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Voodoo Lily image from the Gentling garden, Asheville

There’s no doubt that independent garden centers and nurseries—like many businesses—have been seeing their sales decline over the last few years. The percentage dips have been in as much as the double digits, depending on where you are in the U.S. Many nurseries and IGCs have been forced to close.

Things could look up, probably as the stately pace of the economic recovery continues. But is it really all about the recession?

Not so much, says consultant Clint Albin, who regularly works with independent garden centers. Albin always has interesting things to say (In a Regency romance, someone would flirt their fan and trill “Such a rattle!” here.), so I was pleased that he was one of the attendees at last weekend’s Asheville bloggers’ meet. He’s lots of fun.

Albin’s theory is that a major recent impact on garden center sales has been a disappointing performance by the baby boomer set. Why? He says it was expected that aging baby boomers, sliding into their golden years, would turn to gardening—and other gentle home-related pastimes—more and more as they lost interest in the passions of their youth.

But then came … VIAGRA. Suddenly an activity that had become somewhat problematic was very much on the menu. Who needs a hobby? And there you have it. Garden centers were the hapless victims of a renewed interest in sex on the part of older Americans.

I can’t say I really buy this. It doesn’t fully explain the female part of this equation, and—well—I’m sticking with the recession. But I like the originality; kudos to Clint.

There is one irony here that has always struck me. I think it is true that many of us got into gardening somewhat later in our adulthood. I am certainly one of those people—I really didn’t start seriously gardening until after forty. But it just seems so unfortunate that I initiated an activity that requires the worst kind of lifting and bending you can imagine just when my body became more vulnerable to the damage that can inflict.

Clint, can you explain this?

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on May 25, 2012 at 5:14 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy, Unusually Clever People.


  1. Not Viagra, but Poverty!
    Foreclosure, personal (due to health issues) bankruptcy, an anorexic 401(k), can all lead to “downsizing”. Plus when, instead of retirement, one is forced to take on another job can preclude leisure pursuits.

  2. My money is on the lack of money and/or time. Remember the ‘back to the land’ movement in the Baby Boomers’ heyday? Communes? And it is still continuing, from Boomers’ age on down. I grew up with gardening grandparents on both sides of the family, and my mother had a big garden. I never felt the slightest twinge of the gardening bug as a kid, though I liked eating the fresh cherries and peaches, and I had a thing about watering. But practically the instant I got married at age 21, I became obsessed with digging, planting and gardening and it hasn’t really ever let up in the subsequent 40+ years. I lament the aging muscles and back, and have a lot of sympathy for you, Elizabeth, launching this body-dependent activity when the body was starting to complain.

  3. I have to wonder about the lure of travel for many people once the demands of children are gone. Many of us are healthier and more fit than earlier generations and with nothing needing care (children, animals, plants) at home the open road – around the world – beckons.

  4. hmmm wonder if the same thing is going on with nurseries that do most of their business by mail order — maybe the convenience of ordering plants online is taking people away from their local garden centers? Also wonder about seed companies…
    People who are into farming and sustainability might be starting most of their stuff from seed. Our county just lost the most amazing flagship garden center (Matterhorn) So sad.

  5. Elizabeth, I have a link for you for all that lifting- more and more boomers are also getting into fitness activities, so why not learn to lift those heavy bags of dirt or massive planters like it’s a barbell? (Yes, I’m perfectly serious)

  6. Everything has an ebb and flow to it. We may talk about our favorite things as if we never lose interest but it happens. I think that a lot of people get into gardening, then ramp things up to a fevered pitch, and then calm back down meanwhile some people give it up completely and move on to something else.

  7. I am not sure about the lot sizes in the U.S. but here in my hometown, Markham, Ontario, Canada no one cares about sq ft of dirt, its the sq foot of hardspace indoors and out.

  8. After hosting a garden tour last week I realized I have many, maybe too many garden beds to take care of. I’m 54. My 85 ft perennial border I’m re-doing and will install lower maintenance plants. I do not know who would buy my property currently and maintain it-too much for the run of the mill gardener. But yet I continue to buy new plants!

  9. Lifting and bending is a matter of doing it properly and often, and for short periods. The more you do it the easier it becomes even when one hits your 3 score and ten.
    As to Garden Centres, we lost 2 in this small town, mainly because they bought in plants and the nurseries would only sell in too large quantities for small centres.

  10. I think several people above have the answer. The longer I garden, the more I find ways to save money while doing it. I go to plant swaps and propagate my own plants and those of others. I have my own “special” fertilizers that are either free or very cheap. My garden is also pretty mature so I don’t need as many plants as I did when it was planted 12 years ago.

  11. Gardening is about maturity, but not the kind that comes with age. It’s the maturity of feeling connected in a deeper way to nature and life. It doesn’t have as much to do with money (or buying cool plants to impress the Jonesess), or time (making a choice between travel/sex/shopping/being on the Internet as it has to do with honoring something you want and need in your life.

  12. I think commonweeder is on to something with their answer of desire to travel. My mom, who has gardened my whole life, just isn’t as much anymore. Her veggie garden is reduced to tomatoes and sunflowers. Long gone are the tomatillos and summer squashes. She also had dogs, at least two, her whole life. When her last dog died, she didn’t get another. Her reason for both of these changes? She and Dad wanted to travel. They said Costa Rica was gorgeous!

  13. Unfortunately, I think the slow pace at nurseries has more to do with people buying all of their gardening stuff at the big box stores. This article (below) from Nursery Management reports a survey showing that garden sales were up in 2011, but they have shifted to the home improvement stores:

  14. As a family member working at our IGC, I feel that the problem is the big box stores, as well as the Wal-Marts and Meijers, and all the different organizations having their flower sales. I had a man today trying to get me to match a big box store’s prices. The difference was $2.50, and he was willing to drive back to the big box. And, of course, he had to tell me all about it. I couldn’t believe it. I asked him if he would rather drive back to a big box, instead of supporting an 81 year old, family owned, 3rd generation, IGC? Really?! People are so rude. We work over 70 hours a week, certainly aren’t wealthy, and are just trying to make an honest living. It’s very hurtful when people open their big mouths without thinking. Needless to say, I told him to go back to the big box.

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