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Why This Business Gets In Our Blood


My colleague, Judy Stapler is an accomplished market researcher, a consumer advocate, and a great addition to our team. Judy recently commented to me that she has observed how exceptionally passionate she has found the people in the horticulture industry to be about what we do (as compared to people working in other industries) . We do not need to get into a deep theological discussion, or raise an argument on the reason why people in horticulture become obsessed with horticulture. Can we just agree that we are?

It is well researched and documented that there is a people-plant connection built into our physiology. This connection is inherent in us, and also in every consumer walking the face of the earth. We see this especially in “Spring Fever”, where every person on earth is drawn to a garden center, greenhouse or nursery filled with flowering plants. We see it in our reaction to the gift of roses as told by my friend, and International Rose breeding expert, Ping Lim at the recent Montana Green Expo. Call it what you may, I choose to call it a gift from God, my creator. As it is written in the Holy Bible, it all began in a garden.

in-a-garden-sign2The evidence, and proof of the people-plant connection continues to build as more research is completed. Recently, information was released on University of Michigan research indicating that memory and retention improve by 20% during walks in a parklike area, and the same benefit occurs when viewing pictures of nature.

Research clearly shows:

  • Patients heal faster in rooms with landscape views
  • Crime is reduced in urban areas when trees are introduced
  • Consumers shop longer in nicely landscaped retail environments
  • Productivity increases in offices with plants
  • Physical and mental health is improved in environments with plants

The Green Plants for Green Buildings organization has done an excellent job of consolidating the documentation of much of the available research on their website. Please comment back to let me know of other resources you are aware of.

chicken-soup1In addition to the hard research mentioned above there is anecdotal evidence to expound upon. To start, we each have our own story of why we got involved in this business, and nearly every one I have heard involve the personal connection. Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul provides 101 stories of the emotional strength, healing, and satisfaction that comes from gardening as told by ordinary and well known people such as Nelson Mandela, James A. Michener, and Charles Kuralt.

Recently, Novalis has been sponsoring presentations by Robert Hendrickson of The Garden Center Group that include video clips with the expressions of garden center customers of why they garden. Here are some of their profound statements:

  • “When I see what I accomplished it motivates me to add more and more.”
  • “It makes me feel good inside.”
  • “Now a much larger garden completes the house and makes it feel like a home.”
  • “It’s fun!”
  • “It’s spectacular!”
  • “I enjoy watering and weeding and moving things around.”
  • “My garden is my time, which is why I love it.”
  • “The only things that really matter are my children, grandchildren, and my flowers that bring me a lot of peace.”
  • “I need a release and my release is in my garden.”
  • “When I can get my hands dirty and go play in the dirt, it takes the stress way down.”
  • “It’s very calming. I can lose myself in it.”
  • “My garden makes me feel terrific.”


Why Does This Business Get In Your Blood?

Gee, those are some of the same feelings we get from gardening. No wonder it gets in our blood. Listening to those customers makes you want to leave the business part of the business and just go get dirty!

If we believe it, do we practice it? I have to admit there has not been one plant, living or otherwise here in my office until right now when I took a break and brought one from the kitchen windowsill in. I have met in many offices and conference rooms in our industry and rarely find a plant, other than an occasional one brought in for a specific discussion. Yet, the benefits are well documented to increase productivity as well as physical and mental wellness.

More Plants, Please!

We have plenty of proof to make our case for plants. Can we convert the physiological interest in plants into skills and passion? Question why consumers don’t place more value on annuals, perennials, bulbs, shrubs, tropical plants, houseplants, and trees while they spend increasingly more on cars, bathrooms, and gourmet kitchens. In spite of the lack of promotion of the people-plant connection by our industry outdoor living environments have become a hot trend for the casual furniture, hearth and fireplace, and pool and spa industries.

We have fallen short in reflecting on the proof, which is the first step to taking it seriously enough to use it wisely. Today, many people in the top ranks of our industry question the relevancy of  the independent businesses in the world of mass retail distribution of plants today. Some of them use the independent channel as a stepping stone to build the quantities of plants they need to take to the market through the mass retailers rather than commit to specific and unique offerings that are solely designed to protect and build specialty channels. What would our consumer world be like today if there were no premium brands and products such as Ralph Lauren, Coach, BMW, Mercedes, and on and on? Independents must step up efforts to use the evidence as proof in our marketing messages in order to validate our place in the market and earn a protected retail channel.

We have been involved in too many side tracks to mention here that were supposed to get more consumers into garden centers, and many of us have lost our way from the core of our business. Yet, our greater society has dramatically created a major movement –  the green movement, right under our noses. And we can be glad for that. Even the food world has embraced fresh, local, organic, and grow-it-yourself fruits, herbs, and vegetables.

Cutting Tomatoes

From my past years of studying clients business situations I have continually encountered the proof  that the financial health of independent, locally-owned garden centers is centered on the finer points of how well they run the plant part of their business, and partially in how distracted they have become from it –  and so goes the health of an industry.

The sun, moon, and stars are lining up for us friends. This year may bring the begin the return of millions of people to the garden, and the introduction of many new consumers and their children to the knowledge and joy of gardening. Make sure this does not slip through the fingers of your company.

3 Responses

  1. New research that gardening boosts mens sex lives could put it over the top: http://tinyurl.com/MenGarden4Sex

  2. Yes! People are “drawn” to plants and beautiful outdoor areas that are lush and colorful. You see this in the crowded outdoor plazas with gorgeous landscaping, restaurants with outdoor dining and city’s like Chicago with gorgeous street gardens.

    I remember being out at midnight in Chicago last summer and the streets were filled with people walking at night! It goes without saying that the “Magnificent Mile’ boulevard in Chicago is one of the most beautifully landscaped streets I’ve seen in a major city.

    I’m not so sure I would have been “compelled” to go walking at midnight if this downtown area didn’t look and feel like an urban Eden and I’m sure others felt the same way too.


  3. […] Click here to go back and read my January 16, 2009 post about those instincts. […]

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