“I avoid my backyard because it just looks like work to me.”


More than half the school-age kids in these two-earner families
spend NO time in the backyards and most parents only enter the backyard
to perform chores, like taking out the
trash.  Swimming pools go unused.  People say their "schedules are
insane" and they don’t have time to use their gardens.  But they’ve
gotta eat, right?  One parent says "It seems so easy to serve a meal
outside yet opportunities slip away as schedules get tighter." 

And the person who avoids the backyard because it looks like work?
Clearly not a reader of gardenblogs.  I agree with Rick Anderson that
if that attitude is normal, I’ll pass on normalcy, thanks.  Also
Christopher’s distaste for exercising in sterile gyms – hear, hear.
Like rats in mazes, going nowhere, accomplishing nothing except the
perfection of the body.

But let’s look closer at the UCLA study.  First, only 32 families
were studied, and they earn between $59,000 and $500,000 per year,
which the researchers say is enough money to "shape their indoor and
outdoor spaces".  Well, that’s quite a spread, maybe too much of one
for purposes of this study.  No doubt families earning half a million
annually can afford nicely "shaped" outdoor spaces, but supporting a
family in LA on $59K/year?  Not so much.  Granted, working couples with
school-age children ARE busy, so maybe they don’t eat outdoors because
they never sit down to a meal as a family – indoors or out.  And it’s LA, so they’re probably eating in the car.

But it’s hard to argue with the good UCLA researcher on this point:
"I wish people would think deeply about how we work hard to buy a lot
of stuff we don’t need and then spend time maintaining it and we don’t
take advantage of simple things like just taking a few minutes to relax
in the backyard."

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Susan Harris

Susan’s a garden writer, teacher and activist in the Washington, D.C. area. Co-founder of GardenRant, she also wrote for national gardening magazines and independent garden centers before retiring in 2014. Now she has time for these projects:

  • Founding and now managing the pro-science educational nonprofit GOOD GARDENING VIDEOS that finds and promotes the best videos on YouTube for teaching people to garden.
  • Creating and managing DC GARDENS, the nonprofit campaign to promote the public gardens of the Washington, D.C. area, and gardening by locals.
  • Creating and editing the community website GREENBELT ONLINE to serve her adopted hometown of Greenbelt, Maryland (a “New Deal Utopia” founded in 1937).
  • Also in Greenbelt, MD, writing the e-newsletter and serving on the Board of Directors for the cooperatively-owned music and arts venue and restaurant called the NEW DEAL CAFE.

Contact Susan via email or by leaving a comment here.

Photo by Stephen Brown.


  1. Then again, it was only a couple of weeks ago that the LA Times ran the story on the urban farmer pioneers, the Dervais family up the road in Pasadena. So I’d say there is a ray of hope in the gloom.

    They have a great blog, too at Path to Freedom: Journal


    For those people who don’t want to use their private yards, we should design communities with denser housing separated by larger green space.

  2. See there is no reason for it to be hard work. If I had absolutely no time whatsoever I reckon I’d get some squash and courgette, sorry zuchini, seeds and fill the backyard with neat looking vines that way.

  3. “It’s certain there is no fine thing/ Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.”

    Wish I could claim those lines, but it’s W.B. Yeats in one of my favorite poems, “Adam’s Curse.”

  4. Whenever I end up in southern California, which is fairly frequently I am always amazed that in a climate that is as close to paradise as you can get most yards are just atrocious. It seems that after Christmas everyone plants the poinsettia in the yard where it grows into a large bush. When you live in an almost perfect climate you soon forget or never knew just what the rest of the country or even California deals with climate wise. I also found the majority of garden centers located in SoCal totally lacking in imagination. You would think the place would be filled with cool garden centers, not.

    The big trend now is DIFM(Do it for me). A recent trade magazine I received said that’s what Generation X wants. They don’t want to get dirty, and they want us to install it for them. It sounds bleak to me, yet if you worry about what everyone else is doing you’ll go crazy. The money in gardening for the small garden center is in promoting the opposite: getting dirty, getting outside, exercise, connecting to the earth, connecting to the neighborhood, etc.

  5. http://www.sciencenewsdaily.org/story-91378857.html

    The study was much more in depth about the lives of
    these people they studied. One funny part was about
    how people use their garages to store stuff then
    park the cars outside in the drive.
    It sounded very true.I know these people.
    As a gardener I spend much
    time outdoors and have learned to use the space for
    the 8 months of the year this is possible in this
    climate. But I rarely see neighbors or their
    children outside except for the walk from the car
    parked in drive to door or once a week mowing.
    Few children even walk to school.
    The Mr and I have commented on this before,
    how vacant of people the neighborhood often seems.
    TV,computors,work, school,air conditioning,allergies,
    so many reasons not to be outside.
    It becomes a habit, a way of live that does not
    include a dose of sun and fresh air.

    Is it the way the yard is landscaped that
    discourages use?
    Can designers come up with ways to lure
    the kids outside?
    Is the normal lifestyle bound to exclude
    yard use and outdoor community socializing?

  6. Hear Hear! Last weekend I received a large delivery of compost and spent most of my time just trying to move it around the beds and yard. Everyone who passed by said “That looks like a lot of work!” and I replied “Yup! It will look great when its done!”

    I was entertained and gratified when the neighbors across the street had a garage sale around the same time and went out of their way to come over and talk to me while I was working. Their kids are usually out in the yard playing and always clean up after.

    I spend most of my weekends out in the front yard as that is where most of my plantings are and that is the only time any of my neighbors say hello. This is especially true as my house is nearest the mailboxes!

    Everyone should spend a few more minutes outdoors (yes, with sunscreen) and just enjoy the fact that we *have* sunshine and green grass and growing things!

  7. I’m an Angeleno, I garden & unfortunately this attitude is all too common here.

    Boy, after that lead-off, my mind is buzzing with directions in which I could take this.

    1. I actually garden in my front yard – as well as back & side yards. People often pass by & comment on how much hard work it must be. I often say: When you’re doing God’s work, it’s not hard. Not that I’m a religious freak but all gardeners are doing God’s work by maintaining this planet & encouraging living things — and by the way, it’s a lot more productive & satisfying than working out at a gym where you are Doing Nothing productive. (oh, i feel a rant coming on about that, must stop now.)

    2. Many people seem actually afraid of the outdoors & of living things. This is pathetic. It is anti-life. Definitely a by-product if not an actual intention of our consumer society. BUY SOMETHING, stay inside, stay safe (as if), live in a virtual world. I have news for you folks, reality is what doesn’t go away whether you believe in or not. You can’t EAT “virtual food.” (uh-oh, off on a rant there again.)

    3. On a related note – I’ve grown veggies in my front yard – like the Fontis (well not Exactly like them but…) and ya know what? People aren’t going to steal produce from your garden because they do not recognize food that’s not shrink-wrapped & priced. I have to actively encourage passersby to let their children forage for strawberries. If they’re young enuf (under 5), they’re delighted. Older, they’re entirely skeptical. Could it be safe?

    4. I will hazard a guess that the UCLA study concentrated on West LA. Amy recently visited Brentwood, which is WLA. That’s a very white, do it for me, I’ll pay you, insulated-from-the-real-world enclave. If you actually drive around Los Angeles you will find gardens & gardeners everywhere. There is definitely a popular movement to displace the lawn for a more interesting & water-wise environments. Also the parkway strips. I was the first on my 2-block stretch and boy were my neighbors upset that my yard wasn’t going to be like everybody else’s. (Like that’s something I should Care about?) Well.. once I did it other people were encouraged to take out their lawns and now the tide has turned.

    5. These westside people are the ones who drive Hummers “but my next car will be a Prius.” They vote liberal, they “believe” in recycling, but you’re not sure they actually recycle cuz, you know, like that would be too much trouble. They are not conservors, they are consumers & they tend to think of the environment as a cause — Out There. It’s HERE, folks, right HERE.

    Disclaimer: Yes, yes, I’m generalizing about Westsiders but… if they can’t take it, they shouldn’t’ve moved here from NY.

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