Gen X and Y Gardeners – Can We Quit Worrying About This, Please?

chickens-are-helping.jpgEvery year or two, some horticultural marketing team gets a buzzing insect in its collective shorts about Gen X and Y and how we aren’t gardening enough. The subtext is that gardening is a boomer activity and that at some scary date in the future, we will be left with no gardeners at all because all my generation likes to do is play video games and text with people who are sitting in the same room. While the world has certainly changed, it hasn’t changed so much that gardening isn’t still an attractive activity. In fact, my generation’s reliance on technology has given us an even greater desire to get outside and plunge our hands into the soil, and the easy availability of information and inspiring ideas (Pinterest, anyone?) makes us more likely to get outside and garden, rather than less. But I’ll admit it: on the whole, people in their twenties and thirties don’t garden as much as people 45-and-up. And, repeat after me, this is not a cause for concern. Why? Gardening is most fun when you own your home. While I admit to gussying up my landlords’ gardens more than I should have, the fact remains that I wasn’t willing to buy that $300 Japanese maple until I had a place to stick it. A place that I owned. And most people don’t own their own home until they’re a little more settled in life, and usually, that starter home needs a bit of work before we feel we can change focus and start gardening. Gardening costs money. We can make self-righteous claims about how black nursery pots are free and seeds cost a dollar, but let’s be honest here: that’s not going to look like what’s in the gardening magazines, and a black pot of dollar nasturtiums is not what most people want. Even the most rudimentary of cute container combos will cost $30 for the pot, $10 in soil, and $35 in plants. When you’re making $10 an hour slinging mochas, that’s a lot of work for one little container. Plus, that second job we work to pay the bills doesn’t leave us a whole lot of time for fluffing our pansies. Gardening is something we like to do with our kids. Kids have a way of making our old Gen X and Y hobbies untenable. I mean, kids really aren’t any good at World of Warcraft when they’re little; all they want to do is drool on the controller and bang it on the table. When this realization sinks in, Gen X and Y do what other generations before us have done: we’ve looked around for new hobbies that might possibly keep the sproglets quiet or at least busy for a few moments whilst we engage in them. And what better than gardening, which offers the dual benefits of bug-squashing opportunities and the chance to get completely, unfathomably covered in muck? We love it, kids love it, and if we do a good job there might even be tomatoes at the end of summer to celebrate with. So, home ownership, money and kids: when did YOU have all three? For most of us, that trifecta of gardening readiness happens a little later in life. Plus, it’s always cool to take up hobbies our friends understand, and that doesn’t happen with gardening till later either. I can’t tell you how many college friends dumped Coors into my perfectly-planned flowerpots at the end of a party. Uncool, man, uncool. Nowadays, my friends wouldn’t dream of drinking Coors, and they finish their cocktails like the civilized grownups we’ve become. Problem solved. Besides all of that, I think the hand-wringing about us not gardening may be incorrect. Maybe it’s the crew I hang with, but I’d guess my generation is gardening more than previous generations did at our age (I’m not counting all the “indoor gardening” you boomers did in the sixties!), due to the edible gardening trend and the cool patio gardening ideas like gardening with succulents or vertical gardening – both things apartment gardeners can get behind. So, if we are indeed gardening, what’s skewing those surveys that keep coming out? Well, the people who have their pants in a bunch about this are people trying to sell us things. And those people should be worried, because most horticultural companies just don’t “get” us. They want us to spray their products on our plants, buy flowered bifocals and aprons, strive for a ChemLawn and plant endless acres of petunias in our front yards. I’m sorry, but that’s not for us. We’re more Flora Grubb than Home Depot, and we’re questioning the lies Big Hort’s been trying to sell us all these years. If you want to sell to Gen X and Y, I’ll tell you how: Don’t dumb it down, keep it modern and minimalist, and quit trying to sell us chemicals, even organic ones. We’ll pop $200 worth of succulents on our credit cards to make that vertical garden, but we wouldn’t take your Miracle-ick and flowered trowels home if they were free. The appeal of gardening is that it’s real and dirty and interesting, so anyone trying to sell us someone else’s dream about how it’s pristine, bug-free and takes no investment of energy beyond “Dig, Drop and Done” is completely missing the point. But don’t take my word for it – here are some opinions from a few of my Gen X and Y gardening pals on what they want from the gardening industry: Amanda Thomsen Andrew Keys Rochelle Greayer What do you think? Have we had enough hand-wringing about this issue? Or is there really a problem here?

Regional Flair: Bring it Home With Native Plants

native-Douglas-iris.jpg***This is a bit of a local rant, but I do have a point that relates to designers and anyone who expresses themselves artistically in the garden.*** I’m lucky: my college town’s somehow managed to stay funky, cool, small and walkable, and above all, different from any other town in the world. Because us Arcata peeps are a bunch of hippies (or, ahem, forward-thinking individualists who appreciate eco-friendly living), we tend to reject that corporate sameness that’s endemic to so much of the US right now. We limit our chain stores, and most locals go out of their way to support local businesses who have tailored their wares to what WE want. That’s not to say that big box stores are all bad; rather, that they bring with them a sense of scale that’s not always in line with what’s comfortable for people to live around. The sprawling Wal-Marts and open malls of chain stores tend to discourage the slow, human process of strolling to town, since there’s not much to look at for the ten minutes it takes to walk past. [Read more...]

Why I Hate Landscape Fabric: An Unfair and Unbalanced Look at Weed Cloth

Landscaping Fabric FAIL

landscaping fabric

The other day I wrote up a post about how to use landscape fabric without screwing it up. Previously I’d written about when using landscape fabric is a good idea and when it’s notSometimes I try to be fair and balanced on an issue so I don’t sound like some kind of gardening zealot. Today isn’t one of those times.

I think landscape fabric sucks.

There, I said it. I regret using it in nearly every case that I have, and I try my hardest to show my clients why they shouldn’t use it, either. I’m not judging you if you want to try using the stuff – I understand why people want to, and if you’re going to use it, I want to share with you how to use it right. But after 14 years of designing and maintaining gardens professionally, it’s a rare garden where I go – oh yeah, that landscape fabric really worked out well! Here’s why I hate it so:

[Read more...]

Duh-sign Award Winner: Seriously, ASLA?

PlayGarden02.jpgThe American Society of Landscape Architects announced this 2010 Honor Award winner recently, and I was really shocked to see it. It’s a concrete and granite playscape perfectly designed for maximum head injury. Anyone who’s ever been around kids knows that expecting them to play carefully and with grace is like expecting a kangaroo to make you a delicious slice of toast: not gonna happen. [Read more...]

When Your Garden Isn’t Going Right…

RIMG0031.jpgThe most common reason I’m called in as a garden coach is that the person I’m meeting with needs an outside perspective. It’s really, really hard to evaluate our homes and gardens from a logical, clear place in our minds and hearts. Sometimes, we’ve had arguments with our spouse or kids about what we’ll do when. Often there have been friends and professionals who gave advice that almost fit, but… You still felt that crazy tangle of feelings in your mind and heart about what you should do. Not clarity. Not certainty. [Read more...]

How Fabulous, Interesting and Unusual Plants Keep People From Becoming Gardeners

In Humboldt County, two of these plants will be dead by 2013. Do you know which ones?
Was reading a post over at The Blogging Nurseryman where Trey discusses what gardeners really want to see in independent garden centers. (Go read it, I’ll wait. You don’t want to miss Amy Stewart‘s rant on the topic.) She brought up that Garden Rant’s reader survey indicated overwhelmingly that passionate gardeners want to see more “fabulous, interesting, and unusual” plants. [Read more...]

Should Plant Nurseries Offer a Guarantee on Plants?

DeadLeavesphotobyantaeanonFlickr.jpgI read an interesting post from my friend Debbie Roberts in Connecticut about her experience with a nursery that did not offer a guarantee on perennials, and it really made me think about the business of plant selling, how much responsibility us gardeners should take when we buy a plant, and whether offering guarantees on plants is good or bad business. [Read more...]