Thursday, January 24, 2008

This morning, Kip Creel, President of the market research firm Stand Point, had both good and bad news for the gardening industry.

Speaking at the Winter Green conference of the Georgia Green Industry Association, he told his audience that garden retailers have observed that “the consumer is a little different” today, as compared with ten years or so ago, but they don’t know what that difference signifies or how to deal with it. Most still market to gardening hobbyists, who comprise only 4.6% of the population and in 2006 spent only an average of $250 on their favorite pastime. Nevertheless, in that year (the most recent for which figures are available), some 80 million U.S. households (out of a total of 120 million) bought something gardening-related, e.g. a plant, a bag of fertilizer or a landscape design. New homeowners, contrasting hobbyists, spend on average close to $9,000 in the first year to define their outdoor living space, starting with a fence, a patio or deck and landscaping.

Today, Creel mentioned, consumers spend more money on services (e.g. landscaping) than on products (e.g. plants), and they do more buying at Big Box stores than at independent nurseries. A decline from 35% to 22% in the frequenting of the latter has been observed over the past ten years. Gen X-ers in particular are of the opinion that “it all comes from the same source anyway”, so why not just pick up a plant when you’re already at WalMart for a pair of pliers, a bottle of mouthwash and a box of tissues?

The good news for garden retailers is that if they are aware of the demographic trends, they can offer their prospective customers what they are looking for: affordable design services, plants that are well-tagged, showrooms (“Gardens To Go”?) and knowledge – exactly what one does not find at the Big Box stores. Even more good news: the population segment that should be a garden retailer’s prime target (between 20 and 44 years of age), is expected to begin increasing substantially again from 2010 on.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I've just turned in my February gardening column to the Georgia Asian Times and realized that GATimes's web site does not include most of the content of its print publication, including my gardening column. I wrote about the Hall County (Georgia) Spring Garden Expo, April 11 and 12, the late winter and early spring workshop and lecture schedule of Hills and Dales Estate, in LaGrange, and an intriguing park, with gardens, walking trails and picnic areas, near the Georgia coast, in Richmond Hill. And I recommended a few books gardeners in the grip of a dreary winter day may enjoy. Since you cannot find the column on-line (I've got to take this up with my editor . . . .!), let me know if you would like to read it and I'll send it to you.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Shortly after buying my current house, “in the country”, I was having lunch with my friend Pat Bowen. We talked about the excitement of decorating a new house – and about downsizing, which naturally comes along with children growing up and establishing households of their own – and I remarked to her that, perhaps more than looking forward to home decorating, I was thrilled with the opportunity of establishing a new garden. She said she loves gardening also and had learned a lot since becoming a Master Gardener. “What”, I asked her, “is a Master Gardener?” She explained it to me, along with the process of becoming one. I went home, did a Web search, found out where to apply, applied, was accepted into the program, completed it, passed the tests, served my internship and got my certification – all within two years’ time.

So, quite by accident, I am now a Certified Georgia Master Gardener!

Having been a writer “for ever”, it seemed to me that gardening and writing were two easily combined skills, so I became a gardening columnist, first for the Barrow-Jackson Journal (now defunct) and since late 2006 for the Georgia Asian Times. Great fun, very enjoyable!

Today, it is snowing in North Georgia, and 2008 gardening is still a distant dream. But, in a few weeks the daffodils should begin popping through the soil, buds will start to swell on some shrubs and gardening tools will be inspected and then sharpened or discarded and replaced.

Come back to this spot every so often, and I’ll let you know what happens in my garden. Do share your garden with me and the other readers of this blog also. We can all learn from each other and thus create better, more beautiful gardens.