Have you been following the discussion over at Cold Climate Gardening on why more older gardeners don’t blog?
Makes for interesting reading, and links quite nicely into my own personal interest in why more younger people don’t garden. I’m not alone in this query. Hanna at This Garden Is Illegal responded to Katie at Garden Punks‘ comment, “Why aren’t people in younger generations interested in gardening?!” with a post of her own, in which she raises two important points (as summarized by yours truly):
• Younger generations do garden. They’re just not all as obsessed with it as many of us bloggers. That doesn’t mean they don’t “enjoy plants and the act of growing something.” Although…
• They’re not calling themselves gardeners – either because they feel they don’t have the right, or don’t want to be associated with the title. I understand this one – at least the former point. It took me a while to realize that just because I didn’t know a physalis from a podocarpus didn’t mean I wasn’t weeding and planting and harvesting and, well, gardening.
So there you have two arguments for the well-being of gardening amongst the younger generations, and I’ll add a few more. I tend to agree with Hanna: I don’t know what the stats are, but I think the assertion that fewer young people are gardening is somewhat misleading.
As a “younger” person (at least by gardening standards) who is also a gardening addict, I feel like I straddle the divide somewhat. I’m more into gardening than most people my age, but I’m less into a lot of the things that typically define “a gardener” than the generations of gardeners ahead of me.
If you think of “a gardener” in the traditional sense – as in, one who tends a garden – yes, fewer youngins are doing it. First of all, and this is obvious, but younger gardeners are less likely to have a yard or outdoor space in which to create said garden. So they may not have a garden, but that doesn’t mean they’re not gardening. This brings me (finally) to my first point.
• Younger generations do garden, but their gardens may not be recognized as such by those expecting lawns and perennial beds. Their gardens may be the pots of herbs on the patio, the rampant collection of houseplants, or the scattered seeds left at a bus stop. So yeah, I believe gardening is alive and well amongst my peers (the under-35 crowd, though I think it has more to do about life stage than age). It may just look different than our parents’ ideas of gardening.
We’re also getting into gardening for different reasons. Here’s what I think is driving interest in gardening among the younger generations:
• Interior design and, to a lesser degree, the DIY/craft movement, has gone mainstream, and that’s carrying over into the garden. Many people in their 20s and 30s are often looking to move away from college-style decor and create a great living space – their patio or garden space, should they have one – is part of that.
• They’re interested in building community, and gardening, through a community garden or otherwise, is a great way to do that. Xris called it “community through gardening” — I love that. Many of the gardeners I meet are through my guerrilla gardening and social activism networks, and a desire to create community is what we really have in common. Many of these people – young or not-so-young – wouldn’t necessarily call themselves gardeners. But they’re helping to build community gardens and throwing seedbombs — I say they’re gardening.
• Food security issues. This isn’t a new idea – many people in my grandparents’ generation gardened in order to provide their families with food – but it certainly wasn’t as prevalent in the subsequent generation. I see a resurgence of interest in growing your own food as a means of empowerment through self-reliance, often as a response to the issues surrounding peak oil and its effects on the global distribution of food.
• In a related way, environmental and sustainability concerns have also hit the mainstream, which has more young people realizing that gardening is a way to better their relationship with the earth. They’re reducing their production of waste through composting and they’re growing their own organic vegetables, for example.
If we expect to see younger people fitting neatly into the definition of a gardener as defined by mainstream media and marketing, of course we’ll see a decline. They’re not flocking to garden shows and botany lectures, or buying lawn fertilizers and fiberglass water features. But they’re out there. Slowly changing the definition of gardener forever.
I feel like your blog may be a slightly biased local for getting a true sampling of the young gardener considering most of your readers are probably one or the other, if not both. I am a 26 yr old Landscape Designer living near Nashville, TN and I take great pride in my apartment balcony “garden” which contains a fair selection of trees (quasi-bonsai), veggies, and fruiting plants. (I dont really do flowers or decorative plants). If I consider most of my college friends I cant imagine many of them having a garden because they do not have the space or the interest. I dont have much space but I make up for it by cramming plants into every nook I can find. Hurray for Urban-Organic Gardens.
Katie Hobson says
Thanks for the link. I’m beginning to rue the fact that I made a generalization about younger gardeners. I just obviously haven’t met any of these great young garden bloggers in person!
The food security issue you bring up is EXACTLY what (aside from a passion for gardening/playing in the dirt) is making us into hardcore suburban farmers. Thanks for giving voice to a movement I could feel but couldn’t quite name.
Looking forward to what you have to say.
Katie at GardenPunks
Kristina the university student says
I related to a lot you had to say today. Living on campus limits my gardening capabilities, and it makes me a little sad. I am triumphing in tiny bits. Would you like to see? I put up a picture of my garden on my blog! http://alittlebitatatime.blogspot.com/ Thanks for a wonderful read. I continue to enjoy your posts.
Slowly changing the definition of gardener forever
Brilliant! That is what I was thinking and did not say it nearly as clearly or eloquently as you. Our generation has changed everything we have touched and the next generation is doing it even more. Gardening included. Long live the new gardener!
Craig – you’re right — most of my readers are either gardeners, or young people, or both. (I get a lot of traffic on my guerilla gardening posts, which, in my experience, has a younger demographic). But I wasn’t just talking about my interactions with bloggers and readers. For the most part, I was referencing friends and acquaintences in the “real world.” And at least in my world, there are a growing number of young gardeners. And college is a tough time to be a gardener (just ask Kristina, below!).
Katie. No regrets! Hey, generalizations have their place as a starting point for discussion – and what a discussion you’ve started! All the things I listed above were my own personal reasons for getting really into gardening. But I think the love of “playing in the dirt” was already there from a young age. I wonder if that’s what’s lacking in a lot of young people. Just out of curiousity – did you “inherit” your love of gardening from your parent(s)?
Kristina – I’ll ask you the same. Good for you for gardening on campus. It’s been – oh my god, this makes me feel old – 10 years since I lived in residence, but if your dorms are anything like mine, I imagine you’re dealing with a serious lack of outdoor space!
Hanna – thanks :) I felt like I rambled a bit there. But it’s a topic that’s been on my mind for years… thanks for providing the impetus to finally get it out in the open.
Wicked Gardener says
You know, I never thought about this topic much because it always seemed to me that many if not most of my friends gardened. They may not be quite as obsessed as myself, but they all knew a thing or two about plants. Some even have horticultural or forestry jobs. Sure most of them were hippies, and what some of them learned about gardening wasn’t exactly legal. Lots of interest in indoor gardening. :) Most became interested in their late 20’s, when they moved into real houses and had children. Something about having kids that makes you want to go back to those hobbies you had as a kid. I’d love to go to a garden club geared to younger people, but in Central Florida it is tough to find younger people, period.
Andrea Bellamy says
Wicked Gardener – LOL. I have a few friends that learned about gardening that way too.