Garden Rant 1.0 is dead—long live the new Garden Rant


We are shutting down this Typepad blog and unveiling a new WordPress website—probably by Monday a.m.  You won’t see new content here Friday-Sunday, because our IT guy, Steve Ansell, will be completing the switch over the weekend.

The new site will feature daily feeds from other gardening-related sites, as well as our own posts. There are new headings and all the usual bells and whistles WordPress can provide, especially when you customize it.

We’ve been wanting to update Garden Rant for a while. Basically, we’re still working with what we started with in 2006. Remember those days?

I thought it would be fun to reprise our first post—by Amy, as far as I can tell, unless there are hidden archives—as we move into a new era.

Reports of Gardening’s Death Greatly Exaggerated

(posted May 8, 2006)

Nothing irritates me more than these stories about how gardening as a leisure activity is on its way out. In this week’s San Francisco Chronicle, John Hershey writes:

“Are you aware of the impending demographic crisis facing our country? …In a recent poll, the number of Americans who list gardening as one of their favorite leisure activities plunged from 15 percent in 1995 to 6 percent. ”

This leads to all sorts of hand-wringing over the cause of this terrible decline and what on earth we might do about it. Hershey’s not the only one talking about this; the gardening industry overall is quite worked up about it, with frequent articles in trade magazines agonizing over the problem. (Meanwhile, the American Nursery and Landscape Association reports on USDA statisticsthat show that sales of plants have grown steadily over the last two decades and are increasing by $500 million per year.)

But first, let’s look at the poll numbers. Although Hershey does not cite the poll, I assume he is talking about the Harris Poll, which surveys Americans about their leisure activities once a year or so. The most recent data available comes from 2004, and it does point out that only 6% of Americans rank gardening as one of their top two or three pasttimes.

But this is not a frightening plunge from 15% ten years ago, as Hershey reports. In fact, in 1995 only 9% of Americans ranked gardening in their top two or three activities, and then that number rose to 15% in 1999 before beginning to drop. Hershey suggests several reasons for this decline, and a careful look at the numbers disproves all of them.

1. “People have less free time.” Nope. According to the poll, Americans worked 51 hours a week in 1996, and 50 hours a week now.

2. “Fresh vegetables are now widely available in supermarkets.” Huh? So in 1999, when 15% of Americans chose gardening as one of their favorite activities, they did so because they couldn’t get fresh vegetables at the supermarket? Ah yes, the poor dirt farmers of 1999, having to grub for cabbages and carrots in their backyards.

3. And here he warms up to his real point: “The aging of the gardening population. As inconceivable as it sounds, it is possible some young people may actually think gardening is not cool.” Again–the gardening population aged so much in five years that they are dropping like flies and no one is replacing them? Really? Let’s remember that the oldest Baby Boomers are just turning 60 this year. I don’t know about y’all, but my over-sixty mom is doing more gardening than I am right now. If anything, I’d expect to see an increase in gardening as Baby Boomers slip the bonds of their cubicles.

So what really explains the decrease in the percentage of Americans who list gardening as one of their favorite activites? (and remember, this does not mean that there is less gardening going on. It just means that, when asked, and without being provided a stock list of answers to choose from, only six percent thought to mention gardening.)

Well, there are three activities on the list that have jumped several percentage points since the poll began in 1995. Reading is up 7 percentage points. Spending time with family and kids is up 8 percentge points. And computer activities are up 5 points.

More to the point, however, is the fact that many activities are less popular than gardening, including: Travel–4% Golf–4% Cooking–2% (Eating out also scores 2%) Animals/pets/dogs–1% But somehow, you don’t see the travel, golf, cooking, or pet industries wringing their hands over the paltry two or four percent of Americans who would choose these activities over all others. In fact, I see vibrant, exciting, well-written and enthusiastically read sections in every major American newspaper devoted to travel and cooking. Marley & Me, a book about a man and his dog, remains, inexplicably, at the top of bestseller lists nationwide, and don’t get me started on the number of magazines devoted to dogs (there are at least two devoted just to Manhattan dogs) and the number of elegant little pet stores and doggy bakeries springing up around the country.

As for golf? Well, those people seem to be doing just fine. (Oh, and sex didn’t even make the list, but the pornography industry seems to be getting by somehow. Perhaps those numbers are included in the “spending time with family” or “computer activities” categories. Drinking also didn’t make the list, although I’d take a dry martini over “TV Watching” any day. In spite of the apparent lack of interest in drinking as a leisure activity, bars all over the country are not, in fact, dropping like flies.)

I didn’t even get around to my main gripe about this story, which is the silly notion that “we” (whoever “we” are) need to Take Action to Get Our Youth Intersted in Gardening. More on that later. Meanwhile, my top few leisure activies, in no particular order:

Gardening (which includes spending time with chickens)


Too close to call: Sex; drinking very cold cocktails with interesting people in dimly-lit bars; spending time in bookstores; art (viewing, buying, making); being very angry at the Bush administration; and the requisite books and films, of course.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. quote:
    “Nothing irritates me more than these stories about how gardening as a leisure activity is on its way out.”

    I understand how some may feel this way especially with the younger generations who are often incapable of leaving their electronic devices and other toys alone long enough to even water & feed a house plant. But it seems to be that way with some older generations. No matter, it will always be popular. There’s a whole giant world ourside of the United States and E.U.

    On another note, glad you are moving forward with the new techy look if that helps your site, Good 4 U!


  2. Congrats on the update, hope all is smooth. Can’t wait to see what ya’ll have created.

    Been needing to do an update for years. It will have to wait a bit longer. Work is too good to slow down for computer stuff.

    Evidence gardening is not slowing down.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  3. Does this mean I will have to figure out a new way to sign in since I sign in on type pad? (I just got a new phone and let myself be convinced to go beyond the basics to one that can hook into the internet, use apps etc etc- “oh you will love it!” everyone enthuses. Maybe once I get over the learning curve. But right now one more new technical thing to learn no matter how teensy weensy will put me right over the edge. Oh, my phone’s name is FiFi – short for the obvious.

  4. I think the issue is the label. “Gardening” versus “home improvement” or even “landscaping.” Once we use the term gardening, it conjures up images of retired ladies with wide-brimmed hats and floral gloves tending their roses and veggie patches. But I grew up with my dad mowing the lawn, putting in impatients, or mulching the citrus trees, or even taking out the kitchen scraps to our compost heap (in suburban south Florida, which still surprises me as I look back). Would he call himself a gardener? No. Did he go to Home Depot’s garden section every weekend to the point that he would bring the cashier coffee on his way? Yes (and yes, big-box store etc, but I think he’s become more local store centered in recent years). So change the wording, and more people will start saying they do it. Infact, he might have considered much of that time “spending time with family” since we were all technically at the same house those weekend mornings.

  5. there seems to be an increased interest in vegetable gardening in our area as i see more gardens popping up and a friend who operates a small garden center has commenterd on incresad sales. people are concerned about the quality of their food. i have neighbors who have started gardens in the past two years and are involving their children in it. jon

  6. Gah! My ADD cannot handle this crazy new format! Sensory overload is making my head spin!

  7. I don’t like it either.

    I hate graphics that jump around…scrolling images covered with text…NO!
    Just because you can write code to do that doesn’t mean you should.
    Now I have to spend more time clicking back and forth to browse articles I may or may not be interested in reading…where before I could read the first couple of paragraphs to get the idea and either scroll down to the previous entry or click to read the post…now I’m forced to click the post just to see if I’m interested. I’m not.

    Sad. Sucks.

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