Guest post by Susan Morrison of Blue Planet Garden Blog
Inspired by a talk by Kelly Norris, in 2009 I contributed a guest rant that proposed Gen Yers have a different attitude to gardening and a different relationship with their gardens than previous generations have had. You can read the post here, but in part, it postulated that Gen Yers are (sometimes impatient) DIYers who embrace gardening as an experience to be integrated with their beliefs and lifestyles, and for the most part, prefer to get their information online rather than from books and lectures.
At the time, my perspective was formed primarily by my experience as a residential landscape designer and my observations of my Gen Y clients. Since then, along with co-author Rebecca Sweet, I’ve researched and written a book, Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces. During the process, I spent a lot of time talking with and learning from gardeners from many different backgrounds and age groups who would no more hire a landscape designer than I would hire a personal stylist. Which got me wondering: based on this new input, if I wrote a post on Gen Y gardeners today, would I reach the same conclusions?
The short answer is yes. I feel even more strongly that many Gen Yers take a holistic approach to gardening and are comfortable reinterpreting the definition of what a garden can be. For example, their commitment to the environment, their passion for figuring things out for themselves and their tendency to rely on the internet rather than on books is all evident in an edible garden created in a tiny shared space by twenty-something gardener Emily Goodman. Taking advantage of repurposed objects, she filled the walls of her apartment building’s paved-over courtyard with an inspired collection of edible containers, including a homemade upside-down tomato cage, old filing cabinet drawers repurposed into herb boxes and two PVC pipes converted into overflowing strawberry towers. And in true Gen Y fashion, when we asked where she got her ideas, she explained most came from browsing Flickr (which coincidentally, is where we found her).
But the long answer is no. My new sense is that it’s not so much Gen Yers approaching gardening differently as it is all gardeners looking at their gardens in new ways. Lest I give the impression I spend all my time hanging out with the younger set, I’ve been a Master Gardener for eight years and while our county includes members of all ages – well, let’s just say I go to a lot more 70th birthday parties than most people my age. As I paged through the book, I realized some of the most innovative vertical strategies we highlighted were from older gardeners. Case in point is this ingenious idea for camouflaging a chain link fence from friend and fellow MG Kathy Mendenhall. She not only came up with the idea to transform inexpensive garden lattice into a decorative screen, but she cut the pattern, painted it and attached it herself.
Another example not in the book is Mary Lu Burchard, a lifelong gardener who traded in a mid-western garden of lawn and roses for a California paradise filled with native plants and salvaged items repurposed as garden art. There’s nary a blade of grass in sight, and it is all maintained with only the help of her husband.
I could go on and on, but you get my drift. Which leads me to the self-important announcement that I’m coining my own label: Generation G for Generation Gardener. Whether it’s trading in lawn for meadows, ornamentals for edibles or chemicals for compost, the gardening world seems more open to change and innovation than ever before. And this new generation of gardeners, Generation G, isn’t defined by its age, but rather by its passion for learning, investment in new ways of sharing, and willingness to embrace change.
Susan Morrison is a landscape designer, garden writer and blogger in Northern California and the co-author of Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces.