This week, in a rather posh part of London town, a bunch of gardening aficionados are milling around. Yes, its time for the good ol’ Chelsea Flower Show again.
Now, admittedly, I’m not that interested in the show gardens, all the pouncing about over flowers and the general upper-class air to the whole thing. In fact, I normally only tune into any media coverage in the hope of seeing Mr Medwyn Williams and his astonishing vegetables.
But this year, something has piqued my interest – the fact that the Royal Horticultural Society are bemoaning the lack of twenty to forty year old gardeners.
As a 32-year-old gardener, who’s been pretty interested in gardening for at least the last decade, I feel duty-bound to reply. Sure, I am a Brit, but I’m now an ex-pat, which may mean that my response is discounted by some. But still, it is my blog so I’ll write what I want.
The reason that we have fewer gardeners in the age group can be down to a considerable amount of factors. I’m listing these because it’s simpler to see the sheer number of reasons why young people don’t garden when it is in list form.
- We don’t own houses. Previous generations bought their houses, and were able to tend to their gardens from a younger age. Nowadays the average age of first-time buyers is 42. Up until that point renting, flat-shares and living at your parents is still rife. If you live in a rented house, you have to question why a renter would invest time and money in a garden that they might not see next season. The same problem applies with flat-shares. And often, if you live with mum and dad, you might garden with them, but you certainly can’t have the same freedom that you would in your own place.
- Commutes are longer. Getting to work is now part of the problem. The housing market pushes us further from our jobs, our days get longer. We are, as a generation, spending more hours outside the home than any other previous generation. So, when you are finally home, after a fourteen hour day, how many people truly have the inclination to dig over a border?
- There are fewer community gardens and allotments. I wanted an allotment when I was younger because I lived at home (long commute, couldn’t afford a flat) and my mother didn’t fancy me turning her nice lawn over to vegetables. I sat on that waiting list from when I was sixteen until the age of twenty-four, by which time I had moved out. And that’s not considered a long wait in the Home Counties. There are less allotments available, and fewer community gardens. Outdoor space is at a premium, and their is little or no concession to include growing areas in modern developments. That leads to long waiting lists and a lack of space. Ever gardening a non-existent garden? Yeah. Easy isn’t it?!
- More of us live in flats. You can’t garden easily if you don’t have a garden… Sure there are indoor solutions, but it takes a proactive individual to find these, and even then, they are limited.
- We were never taught to garden. In much the same way as the government reduced down PE on the curriculum and wonders why everyone is putting on the pounds, or removed compulsory Home Economics and questions why people are eating more convenience food than ever (and piling on the pounds), gardening was removed from the curriculum. Nowadays schools might show kids how to grow a spud, but they certainly didn’t when I was at school. And now, consequently, people in my generation don’t know how easy it is.
- Food needs to be convenient. Because we are working longer hours. Growing your own seems too difficult, and as we were never taught otherwise, few know the tips and tricks to make it more simple.
- It costs money. Gardening is expensive to establish. Tools, pots, compost, lets be honest, it soon adds up. And yes, if you don’t have that money (because you are saving for a house deposit, or because you are spunking £500 on a season ticket each month), then it can seem a ridiculous thing to pile money into. Growing food can return produce worth as much as quadruple the investment, as well as helping with mental health, physical health and keeping you connected with nature… It’s a good thing to do, if you can do it, but some of the hurdles need to be removed for many.
I’m incredibly lucky. I have an outdoor space. I’m in the process of buying a house with a big garden. I have a mother who knows how to garden and isn’t afraid to share her skills. And I also have friends who want to grow their own and will swap seeds and plant with me to help me do the same, whilst keeping down costs. But, I am most likely the exception.
Instead of moaning at the lack of 20-40-year-olds who are into gardening, the RHS should look at ways of getting them into gardening. Offer free course, free seeds, introductory lessons or free access to community gardens for a start, but stop blaming the people. This generation has a lot of reasons not to garden, and it puts you off, even more, when someone just bemoans the situation without offering any alternative.
Give people gardens and they will garden. Tell people they should be gardening when they don’t have the access/infrastructure/money, and you’re liable to put people off before they’ve even started.
Right. I’m climbing down from my soapbox now, I’ve got some plants to a pot.