

Butterfield’s work with the National Gardening Survey gave the green industry a reliable tool to understand consumer gardening practices and spending.

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Bruce Butterfield started his career as the Market Research Director at the National Gardening Association in 1978 and continued that same work until his death on September 5 as the Research Director at GardenResearch.com.

“These many years of experience doing market research about gardeners and gardening trends gives him a unique understanding of who gardeners are, what they need and want, why they buy the products they do, where they shop, how gardening trends have changed in the past, and where they are headed in the future,” his bio on GardenResearch.com reads.

      Butterfield was also behind What Gardeners’ Think and the Environmental Lawn and Garden Survey. What Gardeners Think is a psychographic study of the types of U.S. gardeners and their attitudes, opinions, values, demographics, gardening practices and interests. The Environmental Lawn & Garden Survey looks at how environmentally responsible consumers are in caring for their lawns and gardens.

Memorial donations may be made to KidsGardening.org to honor Bruce’s commitment to gardening as a way to improve the planet. A NGA initiative started in 1982, KidsGardening.org has recently become an independent non-profit dedicated to creating opportunities for children to learn through the garden. – See more at:

Memories From Those Who Knew Him

From Joe Lamp’l: Bruce was always a wealth of information to help the gardening industry and media meet the needs of their customers while providing insight into emerging trends.  As an industry and individuals within it, we’re all better off because of Bruce—a real asset and ambassador for our industry and he will surely be missed.

From Ian Baldwin: Icon is an overused word, but not in this case. We wrote together, gave join presentations, led “strategic retreats” in the booming 1990s, and talked long and often on the phone. He was funny and engaging, not shy with opinions or suggestions, but very smart, with his main agenda being a thriving future for the gardening business. I will miss my friend, Bruce. R.I.P.

Three Questions About Bruce

Editor’s note: We reached out to a number of people who knew Bruce, and asked the same three questions. This section will be updated as more answers come in.

What impact has Bruce had on the industry?

Ian Baldwin: A lot more than anyone realizes His work was followed closely by larger suppliers, manufacturers, growers, etc., so their new product streams and directions were influenced every year by his data. Under Bruce’s leadership, the NGS also included “custom” questions for corporate retailers and suppliers, again leading to strategic decisions by Wall Street and big American retailers. So today’s garden business as we see it was heavily influenced by his work over the 34 years of NGS. He predict online sales long before most of us, and passed away just as his own 2015 survey finally showed an impact. HE worked closely with some trade groups and produced some landmark research work in such categories as flower bulbs, roses, mail order, the value of landscaping, gardening demographics and organics/naturals. His insight was sought by investment researchers on Wall Street and marketing directors of all garden categories.

But his lasting legacy may be the survey he ran, called “What Gardeners Think,” which told us why the average U.S. household spends more on pizza than on DIY gardening (Bruce’s observation). The supply chain, which figures out the remedies, should have a very strong future with 76% of all households trying to do something in the garden. Few supply chains of discretionary products or activities have that kind of market penetration!

What kind of person was he?

Ian Baldwin: Well, he didn’t suffer fools and wasn’t a fan of bureaucracy, but beneath the gruff surfaces was a gentle soul who had a passion for the success of the gardening industry and his work in it. He was very quick-witted, well read, and smart. He loved long, strategic conversations about the industry and the world, even though he hid himself from it in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. He loved his woods, the wildlife in them and “sugaring” with his neighbors. He built his house and barn from would he cut and milled from his own property.

This is hard to write. I obviously loved the guy a lot more than I realized, and am missing his gravelly voice shouting over the answering machine: “Hey, Ian, are you around?”

What Is Your Favorite Bruce Memory Or Story?

Greg Band: Bruce lived in Burlington in the 1980s and rode his bicycle everywhere, commuting to work daily in the middle of winter, long before bike commuting became popular. His biking choice was an example of how he valued a simple lifestyle, and how he valued living lightly on the earth.

Bruce was very intelligent and well read. He had a gentle spirit. He would often offer his opinion with the diplomatic phrase like “I’d like to imagine that…”  or “I almost think that…”

Kathleen LaLiberte: I visited Bruce at his home in Ferrisburgh (south of Burlington) in the 1970s. He had a large, rambling garden filled with interesting plants — mostly edibles, but with an artist’s eye he also wove in all sorts of flowers. I was just getting my own garden started at the time and Bruce sent me home with divisions of sorrel and tarragon that are still thriving in my herb garden. Though only in his 30s at the time, he was already a wise gardener, fueled by an innate curiosity and wonder about the natural world. These qualities, as modeled by Bruce, are central to my life as a gardener.

A Eulogy From A Friend

David Caras, of Ferguson Caras LLC, sent in a beautiful, humorous, and fuller tribute:

“Many tributes to Bruce will note his razor-sharp intellect, hunger for data and details, and amazing powers of reasoning and deduction. But one of the things that Bruce valued most was his ability to relate to and be accepted by ordinary folks.

“Bruce and I had been professional colleagues and friends for more than 15 years when Sally [Ferguson, Caras’ wife and business partner] and I moved our family and business from Brooklyn to Vermont in 2006. I’m pretty sure Bruce, who made his home in Vermont’s rugged Northeast Kingdom, considered our southern portion of the state “Vermont-lite,” but he was very welcoming and full of advice. His first question was, ‘Do you live on a dirt road?’ When I answered that we did, he then asked how far we were from a paved road. He laughed when I answered that it was about a mile. He was, he told me, more than a dozen miles from any type of pavement at all.

“Bruce loved to tell tales of how he moved in local circles with great ease. Whether talking about the sugaring season at the general store, or chatting local politics with guys at the volunteer fire department, he was proud to be accepted as one of them. He was pretty sure that none of them guessed he held a PhD in Behavioral Psychology or that he was quoted regularly in U.S. and Dutch trade media, U.S.A. Today and the Wall Street Journal. And that was the way he liked it. Bruce liked to coax people to talk. And when they talked, he listened, asked questions, then listened some more. Bruce probably knew more about what went on in his corner of Vermont than most people who’d been born there.

“For Bruce’s appetite for data was not confined to the gardening industry. His interest was in people – who they were, what they did, what made them tick. He was generous with his knowledge, always ready to share his thoughts and insights. He was also tenacious.

“When I mentioned that we had cleared some trees and brush, and that Sally had built up a giant burn pile up the mountain behind our house, he immediately asked, ‘Did you burn it?’ We hadn’t. He disapproved. Bruce was the kind of guy who built his own house, from his own trees that he had cut and planed himself.

“It just so happened that during that period, Bruce and I were working together on several projects for a mutual client. In every phone call he inevitably asked at some point, ‘Did you burn it yet?’ I think he knew that on some level we “flat landers” were intimidated by the thought of actually setting fire to the huge thing. Finally, I said to Sally, ‘You’ve got to get Bruce off my back.’ So we asked a nearby friend (a native Vermonter) for help, and the three of us finally put a match to the pile. I waited in satisfaction for my next phone call with Bruce.

“His reaction was, ‘It’s about time.’ But I could tell that he was as proud as a parent watching his child take his first unaided steps. There really was no detail too small to grab Bruce’s notice, and nothing that got his notice was ever regarded by him as trivial or unworthy of follow-up.

“Bruce was one of a kind. He will be missed.”

– David Caras, Pawlet, Vermont, September 2016