The greying garden and what to do about it

Hydrangea sample for gardening.

The reliable hydrangea might get a kid hooked on the lifelong pleasure of gardening.

After attending yet another lecture at a botanical society shoulder-to-shoulder with a battalion of grey-haired ladies, I wondered about where gardening was headed.

I understand that in the eyes of most kids gardening is deeply uncool. Yeah, it was fun as a toddler, digging in the dirt with your bright plastic spade. But later, you raked the leaves or mowed the lawn with gritted teeth. It’s what you did to earn an allowance and avoid the wrath of parents. As a young adult, the last thing on your mind was putting down the cell phone, accepting the responsibility of weeding and watering in one place, year after year, and spending money on plants which may or may not live to see the next season. Bonus: You got to watch your garden grow at a snail’s pace. Not.

There are apps for almost everything. But gardening needs the interface of hands and eyes with dirt, water, and plants, among other things. And it’s not something that can be rushed. So how do you make the reality of gardening as intriguing to teens as the hyper virtual world they’re so immersed in?

Maybe the answer lies with us starting to look at our own gardens differently.

When my very dear ex-mother-in-law (long story) had to move after decades of pouring her heart into her English garden, I was impressed and curious when she packed up and walked away without looking back. She said that one can never really own a garden. You can plant plants and make the world a little more beautiful. That’s your privilege. But you’ve simply had a closer relationship with nature. No surprise that, in her kitchen, she has a little painted plaque with a quote, in German, attributed to Martin Luther. Roughly translated, it reads:

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant an apple tree today.”

What if we adults dropped the notions of curb appeal and neighbourhood status? What if we looked at gardening–whether simply weeding the lawn or tackling an epic backyard transformation–in terms, ultimately, of making the world a little prettier, a little healthier? Maybe we could compare gardening to shaking hands with nature. We could start by dropping the idea of ownership–mental baggage stuffed with property, mortgages and big commitments.

Kids in school are learning all about how to be more eco-conscious. Maybe they could also grow up thinking that gardening was about making the world a better place–planting as much or as little as you like, anywhere, any time. Gardening could be this ongoing cool thing that you can do wherever you go, with no worries about success or failure–just having a better relationship with nature. And making the world a better place. That would be a win-win.

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