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Three down years on Wall Street, a sagging economy and a flimsy job market have Americans running for cover. Many are finding sanctuary in their own backyards.

In 2001, members of 8 in 10 U.S. households (85 million) participated in one or more types of indoor or outdoor lawn and garden activities, the highest level of participation since 1996, according to the National Gardening Association (NGA). This groundswell of interest has also boosted sales in all things green. Between 1996 and 2001, lawn and garden sales were up 68 percent, surging to $37.7 billion from $22.5 billion.

To locate consumers of gardening goods — everything from golf-course-quality sod to potting soil — American Demographics partnered with Redlands, Calif.-based ESRI Business Information Solutions. The accompanying map, based on ESRI's 2001 projections of consumer spending, reveals high concentrations of spending on garden and lawn-care materials in major metros and their suburbs along the East Coast, from central Virginia to southern Maine, and on the West Coast, from San Diego to north of the Bay Area. High concentrations of spending also can be found on the Florida coasts and in the Great Lakes region, including the St. Paul-Minneapolis and Chicago metro areas. Morris County, N.J., was home to the most lavish spenders in 2001, with an average annual garden and lawn care bill of $655 per household, compared with the national average of $352 per household. The other top four counties, based on average household spending in the sector, are Somerset County, N.J.; Fairfax County, Va.; Santa Clara County, Calif.; and Fairfield County, Conn. The PopUpdate boxes surrounding our map highlight five of America's 25 top-ranking counties for spending on lawn and garden items.

So who is sinking dollars into lawns and gardens? They're likely to be people who have higher incomes and are better educated than the average American. They're also more likely to be new homeowners. Bruce Butterfield, the NGA's research director, says that the proliferation of plant offerings at mass merchandisers, such as Wal-Mart, and at home centers, including Home Depot, has boosted interest in gardening. In fact, men now spend more money than women on green goods, reports the NGA. And consumers ages 35 to 54 make up more than half (56 percent) of those who buy plant-related products or services. Those living in households with more than three people — or with kids — are more likely than average to dote on their lawns and gardens.

It seems an increasing number of Americans are discovering what Voltaire wrote about in his 18th-century satire Candide: We may not be able to control much that happens in the world, but at least we can “cultivate our own garden.�

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PITKIN COUNTY, CO

County rank by avg. HH spending 24
Average lawn and garden spending/household $536
Number of households 6,747
SPENDING POTENTIAL INDEX* 152
Indoor plants/fresh flowers $124
Outdoor plants, and lawn and garden supplies $143
Lawn and garden care services $185

MARIN COUNTY, CA

County rank by avg. HH spending 17
Average lawn and garden spending/household $554
Number of households 101,226
SPENDING POTENTIAL INDEX* 157
Indoor plants/fresh flowers $129
Outdoor plants, and lawn and garden supplies $149
Lawn and garden care services $191

LAKE COUNTY, IL

County rank by avg. HH spending 9
Average lawn and garden spending/household $578
Number of households 221,988
SPENDING POTENTIAL INDEX* 164
Indoor plants/fresh flowers $127
Outdoor plants, and lawn and garden supplies $168
Lawn and garden care services $181

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, TN

County rank by avg. HH spending 14
Average lawn and garden spending/household $568
Number of households 47,537
SPENDING POTENTIAL INDEX* 161
Indoor plants/fresh flowers $121
Outdoor plants, and lawn and garden supplies $174
Lawn and garden care services $163

NASSAU COUNTY, NY

County rank by avg. HH spending 7
Average lawn and garden spending/household $593
Number of households 449,083
SPENDING POTENTIAL INDEX* 168
Indoor plants/fresh flowers $135
Outdoor plants, and lawn and garden supplies $165
Lawn and garden care services $195

*The Spending Potential Index (SPI) measures the likely expenditure on a product or service. It then compares the average local expenditure to the average amount spent nationally. For example, households in Nassau County spend 68 percent more on lawn and garden products and services than the national average.

Source for all PopUpdates: ESRI Business Information Solutions, 2001

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