We've got to get ourselves back to the garden

Things have changed!

Just a year ago with the economy booming, we had a different set of assumptions about how to appeal to a customer base that seemed to be giving up on gardening.

Here we sit today with a completely different set of circumstances. Interest seems to be growing in vegetable and fruit tree gardening, and I believe this may translate over into ornamental sales as well. Most folks have no chance to sell their homes for a profit, so many will be staying put. They will soon want to “feather their nest”, creating a refuge from the world outside their yards. I believe we are entering an era not unlike what we saw in the seventies with a new appreciation for “the garden”. Do you remember the song Woodstock by Joan Baez with the verse, “We are stardust, billion year old carbon, we are golden, caught in the devil's bargain, and we've got to get ourselves, back to the garden?” We are, 40 years later.

The nursery industry has tried to use semantics to try and sway people to the garden. Let's not call it a garden, lets call it an “outdoor space”, complete with a television, and enormous BBQ. There we can entertain our friends in our professionally designed, “outdoor room” that we so surely deserved.

Sorry, but that's played out, and not going to come around again for awhile. Now people want to grow stuff in a garden that supplies food for the family, a hangout for friends and family, as well as enhances the neighborhood and world. Bird sanctuaries, herb gardening, vegetables, fruit, beauty, and most important, people seem to be willing to put the effort in to be successful.

What a fantastic opportunity for the garden center business. “Let's get back to the garden” and do what we do best, teaching people how to be accomplished gardeners. I think the whole, “let's not call it gardening, because that means work”, is dead! Let's face facts, and be honest with our customers. It's called gardening, it can become a hobby, and it requires a certain amount of work. Yes, you should test your soil pH for the best results. Yes, you should apply dormant spray three times in the winter for best fruit production. Yes, having a great garden may mean getting a sore back after a day in the garden. It means monitoring the vegetable garden every day, and if you want to do it organically, it's the only way. We need to become aware of the seasons again, as well as what it means to put food on the table. The above doesn't mean it won't be fun, we just need to change our priorities.

The horticultural businesses have fragmented, and it's time for the small, locally owned garden centers to take advantage of it. The large concerns have to worry about appealing to the masses, we just need to appeal to the people who want to learn how to make their way through the new reality that we are all experiencing. Teach them why it's important to know your pH, and they will buy pH meters, and other soil testing devices so they, and we can be successful. They will spend money if shown why it's important. Let's stop the term, “add on sales”! That sounds like we are just adding on more stuff to buy. Teach, teach, teach! We are teachers, and our students don't want sugar coated pablum. They want the truth!

Here is the truth as I see it. It's called gardening, and those that practice it are called gardeners. The term “gardener” will once again be a source of pride, especially amongst the younger generations. It can become a hobby, if you lucky enough, and stick with it. Plants have Latin names for a reason. Like any hobby there are times when it's hard work, but you look past it because you love the results. Those of us that have businesses that sell plants have a place called a “garden center”, or “nursery”. Gardens sometimes don't come out the way we expected, or what the garden magazines pictured. DIFM (Do it for me) is being replaced by IDIM (I did it myself), or WDIO (We did it ourselves). Organic is here to stay, and you best get on that bandwagon.

All this doesn't mean we are regressing to some type of agrarian society. There are loads of modern devices and techniques that can be utilized to make gardening better, and more fun. We are entering into a golden age for gardening. We need to stay positive, get to know our customers, and quit reacting to every breathless media report about, “the death of gardening”. It's not dying, it's gaining a whole new lease on life. What a wonderful time to be in the garden business!