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Gardening enthusiasts are increasingly the target of catalog marketers, even those whose main business lies outside the seed and plant trade.

About 11.5 million people bought gardening equipment, tools, trees, plants and seeds by direct mail in 1993, the latest year available from Simmons Market Research Bureau. That was down from a peak of 12.1 million but was up from 4.5 million just six years earlier.

Baby boomers, numbering about 45 million, are driving growth and interest in the category (AA, April 3). Consumers between ages 30 and 49 account for almost half of all gardening product sales, according to the National Gardening Association.

"Existing catalogs are shifting more of their focus toward gardeners. Even the general merchandise catalogs are making the garden a specific category within their books, such as Lillian Vernon, Plow & Hearth and Orvis," said Donna Krampf, manager-consumer public relations at the Direct Marketing Association.

"It's becoming more of a crossover market, with both the hard core gardeners and the leisure and hobby market," Ms. Krampf said.

"In the high stress business environment, with people cooped up all day in their house and offices, gardening has become more popular than ever," said David Hochberg, VP-public affairs at Lillian Vernon Corp.

Mr. Hochberg cited another reason behind expanding the garden category in catalogs.

"It is a great category that has gotten even stronger," he said. "Also, from a technical operations point of view, we love it. For direct marketing companies, the business is geared to the Christmas season. Gardening helps round out our year for us."

Lillian Vernon's March core catalog has the company's largest selection of gardening products yet, with 12 more pages of gardening products than a year ago, Mr. Hochberg said.

To date, gardening sales are up 5% this year over last; of the catalog's top 10 selling items, four are gardening-related products, Mr. Hochberg said.

Sales are also up at Spring Hill Nurseries, Peoria, Ill., a mail-order catalog.

"There is tremendous interest in gardening in general, and in particular, perennials," said Theresa Lusch, catalog manager. "People are trying to improve their immediate environment, so we're seeing interest [in gardening both in terms] of a family activity and in beautification."

But not all catalog marketers are planning to cater to this segment. A focus group/poll of Lands' End readers found that 60% of them tend a garden; the hobby was second only to walking. Yet, Lands' End chooses to focus on general merchandise and isn't planning a product line specifically targeting the gardener.

"We try not to get too specific. We cater to a wide audience," said Michele Casper, a public relations specialist at Lands' End. "Some of the products we offer can be used by gardeners-hats, slickers, boots-but we're not developing a product line in terms of what a gardener would need."M

Laura Loro coordinates Direct Marketing. Contact her at (609) 784-9090; fax, (609) 784-9119; or 904 Champlain Drive, Voorhees, N.J. 08043.

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