From Today’s Garden Center

In case you haven’t heard, according to CNBC and other media sources, we are in the middle of a gardening boom.

Scares from salmonella, a return to an organic lifestyle, a way to save money on the grocery bills, and gardening as an alternative to exotic, pricey vacations are some of the reasons they claim gardening is experiencing a surge in popularity. But as a garden center owner I wonder, could it be more than that? Could it be something as simple as a longing to return to something easier to understand than today’s crazy world?

Consider for a moment the frantic pace at which most of us live. Electronically we are totally wired with everything from iPods to iPhones, Blackberries to laptops, Tweeting to Facebook. Does anyone even remember that a blackberry originally was something you eat, not a device on which you receive your e-mail?

Maybe the gardening boom is about more than growing your own food. Maybe its also about the satisfaction of producing something viable at the end of the day. The United States has slowly moved away from its agricultural roots to a society that, to a large extent, doesn’t really produce anything. If you spend your days working in an office, many times what is there to show at the end of the day? In a world gone electronically amok, gardening is a simpler alternative and provides a sense of accomplishment. At the end of the day, there’s something there to see.

Then consider lifestyle. Over the past few decades, practically everything has become easily and readily available at the local grocery story, so how many of today’s homeowners have ever had to actually grow anything in order to feed their families? Aside from simple seed sprouting experiments in elementary school science class, I’d venture a guess to say that many post boomer people have never had the experience of planting something and watching it grow to harvest. Some of us remember planting a garden in our backyard as children, but for many urban or blanket community dwellers, that experience never happened.

Gardening is, quite literally, a way to return to your roots, as well as a way to pass techniques down from generation to generation. One of my fondest memories in the garden center last year was when a set of grandparents came in with their grandkids and stated, “I haven’t planted a garden in 20 years, but I am going to do it this year and I’m going to teach my grandkids how to garden too.” In a world where parents are often too busy to take the time, or don’t know how to pass those instructions along themselves, grandparents are a golden answer. What a simple, wonderful way to reconnect the family.

There are other factors spurring the resurgence in gardening as well. Gardening offers a way to slow down in a life that moves at the speed of sound. You can’t plant at the speed at which you type on a keyboard. Hoeing, weeding and picking can only be done at a certain pace. And, along with the novelty of producing one’s own food, there is the rediscovery of how good fresh from-the-garden produce really tastes. I’ll take a homegrown tomato any day over the hard, tasteless hoodles that the grocery store passes off as fresh.

Gardening may be the simple answer in an all too complex world. Think about the old man in your neighborhood when you were growing up that sat around watching his garden grow. Everyone understands the simplicity of planting a seed and watching it sprout. Even those of us that are technologically challenged understand that when you plant a seed there are no buttons to push, no programs to learn, no incompatible printers to connect. Aside from the question of which fertilizer or pest control product to choose, gardening can be pretty simple and basic.

We did a focus group over the winter in our town and when we asked the simple question “Why do you garden?” we were fairly surprised by the answers. “As a way to provide food,” was the very last answer given. “For the creative process… as therapy… to improve the landscape… because I’m eternally optimistic… it’s my obsession… as a way to reconnect with the earth… and for more color,” were some of the answers we heard. My favorite one however, was, “Because it’s the one constant in my life. The stock market is all over the place but gardening is one thing that never changes.” In a world where so much is out of our control, it’s one way to regain some semblance of order, and that’s something I believe many people are striving for once again.

So when you see the novice gardener wander into your store with that deer-in-the-headlights look this year, take a moment, remember the last time you tried something truly new, then talk – really talk – to them. You’ll make a friend for life.

Although some of the naysayers have predicted that this gardening boom won’t last long once consumers figure out that it takes a lot of work to have a great garden, the resurgence that we are experiencing this year may turn out to last a little longer than we believe. No matter what their motivation was to get into gardening, consumers are willing to try, and walking in our doors is a powerful first step. It’s a commitment – and for some non-commitment type folks, that’s a huge step in their lives. Our challenge as garden center owners is to forget about the sales for one brief moment and remember why we got into this industry in the first place. Then take that reason, no matter what it is- because you love gardening, because you love retailing, because you like people- and make it infectious for your staff and customers. Do I think that’s the magical answer? No, of course not, but I do believe that lots of people are craving a return to an easier time or way of life and gardening might be one part of that answer that may last.

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