Last Child in the Garden?

Nov 17, 2015 4 Comments

As old friends and relatives would confirm, I was never a very gifted do-it-yourselfer. Though like many I wallpapered, painted and tiled my way through life until I could afford to pay someone else to do it. But being raised by über-hobbyist parents (a “workman” in our house was unthinkable) I had a choice of things to help Dad with and, no surprise, I chose gardening. Not because I had a love of plants, but because I just HAD to be outdoors.  If I wasn’t playing footy or tramping the moors, being Mum and Dad’s gardening go-fer was the next best thing.

So when I harvested over 40 yummy winter squash the other day, it was just another day in the year’s cycle. But some who see the picture are in awe. While this is great for the ego, it shouldn’t be a big deal. Should it? It’s not like I brought about world peace. I just stuck two seeds in the ground and applied water – easy for me!

We constantly hear of the challenge of getting younger people up off their you-know-what and into the woods, fields or even their own back stoop. Surveys suggest that Americans of all ages could be spending 12 hours or more per day in front of some kind of screen!


If “gardening” is not to become something in old movies and family albums, the industry supply chain and all interested parties need to write their own future. Otherwise the consumer or society will write it for them. And that might not be good. The future of the $40+ billion DIY garden/outdoor living industry in the USA is in the hands of those driving it now.

Now the topic of “connecting kids with nature” is becoming a hot one, garden retailers of all shapes and channels should be emphasizing that nature starts with the first step outside. Typically kids experience a garden space before woods and trails. Let’s start them right in their own backyard.

Baby Steps – Literally

This idea is not new, but is taking years to activate. After years of “food gardening” being the only real growth sector, how many locally owned garden retailers are now the community leader in this core activity?

I don’t expect Home Depot or Lowe’s to plow up parking lots and install how-to community veg gardens any time soon. But over half of the independents I know have spare land somewhere adjacent to retail. Many outdoor sales areas are too large, filled with slow-turning inventory. Why not become the place for parents and families to learn the ultimate screen-time antidote?

Why have long-standing, community–based “nurseries” not established themselves as the place with community gardens and local know-how? Why not partner with a local farmer or non-profit who wants to show their crops growing nearer to the market?

The “eating local” trend has opened up many opportunities for the smart, nimble independent.  Back-to-natural emphasis by “big retailers” from cotton to coffee brings added possibilities for garden retailers to become the local thought-leader. If corporate America is talking about bees and monarchs, can’t local nurseries use this to get the community off the couch?

Do you know how cool we could be?

With the clear trend away from DIY tree and shrub planting, America is set for years of decorating outdoor space and/or food gardening but most outside sales areas don’t reflect that. There is little if any emphasis on such entry-level successes as growing a few radish let alone squash. Garden center websites still feature trees, shrubs, roses and the like with little emphasis on “owning” the secrets to catching a firefly, photographing a hummingbird or growing milkweed for monarchs.

In the last decade the Home Centers have dominated garden retailing to which some purists still say “that was our industry, our product.”  As corporate America begins to put the pieces together for the consumer’s foray into nature, I would hate to hear similar cries of “We were the original outdoor retailers, we should have done that!”

Yes we were, yes we should.

So who has progress to report?

Reading Recommendation (& Title Reference):  The Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv

Photo credit:  Ian Baldwin

  1. Dottie
    Nov 18, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    As usual, little old Brownsburg Indiana has not quite caught up to the national trends. We had an excellent tree year, with 3 times the trees sold at our big fall sale than a year ago; 2014 was up from the previous 4 years. Other categories were good. We host kids ‘classes’ and parties and scout meetings, help with the local library and schools’ kids projects, and have a free or low cost kids activity table year-round. I can’t say the cute kid-friendly seed packets have done especially well, but related items are steady.

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Nov 20, 2015 at 11:04 am

      Dottie, thanks for your good input as always. Sounds like you are helping the little ones discover the garden! Were most of your tree sales also installed? If not what size of caliper are you mostly selling for DIY? Hoosiers must still be into hole digging! Have a great Turkeygiving!

  2. Adria
    Nov 20, 2015 at 11:14 pm

    Oh shoot! I do this with my own kids but haven’t been teaching it. *facepalm* Will read the book. This is great timing. Thanks Ian!

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Nov 23, 2015 at 11:37 am

      Adria,how nice to hear from you. As a food gardening trainer and practioner yourself, I know you “get it” even though I don’t think The Greenery has any land to spare!! Keep up the good work with your classes. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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