Two years ago, my friend Ellen Zachos and I started a podcast called Plantrama. Like all podcasters, we wanted our program on Apple Podcasts and other apps that deliver “radio on demand’’ programs, so I went through the process for Plantrama to be listed on iTunes. Part of the procedure is choosing a category that your podcast fits into. There were several sports, business, technology and health categories, but there was no listing for Home and Garden. The closest we could come was Natural Sciences.
Around the same time, I renewed my membership in the National Speakers Association. One of the perks of being in this organization is the ability to be listed on the eSpeakers.com website. As I filled out my listing, I discovered that there is no listing for experts in landscaping or horticulture. I could only be listed in Green/Environment, Change, Sales, Conservation, Travel/Tourism and Food. And when it came to my choices for Experience In, the closest they came was Agriculture and Natural Resources. No Home and Garden, Gardening or Horticulture.
We’re all aware that there is very little gardening on Home and Garden TV and I’ve recently watched garden programs disappear from talk radio stations in favor of shows that draw more lucrative advertising. For the reasons above and other smaller examples, it’s clear to me that horticulture is disappearing from popular culture. While there are many reasons for this, we need to be sure that those of us in the business are helping to correct this and not contributing to the problem.
Popular culture is defined as, “Practices, beliefs and objects that are dominant or ubiquitous in a society at a given point in time.” General knowledge about plants and gardening was pervasive 50 years ago, but it’s possible that today, people know more about the apps on their phones than they do the plants that surround and sustain their lives. If people aren’t familiar with plants, the entire green industry suffers and perhaps more importantly, people won’t work to protect what they aren’t aware of or interested in.
What can we, as individuals and businesses do? Here are a few suggestions.
Stop talking to “gardeners”We who are in the business still address ourselves as “gardeners” but in doing so, we’re leaving out at least 90% of the population. People are still buying plants, tending gardens and landscapes, but they do not consider themselves to be gardeners. We need to make it a point to use other terms like homeowners, flower lovers, or nature enthusiasts. We need to aim our talk about plants and products to specific groups or special interests. Instead of “gifts for gardeners” for example, we should talk about gifts for first time home buyers, apartment dwellers or parents who have moved into assisted living.
Constantly make connections
Just as we need to connect with people through the language we use, we also need to create links between plants and other things people care about. Whether it’s the creation of outdoor living spaces, delicious food, herbal remedies, indoor greenery or more, we have the plants and products to match their interests.
According to one set of statistics, in 2018, socializing was the second most popular leisure activity in the U.S., compared to the first of watching television. We need to constantly remind people how plants and gardens enhance the time they spend entertaining or just hanging out with other people. We should use all opportunities, from advertising to social media posts or in-store signage, to spotlighting how the addition of fragrant, beautiful and flavorful plants improves every aspect of our lives.
We should think about every occasion people care about and tell stories about how plants enhance those circumstances. From planting a tree to commemorating a birth or death, to designing a cocktail hour garden; from growing flowers for give-away bouquets to the herbs most commonly used in barbeques, we need to consistently remind the public that life is made better with horticulture.
Create plant places for middle school kids
The move to build gardens at elementary schools is commendable, but we stop exposing young people to plants and gardens as they get older. This is especially regrettable when we fail to hook children in their pre or early-teens. Programs such as Seeds, in Durham, N.C., give great examples of how plants and gardens can be positive gathering places for middle school students. In this program, the kids not only plant and tend vegetables, but can sell their produce at a farmer’s market and keep their earnings. This is a powerful incentive for a twelve or thirteen-year-old! Check out the values listed on the Seeds “About” page and ask yourself how your business might partner with others in your community to accomplish something similar.
Like it or not, it’s a social networking world and we plant geeks and IGC people need to be more active. Yes, most of us have been persuaded to use Facebook for promoting our businesses, but we need to use all social networks for advancing horticulture as well. This means putting up multiple posts that are visual and fun.
For example, go to Twitter or Instagram and put #LeafStackChallenge into the search box. This is but one instance of engaging with the public in an entertaining way that also raises awareness about plants.
Start your own series of photos and hashtags that connect plants with what people care about. For example, what could you post for #CreativeKidProjects, #WeddingGarden, #PlantAParty, or #OfficeGreenery? There is a plant for every occasion, experience and environment, we just need to become more vocal and visible about the place horticulture has in everyone’s lives. #PopCultureHorticulture. Let’s make plants become “ubiquitous in society” once again.