Do Millennials and Gardening Go Together?

When I first decided to write a blog piece about gardening, I felt a wave of discomfort rise up from my toes to my not-so-green fingers. I’m 24, have lived in a flat in London for the last 3 years and am a long way off from owning a pair of gardening gloves, or a house for that matter.

But then I looked to my right and saw the peace lily I keep on my desk. I thought of my window sill at home, laden with cacti and the copper terrarium my brother bought me for Christmas. I thought of my friend in Manchester who has just bought her first flat and is carefully cultivating a rooftop garden, together with beanbags, lanterns and disproportionately large candles. I thought of Sunday mornings spent wandering around Columbia Road flower market, riding the tube home with bags of orchids that would soon be entered into the inevitable who can keep them alive the longest contest. Between my twenty-something friends and I, there are balconies adorned with bird feeders and flower boxes, apotments and yardens galore, and enough bonsai trees to fill the Japanese area at Kew. Maybe we are gardeners in the making after all…

There are 16.2 million millennials in the UK (Guardian, 2015), 53% of us would rather spend our money on experiences than possessions (Inkling, 2015) and 59% of us feel that traditional values are important (Youth Trends Report 2016). All looking good for the young gardeners market so far! However, when you pair those statistics with the fact that the number of first time buyers is still below that of 2003 (when it saw a 31% decline) and only 36% of 25-34 year olds own their own homes, compared with 67% in 1991 (ONS Digital 2016), things start to look slightly more problematic.

This is where brands have the opportunity to be clever, understanding why the idea of gardening might appeal to millennials in the first place in order to help make that a reality, and earn themselves a loyal customer base that will remain faithful from their 20s through to their golden gardening years.

Hugo Bugg, the 27 year old Chelsea Flower Show gold medallist, argues that gardening offers an “escape [from] our digitally driven daily routines” and that it’s “the best way to go back to your roots and relax”. For those of us who are attached to our smart phones and spend 12 hours at a computer every day, the appeal of gardening may be the thought of an hour or two without a screen. It’s an escape, it’s a rebellion against the tech that surrounds us and it’s the same reason that we go and get drunk in a field every summer. Sometimes we want to switch off.

As Hugo Bugg also says, “Young people seem to be more interested in owning beehives or sowing wild meadow flowers, and the focus on growing your own vegetables has made gardening more fashionable.” In a society where machines do so much for us, we want to get our hands dirty.

This may be true, but I believe that the appeal of gardening also stretches a stage further. I think gardening for millennials mirrors the principles of the Experience Economy. We want to create our own social spaces, protective bubbles that we can craft and nurture for ourselves, perhaps in response to the economic and political uncertainty we face as a generation. We want to have friends round for BBQs, surrounded by fairy lights, and drink beer on cushioned, wicker furniture. We want to build our own havens, areas that we can grow and develop, which will form the basis of how approach and view gardening in the future.

So how does this translate for gardening brands? A £1500 smart watering system may be impressive, but that’s going to capture the imagination of a 60-something experienced gardener who is enamoured by new tech and ways to make the jobs they have been doing for years seem easier. Millennials, I believe, want to be sold the homeowners dream, achieved through manageable projects on a renter’s budget.

The opportunity is there for gardening brands, which have focused the targeting of their products and propositions towards this market, to bring them to life in the right way through creative communications. By showcasing the lifestyle around gardening, how it can offer a welcome break from digitised life and how it can enable young people to build their own, personalised spaces, brands can build a firm following and see uplift from this demographic.

Millennials want to carve out a lifestyle and be imaginative. We may have smaller outdoor spaces, if any, and we may rent rather than own, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to put our own stamp on where we live and nest.

Don’t sell me an app to track the growth of my pot plants, sell me a succulent in a beautiful copper pot that feels like me and matches my new room diffuser. Sell me a BBQ that can grill enough chicken kebabs for ten while still fitting in with the minimalist, Scandinavian aesthetic I’m trying to achieve. Sell me a self-contained herb garden that can be hung from a fire escape without succumbing to the weather.

Sell me a taste of home ownership and an insight into what gardening could develop into over the years to come if I keep at it.

Renovating a house can be stressful. A home provides comfort, security and routine, and when this is disrupted, by the likes of a kitchen renovation, we can often feel stressed and impatient. In fact, a survey conducted by Houzz revealed that home renovations can be so stressful, they prompt consideration of divorce in 12% of couples. Further research suggests that on average, it takes home movers 45 days to fully unpack after moving house. Misplaced belongings, cheese graters buried under scatter cushions and crockery wrapped in newspaper (or loo roll, in my case) can all add to the stress of unfinished homemaking during times of renovation.

This got me thinking. Is there more home interior and installation brands can do to provide customers with alternatives that add value and comfort in times often full of noise, mess and chaos? Should brands build alternatives into their proposition which offer customers support in stressful and disruptive times? How can brands provide convenience while turning the negatives of home renovations into positive experiences? How can brands provide solutions to customers who find themselves parting with even more cash for takeaway food and dining out during a kitchen refurb?

To find out more about our consumer insight research into home movers download our Moving Minds whitepaper.