For Dig It! #2, we sat down with award-winning “plant entrepreneur” Michael Perry, known around the internet as @mrplantgeek. For over 20 years, Michael has played a hand in developing and introducing some of the UK’s most successful new varieties – first with premier mail-order catalogue, Thompson & Morgan, and now independently. In recent years, he’s carved a unique place in the industry, as a content creator, TV presenter and new product developer in his own right. With a following of over 40k fans on Instagram (and counting), Michael is a top choice to advise, strategize and promote some of the most successful brands and varieties. You might recognize his friendly face from his work with QVC shopping channels, TV’s The Alan Titchmarsh Show and ITV This Morning, BBC Great British Garden Revival and more. Read more about Michael on his website.

You’ve spent more than 2 decades introducing new plants to the UK market (and beyond). Can you share with us how the market has changed in that time?

Social media has opened horticulture up to a lot more people. I think in terms of myself, it's made it easier to be a geek and to be interested in niche areas because you can easily reach out and find other people that get excited about the same things. Ideas, inspiration, and initiatives are swapped and cultivated in Facebook groups and hashtags – and I'm not just talking about new product development, but all facets of the industry. Social media has given us all quite a connection and the industry is a lot more supported.

Do you see any unique opportunities for the industry with social media?

The houseplant movement is obviously huge – what if we got that community outside? Let’s share the joy of outdoor growing as well. Of course, not everyone has a garden or balcony, but everyone has a potential to fit a window box. I’d love to see those being put to use.

With the measurable enthusiasm we see online, do you think that growers and retailers should be responsive or proactive when it comes to market trends?

I think you have to put yourself in the eyes of the consumer every time. In my work with Thompson & Morgan, I found the best new products are something people could recognize, and you give them little dribbles of new elements. If the customer can relate to it, there’s an opportunity to slide in something that’s just a little bit different. Essentially, a small and relatable twist on a product that’s already existing and popular.

Alongside the “newer” audience that’s visible online, let’s not forget there is still a large demographic that don't use social media. They still go to the garden centers, and they still buy what they want to buy, and they still garden the way that they've gardened for 40 years as well. At the end of the day, we cater to a lot of different personalities and a lot of different likes and dislikes.

Can you think of new varieties that were introduced successfully?

There are a few that come to mind! I think a great example (and not just because I modeled for them) is the Mangave which combines the best attributes of Manfreda and Agave. Another would be Isotoma. When I was working on introducing it at Thompson & Morgan, I likened it to Lobelia – with longer flowers and a bit of fragrance. People were comfortable with that and were willing to give it a chance. Another example might be Plantipp’s Sempervivum Chick Charms.

Do you have any favorite accounts, websites or publications you follow to stay inspired?

Absolutely! Some of my favorites are: