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Report From PIA – July 6

A recent post on a garden writers listserv asked people to weigh in on an article about statements made by the Royal Horticultural Society’s new president. It seems she thinks that the BBC is “dumbing down” their garden programs, and she wants it to stop.

While most of us on the listserv don’t watch the BBC, we are garden communicators and have strong opinions about our profession. Miriam Young, whose website Plant Concierge is dedicated to bridging the gap between those who understand gardening and those who don’t, said that “Gardening terminology, Latin names and minutia details about plants are a complete turn-off for the general population.”

I experienced this reaction last week during the garden tour; people would ask what a plant was, and when I gave them a botanic name they’d wrinkle their nose instead of writing it down. Virginia garden writer Donna Williamson thinks the problem goes beyond botanic names. “I think we focus on the difficulty of Latin, and forget that people don’t know real basic gardening,” she wrote. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

While pondering this discussion I read Seth Godin’s blog of the day, “Betting on Smarter (or Betting on Dumber)” His point is that marketers have a choice, and he thinks the majority chose not to educate the consumer but to keep them easy to manipulate. This got me thinking: What role do garden product marketers and plant breeders play in the dumbing down of gardeners and garden communications?

Are they working to make the general gardening public smart or keep them stupid?  I recently got a sample of a product, and the PR person who sent it to me asked me twice if I’d received it, used it and liked it. When I responded that I couldn’t figure out from the label just what the stuff is made of, and could she help with that, there was no response.  It could have slipped through the cracks, or there might be a reason that the manufacturer/marketer doesn’t want me informed.

I know that as a garden writer/speaker/radio host, I need to take my readers/audiences down a path that is informative and entertaining. If they don’t have fun listening or reading about plants and gardening, why would they think that they might enjoy actually doing it? For me, this means being honest, funny and from-the-heart. Am I dumbing down by using the common name (if there is one) first, but using the botanic name in all articles and handouts?

The larger issue here is that each of us, gardeners and non, need to realize is that as consumers it doesn’t seem to always be in the manufacturers/marketers agenda to keep us informed.

The shampoo companies aren’t going to tell you that it isn’t necessary to “rinse and repeat” and the plant food companies won’t tell you that not every plant needs fertilizer. They want to sell more of their product.

Seth ends his blog by saying, “…the inevitability of information spreading works in favor of those that bet on it.”

I hope he’s right, but in the end we’re all challenged to work/buy/live more thoughtfully.

There is a point when too much information might be a bad thing. If the garden center that planted this raised bed display garden put a list of all the possible problems those young lettuce plants might have, no one would want to try growing their own salad greens! The success of these plants, however, (and they did grow well) showed their customers that it is possible to grow a great deal of lettuce - and lavender, strawberries, cabbage, and herbs - in a small area.

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