Surveys and their strange results


No wonder everyone loves this plant. Purple is #1.

In Greenhouse Management, a gardening trade bulletin I get via email, the September cover story is about who gardening consumers are and what we want. I use the terms “we” advisedly, because with most surveys of this nature I always end thinking “Who are these people?”

Not that all the results were that unexpected. Conducted by Ball Horticultural Co. and Proven Winners, the surveys were aimed at average garden consumers. 

How old is the average gardener? Most range between 35-55 (67%), with the largest percentage (26%) in the 45-55 range. No surprise there. There was a tiny uptick in ages 25-34, who went from 14 to 17%. Maybe food growing accounts for that.

Women make up 93% of PW’s customer base. No surprise, but kind of disappointingly predictable.

Most people (41%) said they were weekend gardeners, with 13% claiming “avid,” and 12% “new.”

There were two results that did surprise me. According to the Ball survey, 73% of vegetable and herb gardeners purchase them as plants. Really? A lot of edibles aren’t even available as plants, so this did seem strange. And the top plant color is purple. See, I would have thought pink. (Though personally, I like white and yellow.)

Finally—as was reported before all this—a new National Gardening Association survey shows that considerably fewer households participate in gardening now than they did in 2005, 11% fewer (with the decrease including the couple years before the recession hit). You have to figure that if even the NGA has to report a decrease, things must be bad.

Oh well. Who are these people anyway?

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I do have to say, who are those people … I know they didn’t talk to me! I am younger than 83% of the respondents, in that 7% of male gardeners, and represent one of those 27% that plant seeds … guess I represent the black sheep of the gardening family! Plus, purple, really???

  2. Well, I do like purple.

    Other than that, I’m 34, female, and “avid.” (Unless “deranged” is one of the other options.) I’m just going to hope that decline in gardening is a survey problem and not representative of the greater whole. (And here I thought we were all supposed to vegetable garden our way out of the recession…)

    I confess, I generally have poor luck with seeds and only use them for heirloom varieties/weird obscure natives I can’t possibly get any other way, so I’d be one of those plant buyers, too.

  3. I wonder if the decrease in gardeners has anything to do with people losing their homes and being forced to rent. I know I wouldn’t want to spend a whole lot of time and money to improve the garden on a property that I might not be living in for more than a year or two.

  4. Purple ? I don’t like purple at all. Pretty much any other color, yes. I just don’t care for purple flowers.

    I am female, in the 35-55 range (but not the 45-55 yet) & am certainly more than a weekend gardener (some have described my as “rabid”). I do buy many of my garden residents as plants. Why ? Because my garden patch is very small & I’d hate to waste a whole packet of seeds just to get one or two plant of the variety I prefer. We have several local IGCs that between them offer almost any heirloom or hybrid a girl could wish. Almost. Those that are not available locally, I have to decide if it’s worth it to start my own from seed.

    I do find it difficult to believe that fewer people are gardening. In my circle of acquaintances, no gardener has quit & many previous non-gardeners are rapidly becoming addicted.

  5. Yikes, 93% female! I’m more rare than I thought…but I believe the statistic when I think about it. My local county Master Gardener group, about 30 strong, has maybe 5 males in it.

  6. Am I the only one who dislikes Strobilanthes? As a rule, purple plants and purple flowers are fine with me but this plant just rubs me the wrong way. I fell in love with a pure silver variety I saw on a garden tour once but I have never seen that one in the trade.

    A agree with Chad, I believe any downturn in the industry can easily be attributed to the economy. People are cherishing the plants they already have and not spending on any more.

  7. I wonder if the 73% start edibles from plants statistic could be explained by casual vs. avid food gardeners.

    I would hope most people with rows and rows of dedicated heirloom veggies are starting them from seed, but there are probably a lot more people who have a pot of parsley or a single cherry tomato stuck next to the garage or something like that – and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that those were bought as plants.

    oh, and ‘avid’ and ‘new’ gardeners are ~13,000 and ~12,000 people, but 29 and 28%. The remaining 3% were ‘master’ (I guess that’s sort of like ‘deranged’, UrsulaV)

  8. I too buck the trend with having a vegetable garden that is almost 1/4 acre (for 2 people).
    I would be the “super” avid gardener category-perhaps the gardening industry doesn’t want to acknowledge us uber gardeners’??

    Well time to dug out my 5 rows of potatoes (all different) after all they are each 40 feet long!

    Best purple IMO? that deep purple iris I received from one of my aunts who has since passed away. I always think of her when it blooms.

  9. I am 34, female, and an avid gardener. However, once the school year hits, I am pretty much forced into weekend gardening.

    As for purple, I have to admit I bought purple beans this year, because my daughter really, really wanted them. We will see how they turn out. My mother’s purple peas were pretty, but tasted horrendous.

    And I usually start my plants from seeds, but have been known to buy starts if the occasion calls for it.

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