Hartley Magazine

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Brand encounter

As gardening is reinvented as just another form of retail therapy, will one man’s quest to get some dirt between our toes inspire us to shop less and garden more? The socks are off…

‘Did you have to take it so laterally? When I suggested barefoot, I kind of meant out in the garden in – er – bare feet, with your skin touching the rich, living soil. Sort of reconnecting with the earth, plugging into nature, less is more, sort of stuff. Do you get where I’m coming from?’

Tonio’s smile broadened with each gentle nod. ‘Completely. I get it, George, I hear you loud and clear. But we need a hook for all this, something we can hang your brand on.’

‘My brand?’ George’s toes dug into the soil beneath his tomatoes. ‘What’s a brand got to do with it? We haven’t talked about branding. It’s not exactly relevant, is it? We’re not exactly selling – ’

‘Well, the channel is really keen for you to have a strong identity, something which viewers – gardeners, I mean – can feel a deep emotional connection with. Trust is where it’s at, George, trust. The channel is very focused on getting physical, sensuous and emotional with consumers so they can provide them with unique, novel and memorable fun experiences that’ll keep them coming back for more!’ Under his clammy armpits, Tonio crossed his fingers. ‘Your toes are just what we need.’


‘See-through wellies – are you serious?’ Glittered tissue paper gave way to two clear plastic wellington boots. The pink soles bore the outline of a set of toes.

‘Isn’t it a great idea? The team spotted them at GLEGS. Are you gonna try them on?’


‘Global Leisure Garden Show, George, the one you couldn’t make.’

‘What I actually said, Tonio, was that I didn’t think it was the right place to go looking for ideas for what I’m – for what we’re – trying to do.’

‘But people really missed you! They were so excited to hear about you and really keen to be involved along the supply chain.’

‘But why the wellies?’

‘Come on, George, they’re such fun and uber-cool. They’ll look great on you. These are the ‘Clear’ range. We thought they give that kinda authentic, earthy feel you said you were trying to get across.’

‘‘Earth-friendly’ is what we talked about –’

‘Roll your jeans up. There’s ‘Misty Pink’ or ‘Foggy Olive’, too – and real funky kids’ ones with glitter in – but we’ll be able to see every detail of your toes through these beauties. We’ll need to clip your nails first, though.’ Probably work best with cut-offs – no point in hiding those fabulous fetlocks, thought Tonio.

‘Look, you’ve lost me. Why on earth are you asking me to put on a pair of clear plastic wellies? What have they got to do with the project? This is just the kind of stuff that turns me off. It’s not what I’m trying to do.’

Tonio slid the see-throughs over protesting feet. ‘George, you’re kidding me, right? You don’t click it yet, man? You can even see where your toes should go. This is so cool!’

‘Hot and sweaty, more like. Why would anyone want to see my overheating feet? They’re going to mist up anyway when it’s cold out. Condensation, Tonio?’ The plastic began to suck at George’s calves.

‘Don’t worry, they’ll work fine for the photoshoot. It’ll be cool, man, trust me. There’s already talk of adjustable vents for the deluxe version.’



As George went to open the greenhouse door, each step gave a rubbery squeak. (Sound effects, too, thought Tonio. Awesome!) ‘Have you been to some kind of marketing conference, Tonio? This all sounds like a lot of corporate… er, speak.’

‘Hey, man, funny you say that, but I picked up some really useful pointers at the GHA’s Green Spender gig last week. It was just awesome, George.’


‘Global Horticulture Alliance – you know, the folks that promote gardening to consu… gardeners. The theme was ‘Checkouts of the future’ – real market-moulding stuff. What they’re doing on multi-channel retailing is just amazing.’ Tonio was on the edge of his seat. ‘They had all this really cool, visionary stuff about how, moving forward, consumers are now demanding a multi-platform shopping experience – all 24/7 of course! – and how, increasingly, they want to ROPO!’

‘Go on, you’re dying to tell me.’

‘Research online, purchase offline!’ Tonio rocked his smartphone triumphantly. ‘And get this: m-commerce is gonna be huge, man, just massive. Mobile shopping is where it’s at. People just don’t have the time to sit and e-shop any more, they’ve gotta do it on the move. They’ve researched it – it’s like going to the shops but without the hassle of going into them!’

‘So won’t they be walking past them, then?’ George managed a half-hearted chuckle. ‘Couldn’t they just go in? It’d help cut down on packaging.’ His toes rubbed against the sweaty plastic. He imagined the nation’s m-shoppers tapping ‘gap to fill’ into their phones and tablets as they toured their one-click borders. ‘It was useful, then, all this cutting-edge thinking on where gardening’s really headed?’

‘Oh, they absolutely loved the ‘barefoot gardener’ concept. I said you might give a presentation next year about how to get more consumers going barefoot in their gardens, and how your earthy ‘skin on soil’ thing – it’s so groovy – can become embedded in the evolving shopper’s journey as part of their multi-environment lifestyle choice. Everyone is so excited about the idea going forward, George. The marketing teams were frothing!’

George’s eyes shot up from his hot, prickling feet. His athlete’s foot was loving it. ‘At last, you’ve mentioned the ‘e’ word. I wondered if we’d ever – ’ Tonio’s phone cut in. ‘Money, money, money, must be funny, in the rich man’s world…’

‘I need to take this, it’s Tabitha – she might have news from the channel’s global franchise division. Two ticks, George, stay cool!’ Tonio paced around the garden, arms flailing, as Tabs’ plummy tones cut over the bees’ hum.

Running a finger around the sweat-soaked rim of one of the wellies, George earwigged, ‘He’s put them on at least… Thigh-length? Cool, but we’d better avoid black… Tell them he’s dead keen… Sure we can geek him up, no probs… A ring tone?… Toes pressing into soil, hmm, so subtle. I love it, Tabs… Is that all they’re offering?… Let’s roll this out to cover the family life stages – gardening from cot to coffin, kinda stuff… Can we tie the book in with the shifting retail landscape?… ‘Child-hardy’ – I love it. Tell Fabian he’s awesome… Oh, and book George a pedicure. Ciao.’ Tonio batted away a hoverfly inspecting his lurid tie.


Beads of sweat lined the see-throughs. ‘I think we might be getting away from the original idea, Tonio. Do you remember me saying that the whole barefoot gardening idea was to have a show where I encouraged people to – er – think more carefully about their purchases, and to, well – it sounds mad, I know – actually buy less stuff, and get gardening more? I think we need something that reflects the tough times we’re in. Gardening that’s more low-tech and local than high-spend and global – doesn’t that have a ring to it? Surely sharing information on getting the best from your plot on a shoestring has – hah, I’m sounding like you now! – genuine austerity appeal?’

Tonio patted George on the knee, then ran a finger over the sun-warmed plastic. ‘George, George. Absolutely. I’ve taken everything on board, every word, but we need to embed the barefoot ethos inside a sympathetic retail architecture that lets us reach multiple platforms simultaneously. It’s not really shoestring gardening as such – austerity is so kinda yesterday, George! We need to develop a strategy for ‘can-do-more’ gardening – the more you have, the more you can garden. Yes? Kind of more is more, with unbeatable value. Gardening is all about growth, right? We can incorporate all your earthy eco-stuff into that offering. Yes?’

‘Help me get these off, will you?’ George gripped the doorframe. Each wellie gave way with a long, wet slurp.

‘We can put your name on them, George, did I say that? Maybe on the side, in green – now that would be kinda earthy, and fun, yes?’

George picked up the wellies and peered at the soles. ‘Anything wrong, George? We can get any tread you fancy. A ‘G’, maybe?’

‘Just checking to see if they have a recycling symbol.’ A pity, thought George, they don’t.

Text, image & toes © John Walker