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If we see ourselves as a nation gone crazy for gardening, it's through leaf-colored glasses. Despite the prominence of Martha Stewart and the success of Home & Garden TV, fewer of us slip into our Smith & Hawken plastic clogs and venture out into the garden. The latest survey from the National Gardening Association shows that between 1992 and 1997, households with at least one gardener dropped from 75 percent to 67 percent. However, aggregate spending totalled $26.6 billion in 1997, a 17 percent increase from 1992. Gardening supplies and services constituted the fifth-largest household outlay in 1997, just after computers, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Who's getting dirty * The least likely Americans to garden are 18-to-29 year olds: 13%

* The most likely are aged 60 and over: 33%

Why they do it People garden to: * be outdoors: 44%

* be around beautiful things: 42%

* relax and escape the pressures of everyday life: 39%

* stay active and get exercise: 35%

* produce food for themselves and their families: 18%

* produce fresh supplies of flowers for their homes: 14%

* spend time with their families: 14%

The number one "gardening" activity: * Lawn care 63%

* $6.37 billion was spent on lawn care in 1997, with average spending at $145 per household.(Footnote: National Gardening Association)

Runners-up: * Houseplants 49%

* Shrubs 44%

* Perennial flowers 40%

* Annual flowers 39%

* Bulbs 30%

Weekly average time spent in the garden during the growing season: * Less than 1 hour 24%

* 1 to 3 hours 37%

* 4 to 5 hours 10%

* more than 5 hours 11%

* none 16%

Who's spending what * By educational level, households spending the largest average amount on gardening were those headed by college graduates: $503 a year

* The number of farming households that garden plummeted from 3.6 million in 1992 to 300,000 in 1997, but average annual spending per farming household rose from $189 to $887.

* Southerners dug in and spent the most on gardening: $9.32 billion. (Footnote: National Gardening Association)

* Westerners spent the most to keep their hands clean by hiring professional lawn care services: $4.9 billion.(Footnote: American Nursery & Landscape Association)

Fashion * Sales of flower seeds, bulbs, and transplants rose 5.4% from 1992 to 1997, totalling $84.7 million, but sales of gardening clothes more than doubled during that time, totalling $4.4 million. (Footnote: National Gardening Association)

Top tulips sold in 1997 containing orange, purple, or blue: * #3 seller: Apricot Beauty (salmon rose with apricot)

* #8 seller: Attila (rich violet-purple)

* #10 seller: Renown (yellow base edged in blue)

Millennium fever * Sales of vegetable transplants and seeds fell by 25 percent from 1992 to 1997. (Footnote: National Gardening Association)

* Thanks to fears about chaos in the next millennium, seed companies are experiencing a run on sales. Heirloom Seeds offers three Y2K packages priced from $110-$315. Most popular: the cheapest. Keeps a family of four fed for the winter.

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