January 2020
Focused on the Future of Gardening By Teresa McPherson

As National Garden Bureau marks its 100-year anniversary, Executive Director Diane Blazek reflects on the past and discusses the nonprofit’s work on behalf of the industry.

National Garden Bureau (NGB) Executive Director Diane Blazek wants people to know that the organization she leads is a source for not only garden centers, but for home gardeners, members of the media, social media influencers and more.

I recently had the chance to speak with Blazek about the organization’s past and present — as well as predictions for the future.

L&GR: What is the purpose of National Garden Bureau?

Diane Blazek: To disseminate good gardening information to home consumers. Over the last couple of years, we’ve evolved to be not only educational but inspirational. We’ve found that some people want the education, all the scientific information, and some people just want to put pretty plants together. So, we’re definitely covering both sides.

L&GR: How is this accomplished?

DB: With some of our oldest programs, which have been in place for decades. One of them is our Year Of program, which launched in 1980. This is where we focus on a class; in 1980, we started it with one class, a vegetable. A year later, we added a second class, a flower. We’ve revised the naming so now we have an annual, an edible, a perennial, a bulb and flowering shrubs.

NGB Year of the CornL&GR: How do you choose the Year Of classes?

DB: It used to be just a Board of Directors decision. About five years ago, we started involving our members. The Board compiles a list of possible classes, which our members then vote on. The top-ranking classes are then chosen to be Year Of classes. This process allows us to create a 3- to 5-year plan so we know what the featured classes will be for a few years out.

It’s by class, it’s not by a specific variety; we cover a crop class. We also try to take a class with interesting traits — maybe there are a lot of new genetics, new breeding work, new ways to use it — something that would appeal to a large number of our members, readers, followers, etc.

L&GR: What other programs does NGB offer?

DB: Our New Varieties, or new plants, program, came about because so many of our initial members were either breeding companies or mail-order retailers. The mail-order retailers and the breeders would submit their new varieties in the fall for the upcoming year and following gardening season, these are the newest varieties that are available to the home consumer.

In recent years, we’ve added hard goods such as garden tools and garden decor; we’ve also added a category for authors of gardening books to promote their titles.

Another big program is our therapeutic garden grants. Our goal was to put a focus on, and raise the visibility of, therapeutic gardening. The first year, we started the therapeutic gardening program as a fundraiser for a specific therapeutic garden. After the first year, we converted it into garden grants, which allows us to give away $5,000 a year to three therapeutic gardens.

L&GR: How is that going?

DB: It’s been awesome. I feel like we were kind of on the cusp of the rebirth of therapeutic gardening, which was first done right after World War II. When all the vets were coming back home, therapeutic gardening really took off. But then it fell by the wayside and now recently, there is a new resurgence. We’re very engaged in that and trying to raise visibility of these gardens and the power that they can have on a person’s life.

L&GR: And that circles back to the history of NGB.

DB: James Burdett, who founded National Garden Bureau, was both a former newspaper journalist and an advertising manager of a seed company, so he worked in public relations but was also very passionate about gardening. He founded NGB with the intent of providing information to the home gardener. This was in 1920, when communication was nothing like it is now. He envisioned the purpose of NGB as being a public relations campaign that educates the consumers by working with all the journalists and garden writers, etc.

Then, during World War II, he got very involved with the victory gardens program. He wrote and published the Victory Garden Manual in 1943. He was educating people on how to grow their own in wartime to feed themselves and their families. So NGB took on that aspect during WWII, and then after that, it was all about disseminating information.

L&GR: How do you spread the word about NGB and its community?

DB: We do a lot of outreach, a lot of social media to build up our community. One of the primary sources we have is the media — trade media, consumer media, bloggers, podcasters, garden writers, radio hosts, TV hosts, all of whom can use our information.

Or we can connect those people with experts. For example, about seven years ago at California Spring Trials, I rented a minivan instead of a small car, which left five extra seats to take garden communicators with me. Now, each year, we take a group of garden writers out to either the California Spring Trials or the Vegetable Trials.

try to take a class with interesting traits — maybe there are a lot of new genetics, NGB Snapdragon_AntirrhinumLifestyle6_Evanthia resizednew breeding work, new ways to use it — something that would appeal to a large number of our members, readers, followers, etc.

L&GR: What other programs does NGB offer?

DB: Our New Varieties, or new plants, program, came about because so many of our initial members were either breeding companies or mail-order retailers. The mail-order retailers and the breeders would submit their new varieties in the fall for the upcoming year and following gardening season, these are the newest varieties that are available to the home consumer.

In recent years, we’ve added hard goods such as garden tools and garden decor; we’ve also added a category for authors of gardening books to promote their titles.

Another big program is our therapeutic garden grants. Our goal was to put a focus on, and raise the visibility of, therapeutic gardening. The first year, we started the therapeutic gardening program as a fundraiser for a specific therapeutic garden. After the first year, we converted it into garden grants, which allows us to give away $5,000 a year to three therapeutic gardens.

L&GR: How is that going?

DB: It’s been awesome. I feel like we were kind of on the cusp of the rebirth of therapeutic gardening, which was first done right after World War II. When all the vets were coming back home, therapeutic gardening really took off. But then it fell by the wayside and now recently, there is a new resurgence. We’re very engaged in that and trying to raise visibility of these gardens and the power that they can have on a person’s life.

L&GR: And that circles back to the history of NGB.

DB: James Burdett, who founded National Garden Bureau, was both a former newspaper journalist and an advertising manager of a seed company, so he worked in public relations but was also very passionate about gardening. He founded NGB with the intent of providing information to the home gardener. This was in 1920, when communication was nothing like it is now. He envisioned the purpose of NGB as being a public relations campaign that educates the consumers by working with all the journalists and garden writers, etc.

Then, during World War II, he got very involved with the victory gardens program. He wrote and published the Victory Garden Manual in 1943. He was educating people on how to grow their own in wartime to feed themselves and their families. So NGB took on that aspect during WWII, and then after that, it was all about disseminating information.

L&GR: How do you spread the word about NGB and its community?

DB: We do a lot of outreach, a lot of social media to build up our community. One of the primary sources we have is the media — trade media, consumer media, bloggers, podcasters, garden writers, radio hosts, TV hosts, all of whom can use our information.

Or we can connect those people with experts. For example, about seven years ago at California Spring Trials, I rented a minivan instead of a small car, which left five extra seats to take garden communicators with me. Now, each year, we take a group of garden writers out to either the California Spring Trials or the Vegetable Trials.

We are connecting the industry to the end consumer via these garden communicators. The garden communicators who go on the trip and say it’s like getting a master’s degree in horticulture in one week. Their knowledge then will be disseminated to their readers and followers.

It’s been amazing to make connections with those garden writers, for them to make connections with the industry and for NGB to act as the conduit. What happens all the time now is people will call or email and say, ‘I need an expert on tulips — who do you have?,’ or similar types of requests. That connection is where I think we play an important role that I sometimes describe as a funnel. You’ve got this big industry, but on the other side, you’ve got all of these home gardeners — and the funnel is National Garden Bureau and the people we help do their jobs or the people we funnel information through.

L&GR: What might garden centers not know that NGB does?

DB: I’m not sure they know that everything we do can be used and repurposed. We do it for their benefit and to save them time. We want them to use our fact sheets, we are an image source, we create PowerPoints they can use, they can share our social media posts, they can use our newsletter content.

L&GR: Where will NGB be in another 100 years?

NGB_Logo_100 Years Anniversary_Final_SEPT2019_CMYKDB: Our vision is to be the marketing arm of the horticulture industry because we want to promote horticulture. We want to increase consumption of horticulture. We’re doing a lot to that end now, but the specifics on how this will be done? We have to adapt, and part of that will be looking at results of survey on the future of gardening of nearly 2,000 consumers that we conducted last fall.

In the survey, we asked questions like what can we as an industry do to make it more enticing for you to buy more plants? Or, what garden chores do you wish you didn’t have to do, because maybe we could breed plants that would prevent having to do that. We have a few leading questions in the survey, but we leave an “other” category for write-ins.

Our goal is to take the consumer survey results and present them to the industry. Nobody else has done this, meaning taking a look at where the industry is going to be in 50 or 100 years.

We are here to represent, support and promote the industry. We will continue to adapt and change and push out information to benefit the industry. We don’t just focus on one segment — we will promote bedding plants, patio plants, seed starting, vegetables and edibles, indoor plants, landscaping, shrubs, therapeutic gardening, etc. — we try to cover as much as we can with the resources we have.

For more information, visit www.ngb.org.



Teresa McPherson

Teresa McPherson is the managing editor of Lawn & Garden Retailer. Contact her at [email protected]




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