Last spring, as the world descended into a collective panic, Drew Barrymore planted her first lawn. “I did not think I could do this,” said Ms. Barrymore, 46, who until last year did not include gardening in her exhaustive list of achievements.
And yet, the actress, writer, producer, businesswoman, mother and recent television host managed to make grass grow. “It was all barren. I got the water and the rake and the bag of seed and I waited weeks and watched it grow,” she said, speaking by phone as one of her two daughters vied for her attention in the background.
In early-stage pandemic fashion, she — like many other locked-down homeowners — also got chickens and planted a victory garden, growing tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, strawberries and squash. “It was a miracle. I never knew I could do these things, I didn’t think I was capable of it,” said Ms. Barrymore, who lives on the East Coast. “I felt really empowered.”
Now, she is sharing her enthusiasm for grass as the face of Instead, a new lawn-care subscription service that fertilizes grass using ingredients like molasses, wheat flour, feather meal, blood meal and alfalfa. Over the course of the growing season, subscribers who pay $132 for a small lawn or $264 for a large one will receive three packages that promise to deliver a “happy lawn” that will be “overjoyed with this special recipe.”
Ms. Barrymore is the latest celebrity to seize on a moment when millions of Americans have turned to their gardens as a source of solace, and to spin it into a business opportunity. Martha Stewart was the first to read the room. She weathered the pandemic last summer by filming “Martha Knows Best” for HGTV, a reality series about life on her sprawling Bedford, N.Y., estate, followed quickly with a second series in the fall. The show is now filming its third season, to air this summer.
Last October, Aly Raisman, the Olympic gymnast who frequently posts Instagram selfies with her overgrown zucchini and miniature lime trees, partnered with the indoor gardening-kit company AeroGarden to share growing tips. And in January, UrbanStems, a flower and plant delivery service, released the love fern, a potted Blue Bell fern designed with Kate Hudson’s King St. Vodka brand.
Even noncommercial ventures seem to play better in the garden these days. During their March interview with Oprah Winfrey, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle took their guest on a tour not of their Montecito living room, but of their chicken coop, projecting a message that in this time of social distancing, the most intimate setting is the backyard.
Americans don’t have a national gardener in the way that the British have Monty Don, who hosts “Gardeners’ World,” which is a national institution in Britain. But with this newfound appetite for homegrown tomatoes and luscious lawns, the time might be ripe for one. As the country emerges from a long winter and (hopefully) the pandemic, all those raised beds and carefully tended lawns planted last spring and summer are still out there, waiting to be tilled and seeded for another season. Someone needs to explain the difference between a shovel and a spade.
One candidate for the role would be, of course, Ms. Stewart, 79, who has been schooling Americans on their pruning methods for decades. She published her first book about gardening in 1990 and sells a line of garden tools and décor. In “Martha Knows Best,” she offers housebound viewers advice on how to achieve the perfect gardening soil, plant trees and build stone pathways, among other things.
“People have started this hobby of gardening that’s addictive,” said Jane Latman, the president of HGTV. “We get letters and comments on our social feed constantly. Where is the gardening? You’re HGTV. Put the ‘G’ back in HGTV.”
The first two seasons of “Martha Knows Best” were filmed with a skeleton crew on Ms. Stewart’s 153-acre estate, where she was locked down with a few members of her household staff. The mogul of domesticity spent much of each episode haranguing her cheery gardener, Ryan McCallister, as he dutifully planted 18,000 daffodil bulbs and wrapped her enormous boxwoods in burlap for the winter. (A crew of silent workers stitched the burlap shut with sewing needles.) In typical Martha Stewart fashion, she also demonstrated how to carve pumpkins and make wreaths, and bantered with celebrities, including Ms. Barrymore, over video.
Filming began on April 9 for the third season, which will offer viewers more of Ms. Stewart’s property and take them indoors, as pandemic restrictions loosen. “We’re going to see more chickens,” Ms. Latman said. “The audience was very interested in the chickens.”
As HGTV begins to look beyond the pandemic, it still has an eye toward the outside. “The idea of home has changed over the last year and a half, and there is a nesting that people have done and will continue to do,” Ms. Latman said.
“Inside Out,” a show about an interior designer and landscape designer squaring off to win the larger share of a homeowner’s budget, premieres April 26 on Discovery+, the streaming service for Discovery, HGTV’s parent company. And “Clipped,” a topiary competition series premiering May 12, has cast Ms. Stewart as the lead judge deciding who has created the best sculpted shrubbery.
If Ms. Stewart is a natural fit to channel our newfound enthusiasm for the garden, Ms. Barrymore is a less likely one. “Had they asked me two years ago, I think I probably would have been like, ‘You don’t want me, I’m not the real deal,’” she said of her partnership with Instead.
But by the time the company did come around, Ms. Barrymore, who also has beauty and home-furnishings lines, was hosting a new talk show and had acquired an appreciation for dirt. Now, her Instagram feed is an eclectic mix of trying on lipstick for her beauty brand, selfies in the television studio, and videos of her hugging her chickens.
In Instead’s version of landscaping, grass has an opinion and “lawning” is a verb like nesting, Zooming, adulting or Instagramming. Ms. Barrymore is the co-chief creative officer of the company, which is funded by the venture capital arm of Scotts, the lawn-care behemoth. She defines “lawning” as the act of “setting up a space for you and your family, and it’s a place that doesn’t want to be a museum that you stare at but a place that you interact with and live.”
In a 30-second commercial for the lawn-care product, Ms. Barrymore, wearing a denim shirt and patchwork skirt, spreads out on an impeccable lawn and pets the grass, professing her love for it. “Happy lawn, meet happy lawn,” she says with a giggle.
Original posted at www.nytimes.com