According to Kelly Norris, the key to the Green Industry’s future is not getting more people interested in gardening. “It is a waste of time to recruit people who are not interested,” he said.
Rather, it’s getting those who are already interested, more engaged. “In order to succeed with our present day situation, we have to convert casual buyers into enthusiastic buyers,” he told attendees at a Farwest Trade Show Seminar held this morning.
According to Norris, there do exist younger people who are at least casually interested in gardening. As evidence he pointed to a recent study done by a British outdoor furniture company, which indicated that gardening is in the top five among favorite leisure activities for those under 35. This only makes sense. Millennials often seek opportunities for self-expression, and gardening provides that.
Norris is the horticultural manager at the Des Moines Botanical Garden, which covers 14 acres in Des Moines, Iowa. Now 27, he first got into the hort business at the age of 15, when he persuaded his parents to buy a mail-order bearded iris nursery in Austin, Texas, and move it to Iowa.
So, how should the horticulture industry adjust its approach in light of generational changes? Norris has an answer.
“We are selling stuff,” he said, “but we shouldn’t be selling stuff. That [flower in a] pot is an experience …. Plants have purpose. Every plant has a story …. In its basic form, marketing is storytelling — very good, leveraged storytelling.”
The key to converting casual gardeners into enthusiasts is to engage them. Garden centers can do this by becoming cultural facilitators, not just places where stuff is sold; by being dynamic, consumer-driven and style-forward; by keeping in close touch with the pulse of modern gardening; and by acting as a resource for an experience that is perennial, seasonal and edible.
But garden centers cannot convert the public alone. They need assistance from public gardens to help them, Norris said. These gardens can serve as cultural hubs where people can see the best of gardening and the latest trends in sustainability. This will expand younger people’s gardening literacy.