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An interview with Ian Reynolds, Social Media Manager at The RHS

You might have seen that the consumer trend we’re living this month – identified by social data – is gardening. What makes it so big? Here are a couple of previous blogs. But to really get under the skin of it, who better to interview than the man running the social media of the world’s largest gardening charity, and leading authority on all-things green-fingered? Say hello to Ian Reynolds from The RHS…

Ian, how have you seen gardening grow in popularity over the last few years?

What people consider to be gardening has become so much broader. It’s not just about your garden or allotment, we’re now seeing ‘day-to-day’ gardening indoors. You don’t have to have any outdoor space to think of yourself as a gardener, it could be tending to houseplants or growing herbs in window boxes. Take myself, I definitely consider myself to be a gardener but I don’t have a ‘garden’. I am however planning out what indoor plants I’m going to have (in as many places as possible!) in my new flat. It’s not just me – if you look at gardening Instagrammers, some of them are huge and they solely focus on houseplants.

Has social media changed gardening?

Definitely, yes, in two main ways. Firstly it’s made it a lot more accessible. It’s much easier to find and ask for advice and share what you’ve achieved to inspire or help others. There’s a real sense of pride from others interacting with what you’ve done, so gardening isn’t a chore. Secondly, which relates to the point above, it’s broadened out the category. Take houseplants, for example, they’re one of the top things that people are sharing on social. Social has been such a great opportunity for gardening to look less fusty – and more cool!

Are more people interacting with to The RHS via social?

They are, and it’s been a great opportunity to deliver on our vision. Our tagline is ‘Sharing the best in Gardening’. Given our long heritage, some people think we’re closed off – which we’re not at all! Social allows us to be more open – we’re an authority on gardening but we’re also doing something fun! We want more people to enjoy it – it’s brilliant when we can help them do that.

In terms of who’s chatting to us – on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – there’s an amazing diversity and they’ve definitely got younger. Gardening, in all its facets, is for everyone now and people are far less embarrassed to ask questions. That’s what we love to help with on social – get everyone to enjoy gardening whether they’ve got houseplants or a Chelsea garden.

How did you become the man behind The RHS’s social media?

I’ve always loved nature and greenery. I started out at the Royal Forestry Society after doing Geography at Southampton University – but I knew nothing about Forestry so I was put into marketing! After three months I moved to The RHS and have been here for three and a half years. I really enjoy being able to communicate and help people in such a direct way. It’s also a brilliant community to be part of – we interact a lot with other gardening groups, from the National Trust to Michael Perry – better known as Mr Plant Geek (have a look at his blog or Instagram if you’re not aware of him). More than that, I increasingly see our followers helping each other out and answering questions, which is amazing.

Will gardening continue to grow?

I think so. Our lives are only getting busier and we’re more conscious of taking meaningful ‘time out’. Your research echoes that – people enjoying spending time gardening and producing something from nothing gives a great sense of achievement and freedom. There’s also mental health benefits which have been widely stated.

There’s still work to be done by charities, groups and societies such as ourselves though. Looking back over the last 10 years, we were at a point where 66% of front gardens were green. 66% are now grey. There are huge consequences to that – nature suffers, areas are associated with poverty and environmental problems (like flooding). Also, green spaces have been proven to make us happier. That’s why we have a campaign at the moment called ‘Greening Grey Britain’, with the mission of transforming thousands of grey spaces into living, planted places. Introducing something really small and simple, such as a shrub, flower box or climber, can make a huge difference.

Is growth coming from any particular groups of people?

That 55+ age group is naturally interested in gardening and has been our heartland. The difference now is that they’re increasingly on social – in the past we struggled to engage with them but not so much any more. Beyond that there’s a group we call young and emerging –  children who are sharing photos of gardens. They’re now exposed to gardens far earlier, they have the means to talk about it and they’re tagging us in after to going to gardens such as Wisley. That’s brilliant.

We are trying to be more relevant to more people. We have incredible show gardens but for a lot of people that’s unrealistic for them to replicate so we’ve broadened it out as to how and what we talk about gardening-wise. It’s about hitting that mIddle ground between people who like social events and love their garden, and then bridge that gap to inspire them to get into gardening. It’s why we’re involved in other shows and markets – to expose what we do to more people. It’s more than mowing lawns and cutting hedges!

Finally, if some of our readers have been inspired to get more green-finger themselves, where a good place to start when it comes to houseplants?

People think it’s is hard, but it’s not. There are really easy places to start – and I should know because whilst I’m great at talking about it, I’m not a natural gardener! If you’re looking at houseplants, go for a cactus. They’re very difficult to kill (although embarrassingly I have managed it… I now have 30-40 growing very successfully!). Or look at what your not so green-fingered friends are growing and copy them!

Once you’ve mastered a cactus you can move up to a succulents – also pretty difficult to kill – and then maybe onto a fern. But look around you, see what other people are doing and ask questions!


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