Words matter

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Draw in consumers with a clever message that’s all about the feels.

Angela Treadwell Palmer

This August, while walking the aisles of Plantarium, the famous Dutch trade show, I was of course trendspotting. At first, I was rather disappointed because the only “trend” I saw was permanently painted, even more sparkly succulents. This time, vendors were showing how to sell them for winter holidays, and these succulents no longer resembled plants. It’s super hard to tell if they are real with the heavy, almost wax-like coating of metallic blue paint. Some of the plants looked like they were dipped in wax and then in sparkles, Really? I know I have argued here in the past that we need to do whatever we can to get non-gardeners to buy plants, but making them look and feel fake is taking it a bit too far.

My mind started asking: Can those plants breathe? Can they even release oxygen from their seal-coated appendages? Are they crying inside?

Thankfully, one trend struck me. I noticed signage – clever signage. Signage that had nothing to do with what the plants look like or what they offer, but brainy sayings meant to draw people closer, such as a sign from Van Kempen Nursery for sedums: “Not fat; just holding water.” That’s brilliant!

This sign said nothing about the plants being sedums, or succulents, or about them being drought tolerant. It said nothing about what you should do with them or how much they cost. It simply used words that made people curious.

I also loved a sign that explained what hydrangeas symbolize. Remember those vintage books that told you which flowers to give for a funeral, a breakup, a love? Hydrangeas symbolize friendship (among other things). Imagine someone in a garden center looking for a gift for a close friend and they see this sign. Do you think it would encourage them to buy that friend a hydrangea?

Why are we only giving consumers the science behind plants and their care, not the feeling or symbolism those plants represent? Today’s consumers are quite conscious of their surroundings, feelings, and well-being. They want their gifts and belongings to mean something. Science is necessary, but we need to draw them in first with something such as packaging or a message that piques their curiosity. When they are curious, they’ll want to know more and will ask about the plant’s needs. But first they must be engaged.

It’s all about the “feels” these days.

Many teenagers and millennials are obsessed with the food they put into their bodies. They are learning good habits from their high school health class (and hopefully their parents) about eating for fuel.

They want to live in a healthy environment, free of chemicals and toxins. Thankfully for retailers, they can also be obsessed with collecting things. They collected Pokémon cards and Shopkins when they were younger, and now it seems to be sneakers (or is that just my 15-year-old?). Some are now collecting houseplants. For my son, it’s hot pepper plants. For my daughter, it’s air plants from Live Trends.

When I got my first apartment, I needed something to nurture, so I adopted a kitten. Being a horticulture student, I always had plants, but people thought I was weird. It’s so hard to find a place to rent these days that allows pets, so houseplants are becoming the new kitten. Not only are houseplants something to collect and nurture, but these first-time apartment dwellers have discovered plants give you oxygen, they calm your nerves and they make wonderful living decorations. I’ve heard stories about millennials with tall bookshelves filled with succulents. That’s so awesome!

If we start telling stories about how plants can make your world healthier and an all-around better place to be, and we do it with a clever message that draws them in, we will hook curious people. What does “Just holding water” mean? Horticulturally, it means drought tolerant. There’s the conversation starter. Curiosity is the cornerstone to growing and caring for plants. The curious gardener knows there’s no fear in gardening, just let your creativity flow and #PlantSomething.

Angela Treadwell-Palmer founded and co-owns Plants Nouveau LLC., a company that specializes in introducing and marketing new plants to the nursery industry. She’s been around the world, experiencing world-famous gardens and remote areas looking for new ideas and exciting plants. angela@plantsnouveau.com