If you haven’t heard, people aren’t just growing plants anymore… they’re living with them. Personally, I’ve always felt like my indoor plants were more my cohabitors than things I had to maintain. That philosophy seems to be increasingly catching on with many consumers, especially apartment and small space dwellers who aren’t allowed to have furry babies. They’re adopting plant babies instead.
In nature, there are sources and sinks — places things come from and places they go. People are always looking for “sinks” for their emotions and basic instinctual drives. At a base level, I think we’re all seeking ways to care for and cultivate what and who is around us. Having just lost two of my precious dogs in the span of two months, I’m acutely aware of the void and my need to put that built-up energy into caring for a new pup, or some other project or person that requires my love and attention. Creation and cultivation are powerful drives. More than simply looking for ways to connect with nature by bringing plants indoors, people are also looking to connect with something or someone that will willingly accept nurturing. Taking care of plants serves that need.
I notice a lot of online conversations between people in the industry who are frustrated with what they see as a lack of interest in plants and gardening amongst the masses. I hate to break it to you, but you’re never going to get everyone interested in plants and gardening. That’s an unrealistic, unattainable and unnecessary goal. For many people, telling them they should love gardening or plant collecting as we do would be like telling me I should love Formula One race car driving just as much as a hardcore racing fan. Watching car racing inspires my gag reflex. Everything isn’t for everyone.
There are plant-centric consumer movements, however, happening organically and all around — if you know where to look. Take a peek at Instagram and you’ll see for yourself in about 60 seconds. People have gone crazy for collecting cool and unusual succulents, cacti, and tropical specimens and posting beautiful photos of them, as well as following other Instagram users in droves who collect them. My feed is flooded with houseplants shown off by proud plant parents and bloggers who focus on room styling. The zeitgeist of nurturing ownership, thoughtful collecting and creative display is in full bloom.
Do you know how many social media posts from Europe and Australia there are about Pilea peperomioides? It is the “it” plant right now. Do you know how long, and unsuccessfully, I’ve been trying to buy one domestically? No amount of inter-industry begging has helped my case. How many of you grow it and sell it online? NADA — that’s how many. It’s killing me.
The culture of possession is returning to the plant world and the industry needs to capitalize on this energy. There are plants that people want, and when they want them, they want them now. So, if you’re growing indoor plants or you can reposition certain outdoor garden plants as indoor specimens, you have a big opportunity to tap into what is resonating with the consumer right now. If we, as an industry, take a firmer grip on the marketing and social media wheels, we could even plan, drive, and grow these trends ourselves, and thus be better ready to supply the on-trend demand we created.
Houseplants have become the item du jour for styling your living space, thanks to interior stylists. I recently received my copy of “Urban Jungle,” a book that stems from an online blog collective of people who love to collect and decorate their homes with plants. The bloggers featured are seriously proud of their plant companions and treat them just like they would other key items of décor in terms of color coordination and scale. It’s lovely. It’s design. Do you know why Pilea peperomioides is so in demand? Because the plant is art. Just look at its form. Who wouldn’t want this plant as a sculptural focal plant in their living space? Ok, maybe some race car fans wouldn’t, but for plant consumers, it’s a must have. While you, as a green industry professional, might be fascinated by plants from a biological standpoint, for many non-industry people plants may be purely art. You must offer them as such to these consumers.
Perhaps this is how we should go about selling the concept of gardening in general. As something to love and pieces of art. Individual plants become ingredients in a bigger picture. Without forgetting, of course, that sometimes customers just need temporary pieces of decoration — for events, gifts, and the like. That is perfectly fine.
Focus less right now on what you want consumers to want, and focus more on what the consumer already tells you they want, and how they are already engaging with plants. Take time to step outside the industry bubble to see how people want to use, possess, and care for their plants, ways which may not fit your conventional ideas about gardening. Botanical cohabitation — it’s the new gardening renaissance.