I was listening to marketing entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk’s podcast recently and laughed when he described our smartphones as our “remote controls.” Since most people have their phones with them at all times, these oh-so-necessary devices aren’t really so remote, but they do control many aspects of our lives. So perhaps life-support systems would be a better term. They are also a garden center’s best friend, since so many of our customers use their phones for living online.

Whether they are posting on Instagram, Facebook or other social channels, people are repeatedly sharing the inside of their homes and what they’re cooking or planting. This desire to photograph and then post online fuels many to be continually creative with their décor, and in their kitchens and gardens. They rearrange or change furniture, cook interesting meals and put new beds or pots in their landscapes. After all, it’s not any fun to keep posting identical shots of the same interiors, food and plants.

This share-it-all society is good news for garden centers because we’re in the beauty and change business. We sell the promise of color, flavor and fun. As we settle into an uncertain future with the COVID pandemic, we also provide stress relief and life-affirming experiences with plants and flowers. More than ever before, our customers look to their plants and gardens for lessons in hope and a focus on wonder. It’s no accident that #plantsmakepeoplehappy has been used more than 4 million times on Instagram.

A New York Times Consumer Insight Group study showed that people share on social platforms for a few key reasons. They post to inform others of products, entertainment and actions that they care about. And they use social platforms to define themselves and to nourish their relationships with others. And they post to get the word out about all types of things they care about. Bringing that information back to our businesses, this presents several opportunities.

Knowing that our customers care about organic solutions to problems, why not have an entire Organic Solutions section in your store? Make it attractive, well-stocked and easy to find. Have the signage above this display read #organic and #problemsolved. Why the hashtags? Because they instantly tell people why a photo of your display, or information about the products shown, should be shared.

Reach customers on Instagram with cute, catchy or clever hashtags to capture their attention with common plants and garden products. Drawing in business while providing inspirational photo ideas is a win-win!

We know that our customers care about bees and pollinators, so grouping plants that support these insects, with appropriate signage and hashtags, will catch their attention. They cherish their children and eagerly share experiences that are good for kids. Perhaps every IGC should have a #family #kids #projects section. Fill these areas with colorful flowers and vegetables that are fun for children to grow. Show how old toys such as a plastic dump truck can be repurposed as a container. Place Smart Pots and seed potatoes together with a #growyourown #frenchfries sign. And if you’ve seen that fairy gardens have run their course, repurpose the small plants and shallow bowls to be #dinosaurgardens and #actionfigure #environments.

As many continue to work from home, we can have fun with this experience. Bring back the old pole bean teepee, add some morning glory vine and sign it #instantoffice or #spareroom. Make a mock workstation in your greenhouse, surround it with houseplants and call it the #zoomroom.

Enclose an old desk with a display of fragrant shrubs and sign it #workfromhome (the most used remote working hashtag) and #aromatherapy.

Remind shoppers that a group of colorful containers will instantly create new vignettes on patios, porches, decks and balconies. Cluster groups of three containers together with pots or hanging-basket plants that can quickly fill them, and use signage that reads #changeyourview, #plantandpost or #gardeninspiration. And don’t hesitate to use one of the most used hashtags, #plantsofinstagram, to showcase fun flowers, unusual varieties and showy houseplants.

Hashtags remind your customers how they can use the plants and products you sell for the photos and information that they share online. The photos of your displays should be shared on your social networks, in your newsletters and on the company blog. And don’t worry if a portion of your customers aren’t living in a hashtagged world. The signage will convey the same ideas to those who aren’t on social networks.

C.L. Fornari is a speaker, writer and radio/podcast host who has worked at Hyannis Country Garden, an IGC on Cape Cod, for more than 20 years. She has her audiences convinced that C.L. stands for “Compost Lover.” Learn more at