Whether or not you use social media, you are no doubt at least aware of Instagram, a visual social-media platform that has 500 million active daily users and over a billion who use it on a monthly basis. We’re talking worldwide here, which adds up to a lot of eyeballs following (i.e., looking at) the photographs and content that Instagram creators share on the platform. Content creators, including celebrities as well as regular folks, cover everything from travel, fashion, beauty, fitness, food and more. If you can think of a topic, there is probably a person out there regularly posting gorgeous photos and information about it. It’s an aspirational thing, and the ones who are the most skillful at reaching and inspiring the most people are known as influencers. Highly successful influencers can make an astonishingly good living at it due to advertising sponsorships, and some even become famous as a result.
Rhonda Kaiser (https://www.instagram.com/southernhomeandfarm/)has become an Instagram influencer and her topic is her garden. While the demographic for Instagram skews younger than your average gardener, nevertheless there are plenty of us gardening types who like to see photos of all garden-related things and get ideas on how to improve our own outdoor spaces. In less than a year since she started sharing images and information about her beautiful garden and greenhouse, Rhonda has amassed a hefty 50,000 followers, and that number continues to grow. It’s not hard to understand why, looking at her content. The background story of how is equally inspiring.
Rhonda received her Agricultural Economics degree from Texas A&M in 1994 and immediately found work in the natural gas industry. It was a lucrative job, but her heart kept calling her back to the satisfaction she had found while working in her grandmother-in-law’s flower shop in Bishop, Texas, during spring breaks when she was a student. She began taking courses at night to become a florist. Soon after receiving her certification in floral design, she quit her corporate job and began working in a flower shop. “From a career standpoint, it probably wasn’t the smartest move, because I seriously lowered my paygrade,” she laughed. “But it was my passion, and I did it for a number of years until I quit in order to raise our daughter.”
In the meantime, she also became a certified Texas Master Gardener and then enrolled in the Art Institute of Houston to study interior design. She found an internship at a prestigious architectural firm in Houston and began a busy side business helping people decorate their homes using what they had. All this, along with the demands of home and family, added up to one very busy woman. A sudden family tragedy caused her to take a step back. “I needed to reevaluate my life,” Rhonda recalled.
She decided to take a different path. In the process, Rhonda had started following people on Instagram and enjoyed seeing what others with her same interests were posting online. She realized that she possessed the skills and creativity to do the same thing, with her own unique Texas twist. But where to start?
An essential component of Rhonda’s success on Instagram is her family, because (she says) without the support of her extended family members, she would not be able to do what she is doing. It all starts with location, and the fact that her garden space is part of what she calls a “family farm” of 60 contiguous acres in southeastern Texas variously owned by her uncle, her father, her husband, her father-in-law and herself.
These “wonderful men,” as she calls them, are her secret sauce, so to speak. As her ideas began to coalesce and her existing garden began to grow, her guys pitched in to make her dream a reality. They helped her build the delightful 10’ × 16’ greenhouse that features prominently on her Instagram site. They poured the slab, installed the plumbing and electricity, and constructed the “highly customized kit,” which is painted to match the property’s farmhouse. The greenhouse features a concrete floor that Rhonda painted, stenciled and sealed. The men also built the adjacent toolshed, fenced the entire garden area (using double-loop, ornamental wire fencing) to keep out horses, cattle and other four-legged visitors, constructed multiple raised beds (two 4’ × 6’ and four 4’ × 8’) and installed granite pathways throughout the garden. They recently added an outdoor farm table, a water feature and bistro lighting around the perimeter of the garden.
With this 60’ × 40’ hardscape as her starting point, Rhonda put her considerable design experience and artistic eye to work creating the “Instagram-worthy” space that her followers have come to adore. “The Antique Rose Emporium has been a huge inspiration for me in designing the look of my garden,” she said. “In fact, there are roughly 30 antique roses that surround the garden, and they all came from there.” She frequents the Round Top Antiques Fair to find many of the decorative items and furniture pieces that give her space its vintage style. Each season finds her changing the décor both in and outside the greenhouse and the surrounding garden.
Of course, the foundation for it all is what grows in the garden. “This is a working garden — we eat what grows here,” Rhonda stated. “In addition to vegetables, I’ve started planting more flowers for color and for pollinators. I always try to have butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) to help the Monarchs. The beds are all watered using automatic drippers on timers, and sometimes I supplement that with hand-watering. I plant what I like, and my advice to anyone is that if you don’t like it, don’t plant it.”
Rhonda makes it all look easy, but lest you think that this is all fun and games, rest assured that it takes a lot of work to do what she does. In addition to performing all the physical labor that gardeners do, there is the extra effort involved in making it look photo-op ready just about all the time. (I don’t know about you, but my garden has rarely — as in probably never — looked that way.) Then there is the learning curve involved in setting up and maintaining the Instagram site itself — the administrative aspect of it all. And success can bring its own problems, as when recently a hacker started a fake account using Rhonda’s name.
A huge part of being an influencer is in creating a loyal community by interacting with followers. Those personal ex-changes are crucial to keeping people involved and interested in engaging on a regular basis. Keeping the content — photos, descriptions, comments and so on — fresh and entertaining is what causes users to regularly check the site to see what’s new. That’s a lot harder to do than it might seem at first glance.
Rhonda has it down and it seems like the only way for her to go is up. She often features herself in videos and her personality comes through in her responses and invitations to the people who follow her. She has recently been featured in Hobby Farms magazine and she has partnered with the company that makes the rustic bed swing styled so picturesquely on her site to give one away in a contest for her followers. This is the sort of interaction that can lead to ongoing sponsorships from companies that realize that Rhonda would be a good representative for their products.
Growing a successful garden is something we all aspire to do. Rhonda does that, and in the process, she is growing a successful Instagram business as well. You can follow her at @southernhomeandfarm. tg
By Suzanne Labry, B.A., B.ED.
Volunteer Billie L. Turner Resources Center Herbarium
University of Texas at Austin