Beginning gardeners in the US are the focus of a variety of persuasive techniques. Last April, I posted about how dubious websites and silly memes try to convince people that they’re not just endangering their plants, they might be killing the world. Unfortunately, these often become viral, as people who have grown up depending on digital information spread this stuff without questioning it too much.
Gardeners who aren’t sure about mulching, garden clean-up, and other interventions would be well advised to put their devices down and go talk to a green industry professional. For the past ten years or so, I’ve been trying to attend the yearly education days put on by our industry group, PlantWNY. Other than some master gardeners and a few longtime garden clubbers, this is mainly attended by the professionals and those in training who need CNLP (Certified Nursery and Landscape Professional) and other credits. It’s a very good event; speakers regularly travel in from all over—I have seen Michael Dirr, Tracy DiSabato-Aust, and many others talk at the event. This year, we benefited from the enthusiasm and knowledge of Susan Martin, who gave fun and insightful presentations on design and plant choice.
I wish more local gardeners came to these. If they had, however, some of them might have been taken aback by Martin’s characterization of the new generation of gardeners. She noted that gardeners coming into nurseries and garden centers for the first time these days come in without the inherited or partial knowledge and experience of their baby boomer predecessors, and you can see in their social media posts, where Japanese beetles might be labeled pollinators and fern spores as pests. They just don’t know.
In my view, the remedy for lack of knowledge is simple. Acquire knowledge, through classes, reading, talking to proven experts, whatever it takes. And then acquire experience. In the world of marketing, it’s a little different. There, one can’t assume that knowledge or the desire to acquire it is present. The strategy? Accept and encourage ignorance. First off, forget about using botanical names or maybe even any name—label plants for what they do, like “yellow flowers all summer in partial shade” or “grows to eight feet with white flowers in spring and orange berries in fall.” The idea is to talk people into gardening by implying they won’t need to know anything. In the trade, this is necessary; I am told would-be clients walk in saying they don’t know anything and don’t want to do anything.
But those who intend to maintain a garden without a weekly crew are going to have to learn something. I had to. Something’s going to happen in that garden full of foolproof plants and somebody will have to deal with it—probably by doing as little as possible. The more knowledge and experience, you have the less you have to do. It’s a big benefit! I have seen so many frantic Facebook posts with one brown leaf, leggy flowers, minor insect damage, or many other situations when the answer is “cut it off or ignore it.” Knowing the botanical names of plants can also be key.
Get a clue, beginning gardeners. Don’t let others dumb everything down. They may have taken the word “write” out of the garden writers professional organization, but books can still work, extension websites tend to have correct information, and the smart pros at the nursery can help more by giving real names and real info rather than pointing to the pretty yellow flowers.