For years, I’ve heard colleagues lament how few young people take up gardening, and puzzle over what to do about it.
Well, here’s good news: Young people are gardening. A Garden Writers Association shows that 64% of those under 40 do garden, growing flowers, vegetables and herbs, and trees and shrubs in equal numbers.
Here’s the bad news: They seem to be doing so not because of the gardening industry’s efforts, but despite them.
If you don’t believe me, then pretend that you don’t know anything about gardening. Poke around the Internet looking for helpful information. Keep in mind that you don’t know the difference between an annual and a perennial, or why frost dates matter, or that you don’t plant a plastic pot along with the plant.
Most online content is written in jargon, or is overwhelmingly complicated, or both. It’s very easy to conclude that becoming a successful gardener is difficult. We need to do a lot more as an industry to make gardening user-friendly to the newbie.
When preparing this issue, I searched for gardening websites frequented by those 18 to 34 years old. I was appalled to only find one: Burpee Home Gardens (BHG), Burpee’s branded product line targeted to the new gardener. Comparing that site to the main Burpee site proved instructive. The differences fell in three areas:
1. Choices Simplified. Burpee’s main site includes 9 primary navigational sections with a daunting 388 subcategories, each with multiple plant choices.
By contrast, the “Edible Plants” link on the BHG site leads to a “find vegetables & herbs” subcategory with just 33 vegetables and 16 herbs, with fewer varieties under each. (Presumably, the easiest to grow.)
Compare how product information is presented for the same variety on both sites, and you’ll see that the BHG site removes or explains all jargon, and presents information differently. For each plant, you’ll find separate sections on planting, care, harvesting, storage, serving and preserving.
Burpee also makes it easy to choose among their 22 tomato varieties by presenting attributes in a chart. In addition to the days to harvest and fruit size, it specifies which are best for salads, slicing, and sauces.
2. Help in Bite-Sized Pieces. BHG’s site summarizes vegetable gardening basics in an amazingly concise 39 sentences. One page titled “Growing fresh vegetables & herbs in 5 easy steps” outlines a dozen key points to get the new gardener started.
For more information, BHG offers a free Vegetable Gardening Guide, delivered by email.
Additional help is all over the site, right down to how to take a plant out of a pot. But the information is delivered on an “as needed” basis, so the reader isn’t overwhelmed.
3. New Media Usage. It’s no secret that younger folk are more likely to look online for answers. What’s more, “online” now includes much more than it once did. For instance, here are a few things you’ll find on the BHG site, but not the main Burpee site:
• Burpee Garden Coach, a free service that sends regular text messages with gardening tips personalized for the user’s growing area
• Links to BHG’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages featured prominently at the top of the site.
• Instructional podcasts by gardening personality Joe Lamp’l.
• Excerpts from BHG’s blog.
• An online forum where gardeners can ask questions and share information.
Selling to new gardeners isn’t as challenging as you may think, but it does require a fresh approach to your marketing. Do it well, and you can reap big rewards for a long time.