Y'all welcome 23 year-old Isabel Hardman of Fennel and Fern, the oh-so-stylish British garden blog.
When I was sixteen, my best friend discovered I had a terrible secret. My mother let it slip one night on the phone, and the next day it was spreading round the school. For years I had kept it quiet: I was a keen gardener.
You can conjecture all you like about the challenges facing the GenY gardener, but as a 23-year-old who has kept silent about her beloved pastime for so long, I’m pretty certain the main problem isn’t space or money: it’s gardening itself. Gardening is just not cool.
I know gardening has come a long way over the past year and a bit. It’s actually quite trendy to have a couple of tomato plants by your back step now. But admit to anything more serious than a fleeting interest in growing a few leaves of rocket, and you’ll find yourself the subject of serious mockery.
Take my husband. A year ago, he had only ever heard of a rhododendron, yet had no idea what one looked like. But when we bought a house with a garden, he was slowly sucked in to growing and nurturing. Even though he will happily spend an hour collecting manure for our compost heap, or deadheading flowers, he still can’t admit he is a gardener. When he asked for a rare magnolia cultivar for his birthday, he pleaded with me not to tell his friends. Gardening is just not cool.
GenYs feel this when they walk into a garden centre and find themselves surrounded by older women in pastel raincoats, buying impossibly expensive jams and ‘spirit of the panpipes’ CDs. They feel it when a retired gardener on their allotment site tells them he picks the caterpillar eggs off his kale individually every day. The world of gardening we enter still has too many trugs, too many his’n’hers wellies and too much pointless, expensive guff for us to feel entirely at home.
And all too often, we don’t feel welcome in this world. My next door neighbour spent six months telling me my organic gardening methods would fail, that my carrots wouldn’t germinate, and that growing veg was just too hard for someone as young and silly as me. It’s strange that as I harvest my pumpkins and carry armfuls of lettuce up to my kitchen, he has fallen silent. When we watch gardening programmes, we are patronised and fed terrible jokes by wooden presenters. We can’t identify with these people, and so we pretend we’re not part of their world.
A year ago, I started www.fennelandfern.co.uk because I realised gardeners of my age had no-one telling them it was ok to run an allotment when you work a 50 hour week. Or that you don’t need to buy a Victorian glass cloche to feel content: in fact, your student debt will thank you if you don’t. I love reading inspirational blogs by women who work from home, but I can’t identify with the world they inhabit. In winter, I see my garden in the light only at weekends, and when I arrive home late from work, find myself harvesting raspberries in the dark.
And that’s fine. I love gardening. I love my life, and I love my job. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But the gardening world expects me to be a yummy mummy with oodles of cash, and the rest of the world expects me to have a garden full of weeds and no interest in working with plants. I don’t fit into either world, and neither do other GenYs. We’re still waiting to find our place.