Bird’s the word

Departments - Straight Talk | Honest insights from an IGC expert

Ramp up your birding efforts to support wildlife conservation while promoting a relaxing hobby.

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November 5, 2021

PHOTO COURTESY OF LESLIE HALLECK

Little known fact: I volunteer weekly as a keeper aide at the Dallas Zoo, which has animal conservation at the center of its mission. Every Wednesday morning, I get up at the crack of dawn, make a tumbler of extra-strength coffee, and make my way to the flamingo habitat at the zoo. There, I spend about half a day cleaning the flamingo pond (also inhabited by several duck species, a family of southern screamers and cranes), helping with the care of the birds, and quite a bit of intensive gardening. The habitat, one of the very few where a volunteer gets to work inside with the animals, is a huge sunken garden, so it needs plenty of horticultural tending. This volunteer work isn’t just for the birds; it’s a wonderful way to exercise all of my business-owner demons each week, not to mention a good arm workout. I do a lot of scrubbing.

For the birds

Why am I telling you this? Because birding just happened to be one of the hobbies that — along with gardening and indoor plant keeping — exploded during the pandemic. I’ve always been fascinated by all creatures, including birds, and spend lots of time enjoying the birds who visit my garden. A few years ago, I invested in a fancy pair of binoculars so I could better birdwatch from my kayak or when hiking. And really, who hasn’t wanted to take on their own “Big Year” after watching that gem of a movie? Perhaps that’s why my husband hid the binoculars ...

Anyhow, there’s no denying that backyards and birds go together like, as Forrest Gump would say, peas and carrots. Sequestered at home for so long, many of us turned to our backyards for solace and nature watching. We couldn’t go on all those trips we had planned, so we started putting out a record number of bird feeders and planting more wildlife-friendly plants, hoping to coax nature to come to us. Birding mania also seems to be surviving the pandemic, much like the increased interest in gardening and houseplants, which is good news for any green industry business that sells bird-friendly plants and products.

Balcony birding

Now, balcony gardening is also seeing a big trend boost, but I think we as an industry sort of leave apartment dwellers out when it comes to bird gardening and watching. I’ve personally helped a friend set up her balcony plantings and feeders specifically to encourage hummingbirds to visit her. Lest customers think they must have an expansive residential property with an on-trend stylish prairie style wildscape to attract and enjoy birds. Add several planters with environment-appropriate bird-friendly plants and a feeder or two, even a small birdbath to a balcony or small patio, and you can carve out your own postage stamp version of a bird-friendly garden.

Green gets real

Conservation is another issue winding its way toward the forefront of the collective gardening consumer consciousness. Mostly, I see an interest in conservation coming from two fronts: First, the increase in birding. Second, from the awareness of plant poaching within the rare houseplant community.

Sadly, I recently saw the alert about the ivory-billed woodpecker, along with 23 other species in the U.S., designated as extinct. The list includes 11 bird species, eight freshwater mussels, two fish species and a plant species in the mint family. Speaking of plants, one in five of the world’s plants are now at risk of extinction.

I suspect plant conservation will become much more central to gardening consumerism. Conservation, of course, opens the door to delve deeper into native or adapted non-invasive species that support local wildlife.

As growers and garden centers, it’s an easy and natural fit to weave together a central theme of letting nature nurture you whilst supporting wildlife and conservation, whether it’s outdoors or inside.

Everyone’s an expert

Creator culture is one of the more in-your-face trends happening in the horticulture industry, at least if you’re paying attention to social media, Etsy and all of those new amateur-run plant shops popping up. Plant enthusiasts and influencers are creating most of the content these days that our gardening customers are using to make buying decisions. So, you’d either better figure out a way to compete in that space with your own content that strikes the right aesthetic and educational vibe; or you’d better hitch your wagon to an enthusiast who is already doing it, if for no other reason than to make sure that correct technical information makes it to your customers through all the anecdotal hobbyist rhetoric.

Good thing is, pretty much everything we do in the horticulture industry supports a creative lifestyle and aesthetic, which is why I think so many new enthusiasts have been inspired to create their own plant-related content and businesses. And, most new plant enthusiasts are hungry for new knowledge and a deeper understanding of how plants work — and have a growing appreciation for their value.

Luckily, this is a “we all rise together” scenario if we are savvy and respect our customers’ intelligence enough to go deeper with them in terms of education.

Plant tribalism

The creator culture is also part of what has driven a sort of plant tribalism amongst enthusiasts. This has made community and identity much more important in gardening and indoor plant hobbies. Enthusiasts aren’t only looking for a particular plant or product; they are looking for acceptance, validation and connection within the plant community. I predict a resurgence in the popularity of old-school plant and gardening societies, which will manifest anew in the digital online world.

Let nature nurture you

The gardening world is different now than it was a year or more ago. The simplest observation I can offer is that hobbies we once nurtured are now doing the nurturing in return. What once felt like a luxury pastime now feels a necessity for many.

We’re all desperate to be nurtured, given the stresses of the last couple of years, and we seem to be leaning on nature — as we always do — to nurture us. This is why if you’re looking for me these days, you just might find me hanging out with the baby flamingos.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com