This struck me anew as I read the Horticultural Trade Association's interview with James Wong. He'll be speaking at the HTA National Plant Show today about engaging the younger generation. "My talk will cover my own - very personal - views on strategies that I believe garden retail (and in fact the whole industry) must adopt if it is to speak to younger audiences in an exciting, fun & relevant way. Whether it's to get 'em to pick a course at college or to secure a purchase at a garden centre."
(Oh, yes: "fun". I forgot that everything has to be fun as well.)
Now, two points. First, why is there a general assumption that no one will be able to raise a jot of enthusiasm about anything unless it's presented as - yes - exciting? James is merely on trend with marketing speak, but I'm beginning to find it patronising. I don't need to be excited to find something interesting, and while I might not be the demographic that James is talking about, I know I never did. Children, in particular, are targets of this approach. Cue this month's RHS page for families.
"June has the longest day in the year and so is an exciting time of year to get out in the garden and enjoy early summer flowers. Sow clarkia flowers for summer colour and radishes too for a vegetable with bite."
The rest of us do not escape. Get Your Grown-Ups Growing is promoted by the RHS :
"As part of the RHS Campaign for School Gardening this exciting new project encourages schools to get local grown-ups involved in their garden providing valuable resources and much needed help."
Pause for thought. Enjoying flowers - exciting? Sowing clarkia and radishes - exciting? Getting grown-ups in to do your digging - exciting? Hmm.
And this is my second point. How would you describe gardening? Absorbing, yes. Engaging, yes. Addictive - certainly for some. Satisfying, gratifying, comforting, soothing, puzzling, frustrating, intellectually challenging. All sorts of adjectives spring to mind. But not exciting - at least, not until you've become so absorbed, engaged, etc., etc., that the arrival of a new blight-resistant potato makes you buzz with anticipation. Excitement does not come first.
Of course, there are prospects within gardening which most non-gardeners might recognise as potentially raising the pulse-rate: designing a show garden for Chelsea, for example; launching your own gardening business. But ordinary, everyday, suburban soil-delving comprising the main activity of all those youthful wallets that James Wong wants to wedge open at garden centres? I don't think so.
And there's the rub for the garden industry. Gardening isn't exciting. Gardening is the epitome of delayed gratification. We wait; we nurture. People who need excitement in the quantities that gardening marketing departments would like to serve up go sky-diving, bungie-jumping, or throw all their savings into a once-in-lifetime venture. Those of us who garden find it has exciting moments, but we do not do it for excitement.
I'm sorry I'm going to miss James's talk. He believes that "garden centres will begin to need to look and feel more like plant 'food halls' than factory outlets in the very near future". At least that might moderate the vast expanses of lifestyle products that I first mentioned in A Concession to Gardening and which have become the mainstay in many garden centres.
But he envisages what sounds to be an exhausting pitch of excitement, and a dizzying round of innovation.
"If our industry is going to survive it will need to take a leaf out of the books of ruthlessly innovative supermarkets, who are constantly striving to surprise and excite an increasingly discerning customer, instead of just churning out more of the same...
"Rewarding these horti-customers with a spread of exciting, novel varieties, quirky in-store displays and useful point of sale 'how to' advice - just like food and clothes retailers do as standard - is a guaranteed way to keep plant geeks (novices and veterans alike) wanting more."
What do you think? The horticultural industry is a tiny proportion of GDP. That's because gardening is not an inherently consumerist activity, unlike the food and clothes industry, where food gets eaten or perishes and clothes fall apart or out of fashion.
Picture yourself confronted by the panoply of novel varieties described above. Plant geeks grabbing more or, as the "increasingly discerning" customer whom James envisages, choosing the odd plant to try in that awkward corner?
Those who might be drawn in are those who aren't discerning, those who are just starting off with the garden when, for a short time, you're like a kid in a sweetie shop - should I buy that? That looks good. Let's try that. But you buy your plants, you put them in, some die, some get replaced, and, unless you become absorbed, engaged etc., that's pretty much it.
If you do become absorbed, engaged etc., I can't help feeling that you won't be jumping up and down in the garden centre with excitement at a dozen novel varieties. You'll think about your garden, seek out a particular cultivar, choose with care.
And when that's done, you won't be in the shop, you'll be in the garden - growing, not consuming - and doing what you like best.