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Gen X and Y Gardeners 

Can we quit worrying about this, please?

click to enlarge garden.jpg

Trevor Shirk

Genevieve Schmidt weeds her vegetable patch. The chickens aren't boomers, either.

Every 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 any fun. In fact, my generation's reliance on technology has given us the easy availability of information and inspiring ideas (Pinterest, anyone?) that makes us more likely to get outside and plunge our hands into the soil, rather than less.

But I'll admit it: On the whole, people in their 20s and 30s 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. Then, 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 while 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 1960s!), 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.

Genevieve Schmidt has written for Fine Gardening Magazine, Garden Design Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor and other publications. She lives in Arcata and owns Genevieve Schmidt Landscape Design and Fine Garden Maintenance. A version of this column appeared previously on her blog, northcoastgardening.com.

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