How designers are helping gardening brands develop new audiences
Earlier this year, the Royal Horticultural Society – the UK’s leading gardening charity – unveiled a colorful new image, aimed specifically at appealing to a younger and more diverse audience. “There was a need to modernize,” says Tim Vary, creative director of Design Bridge. Perhaps the clearest example of this modernization is the wordmark, which now appears as RHS rather than its “very posh” sounding full name, Vary notes. “So they shortened it to HRH to be a bit more inclusive and open and for a younger audience.”
The RHS rebranding is indicative of broader trends in the gardening industry. There was a time, not too long ago, when gardening was perhaps seen as the somewhat boring pastime of older members of society. But in recent years, the appeal of gardening has grown dramatically, especially as people have taken up new hobbies during lockdown. In 2020, the ERS reported a 533% increase in the number of 18-24 year olds visiting its website.
The RHS was founded over 200 years ago in 1804. It now runs gardens across the country, annual events and offers plants to buy and advice on its site. For its rebranding, the design team looked to more contemporary direct-to-consumer (DTC) herbal brands like Patch and Sproutl. While Design Bridge was keen to embrace the “accessible and inspiring” aspects of these more modern upstarts, the designers hoped to convey the sense of history that comes with a 200-year-old brand. This involved a trip to the RHS Lindley Library in Pimlico, London, one of the largest horticultural libraries in the world. The team looked at the botanical designs, which date back hundreds of years, and incorporated the styles into the new brand identity.
“We took this idea of labeling old plants and mixing different typefaces,” says Vary, “but then we reinvented it in a much more contemporary way.” Past illustration style has also influenced new visuals – designers have taken old designs and created new designs which have been rolled out throughout the identity. “You have, at its heart, something that’s quite classic in old botanical design and then modernized with this layering of colors and put on these bold, colorful backgrounds.”
“Gardening should feel like an extension of how you approach the design of rooms inside your home”
While the RHS has been around for two centuries, a younger generation of DTC companies has recently emerged to cater to new audiences – whether they’re apartment dwellers with limited outdoor space or beginners with fingertips. greens. But how do you launch a gardening brand in today’s crowded market? Muddy Trowel, which sells indoor and outdoor plants and offers design services, was founded post-lockdown with a focus on sustainability and accessible advice. Design manager Rosie Pearmain says looking outside the gardening industry was the starting point for Muddy Trowel’s brand image.
“Gardening should feel like an extension of how you approach room design inside your home,” she says, “and we thought Muddy Trowel could be at the forefront of that. of view, with a specialty of plants for small outdoor spaces and balconies that feel very connected to indoor rooms.” This led to an unusual point of inspiration for a plant company: current trends in interior design.”We focused on a theme of maximalism,” says Pearmain – bright colors and an Italian aesthetic of 70s style found in wavy candles and checkerboard-print throw pillows, it’s a “noticeable and much-needed kickback” to the minimalist trends of recent years, notes the designer.
In addition to appealing to contemporary tastes, the identity also evokes “joy and blandness” in a category that can often feel “functional and serious,” Pearmain says. This helps convey the positive emotional benefits of gardening, as well as recognizing the growing interest of young people. The color scheme, consisting of vivid blues, yellows and greens, was also an attempt to evoke “the joy and optimism that can be created through gardening”. Like Design Bridge, Otherway also focused on illustration in branding – building on the theme of eclecticism. “Cartooned, Disney-esque has been paired with collage-style photo cut-outs,” adds Pearmain, who seek to show “the eclecticism and variation you tend to see in the prettiest gardens.”
The need to differentiate themselves from millennial-friendly start-ups was also behind the branding of online plant store The Stem. Helen Rabbitte, creative director of Hello Rabbit Design, adds that it was essential “to inject fun and playful energy into The Stem”. “We found that many other online plant stores were very minimalistic and sophisticated,” she says. On The Stem’s website, a series of rotating stickers depict variations of smiley faces and globes with the slogan “plant happiness.”
“Creativity and encouragement from the grassroots”
As gardening brands reach new audiences, their platforms must evolve, whether in a digital or physical space. This is partly because gardening habits change frequently, as they have during lockdown, and new trends come and go. Thanks to the digital nature of The Stem, it was easy to create a brand that “could be easily adapted to reflect changing style demands and consumer needs in an ever-changing marketplace,” says Rabbitte. The focus on digital was also crucial for Muddy Trowel. As Pearman explains, the website needed to explain its USP — “potted plants in kits” — alongside a simple “purchasable feature.”
Prior to the HRH overhaul, the organization’s branding was disparate, says Vary. So a key part of the new job was updating digital platforms like its social media and website. The RHS site, which offers tips for starting and managing a garden, had 30 million users in 2021. Design Bridge sought to implement a “bottom-up” principle for branded digital assets, hoping to convey a bottom-up move – “this idea of creativity and nurturing from the bottom up,” as Vary puts it. It also opened up a world of animation for branding that was particularly effective in conveying this theme.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects for brands looking to engage with new audiences is tone of voice. The world of gardening may seem like the domain of experts or those with vast lawns to experiment with. Likewise, annual flagship events like the RHS Chelsea Flower Show can seem like a world away to those just getting started with gardening. One of the guiding pillars of Design Bridge was the implementation of the idea of the “accessible expert”. This was particularly important for the HRH, as last year its advice page attracted nearly 44 million interactions. It should cater for all levels – for those learning to grow zucchini to those growing them for shows, to use an example. As Vary adds, “It’s about getting people to get out and garden – whether it’s a window box or a big garden, and everything in between.”