A response to Welly Woman – Is Gardening Cool Enough?

Welly Woman often writes thought provoking posts about her thoughts on gardening; she writes very convincingly and shares her ideas in a clear, often amusing way.  Yesterday she posted Is Gardening Cool Enough?

I remember a few years ago that the press were obsessed with gardening as ‘the new rock and roll’; everyone was trying to convince us that gardening was sexy!  Well, as much as I love gardening and I personally couldn’t imagine a happy life without some kind of garden I don’t think it is sexy.  The reasons WW gives for younger people not gardening are completely valid and I think that like cooking, gardening is something a lot of people do but don’t love doing.

I don’t share WW’s opinion of the idea of the outside room, I think it helps people connect to a space that maybe intimidates them.  Also as much as I share the view of many ‘true gardeners’ that ‘make-over’ programmes of the past as being unrealistic; I think they did actually connect with a lot of people who suddenly felt they could ‘do’ something with their pocket handkerchief-sized garden (there I’ve used a word that probably doesn’t even exist in the dictionary any more).

I live in a place where gardening is not a leisure activity; but where a huge number of people still grow a lot of their own fruit and vegetables (my local supplier sells about 24 different varieties of plug tomato plants!).  A place where the fact that I have created a garden around my home will probably mean its value is less rather than more when we come to sell it – whereas I think it is still true that a well-designed garden will add 10% to a house’s value and will certainly increase the likelihood of a quick sale if the market is depressed.

I actually blame the recent TV programmes and the RHS for being so obsessed with ‘growing your own veg’.  Vegetable growing is one of the most labour intensive forms of gardening and we all know that everyone really wants a low maintenance garden!  Added to that the weather in the last two years made growing vegetables even more difficult, the non-summer of 2012 must have discouraged almost all of those new to gardening.

Is there a solution?  I don’t have an answer to that I’m afraid; I don’t think that a couple of new programmes on TV will make much difference and one on allotments is, in the long term, going to put more people off when they see the hard work involved and the multitude of disasters than can befall even a keen amateur.  A direct comparison can be made to the Great British Bake Off;  on the last series they were all ‘good bakers’  but just think how often they messed up on even quite simple bakes – good TV maybe, but an encouragement to get out the scales and start baking? I think not!

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31 thoughts on “A response to Welly Woman – Is Gardening Cool Enough?

  1. Why would anyone gardening to be cool? I don’t want to be cool. I love the feeling of nourishing plants, see them grow, the wildlife enjoying my garden. I love creating. Are people who watch TV cooks passionate cooks themselves or do the just like to watch goddess Nigella in her fancy dress? People who watch gardening programmes are maybe another lot and I should think you need to be watching Alan et al. People have lost their moral and values in cyberspace and maybe some day it’ll change and they realize what they’ve lost. Who can tell? For the time being I enjoy my plot and won’t worry about others too much. As for gardens increasing the value of a house: I’ve been trying to sell our house which is surrounded by wonderful gardens but to be honest, it puts people off because all they see is the “work” whereas I see the pleasure too.

    • I don’t care what the perception of gardening is either but it does make a difference. I live where there is no culture of gardening so it is difficult to buy plants and gardening equipment eg, I carry perlite in my luggage back from the UK, not very sustainable! but I hope this does create some debate, it is interesting sometimes to discuss deeper issues and not just what is flowering in our gardens today.

      • Christina you might not be able to get perlite but you can get 24! different varieties of tomato plants!! I would rather have the tomatoes, and anyway only one shop sells perlite here it costs a lot and is only sold in small bags, you also have the sun to grow the tomatoes! Frances
        p.s. there is no gardening culture on the islands, it’s the incomers who garden, a few locals grow basic veg like potatoes and onions, the main culture of the land is animals mainly sheep,

        • I suppose part of what I’m thinking is that gardeners in the UK actually don’t know how lucky they are. Yes I am lucky that I can buy almost any kind of vegetable as a small plug, it does make life much easier although I do still grow from seed to get some things I can’t buy. and the sun, ah the sun, yes it does rippen my tomatoes and gives me that light I need not to be depressed.

  2. hmm not having a tv reading about TV programmes is like another planet to me, why do people become so obsessed with what they see on the box!
    I can’t agree Christina with your comment that veg is more work, I’ve started growing more veg this year for the first time and I have not found it more work than flowers, even shrubs, it has given me a much more instant return and a lot more satisfaction, I think if growing veg is more work then people are growing the wrong veg, i.e. veg not suited to the conditions in their garden,
    I personally would have welcomed some realistic programmes about gardening on TV when I used to watch it and on the radio, I would also welcome some realistic books on the subject instead of all the it’s so simple rubbish that there is, some honesty about the cost of gardening would be welcome too! it’s far better to know what to expect than go in as innocent as I was having believed all the lies,
    I have been thinking about this recently and had started to think of writing a blog post as I am slowly realising that the current weather situation of 8 month long wet winters of the past 2 years are the last straw and all the lies from professional gardeners were the real beginning of the end for me,
    veg growing has been my saving grace this year, the only pleasure my garden has given me and for little work, Frances

    • There aren’t really any gardening programmes here but I do listen to Gardener’s Question Time as a podcast. I don’t imagine very many young people listen to that. I’m glad you have enjoyed your vegetables this year but I do strongly feel that growing vegetables does need much more of doing things at the right time and almost all vegetables need water so that is something that even in ‘wet’ England often has to be done in summer. The truth of the cost of growing vegetables is also underestimated but this doesn’t stop me wanting to do it but as you say some honesty would be a good thing.

  3. For me gardening became a soulful experience. From a young age I loved digging in the dirt and TV programs here encouraged and discouraged me. Never cool and always a bit crazy to my neighbors I soldier on now forming a rich habitat and loving more than the plants in my garden. I agree veg gardening is a challenge but one I love. And I agree it makes your house harder to sell as I can attest to as the new owners rip it all out and plant grass.

    I think children are the key. Cultivating a love of gardening from a young age, whatever kind of garden it is, will keep it alive. My 25 yr old niece and her boyfriend started a small veg garden and loved it. They have learned from it and plan to expand it. I am so happy to hear this.

    • Yes, gardening at a young age is the key and maybe the generation who were (are) the parents of the present youngsters didn’t really get into gardening when they were young. My earliest memories are of being in the garden with my father but even at that time I don’t think that many of my friends parents were keen gardeners.

  4. I must admit it raises a smile to think of being cool in the garden. One look at me (I’ve just come in after a cool but sunny day in the garden) in my baggy fleece trousers, welly socks up to my knees, several fleeces and my husband’s old fleece over the top of it all – not a pretty sight! Growing my own fruit and vegetables has made me very appreciative of the farm produced products. I never complain about the prices.

    • That’s a very valid point. Many are a long way from the production of food and really don’t appreciate the work and time involved and the effect of the weather etc. I wouldn’t want to have to make a living from growing and selling vegetables.

  5. Hi Christina, really enjoyed this and the comments. I am completely shattered and I’ve got Christmas present wrapping and packing to do for a trip away tomorrow but I will return with a proper comment soon. 🙂

  6. So I guess this is one big difference between Europe and the USA: here there are no gardening shows on TV that I’ve heard of, and haven’t been for a long time. There is a cable channel called Home and Garden TV, but it is mostly home and very little garden. There are of course people who love gardening, but I’m afraid it is not very trendy. Growing food has a bit more of a coolness factor, because it overlaps with the interests of foodies (who are trendy). I’m not sure what if anything can be done about this, but I do agree with Donna that exposing children early to the pleasure of gardening is at least one key.

    • As always getting children interested when they are young is the key; in the UK they are introducing gardening to some schools, I don’t know how many or for how long or at what age. In the 90’s there were lots of gardening programmes but it seems that at present there is only one with some new ones promised.

  7. Gardeners tend to be passionate about what they do, as do real cooks (as opposed to those who merely respond to a need to get food on the table). In my opinion, any person who is wrapped up and absorbed in an activity is attractive, i.e. “sexy”.

  8. I think gardeners, in their souls, are born and not made. Here most young people think they want a house with an almost nonexistent lot. Most buyers would be intimidated by my place, but there are always gardeners out there. And many don’t know it, until they have a plot of land and all of a sudden those gardener genes kick in!

  9. Here in the UK, we have Gardeners World on TV a half hour once a week programme and a group of gardeners on twitter “the shouty half hour” who tweet their disapproval of various items presented, whilst the programme airs. Who knows how they will react to any more gardening programmes. Maybe a bit of live and let live is needed. For me any connection with young people and horticulture starts with a love of nature and the complete joy observing and interacting with simple things such as pond dipping can bring. Gardening and especially organically offers so much more than simply growing a lettuce, reconnecting with the basics of the natural world and understanding life cycles are life skills, with a learned respect for the ecology of our planet horticulture might follow on. Grow an apple tree and see how much life it supports before you take a bite of fruit.

  10. This is a well-done reflection Christina. All our elementary schools have garden plots for every class, but I am not sure it continues once the children move up to higher grades.

    My parents grew a huge vegetable garden that fed us all summer and most of the winter. I so much disliked having to work in it (and later doing all the canning, etc). Now I hold memories of those times as very dear and important. I’ve never had much luck with growing vegetables myself, but I don’t love that endeavor the same way I enjoy growing flowers.

    For years an elderly relative shared a plant with me here and there until somehow the need to garden had crept into my very self. It’s hard to define what that spark could be for someone else.

    • Having to work in the garden as a child is sadly perhaps why many people lose interest. But giving a piece of ground to a child and allowing them to grow just what they want is I think inspiring. I’m glad you found the post stimulating.

  11. I never know if it’s reasonable to worry about whether people are gardening less. I can so quickly get into a “everything’s falling apart” mood but do not feel I have any real knowledge of what’s happening.

    That said, it does seem to me that people are more frightened of gardening, or of real contact with plants and soil than they seemed to be when I was a child. I suppose TV and shopping have taken up the slack that once people spent on tidying up outside or growing their own, both of which easily transmuted into making the place prettier. Too much competition now.

    Plus, speaking from the UK, everyone who can afford it travels. Having fun outside equals sun and leisure not the subtle pleasures of weeding, pruning and planting under cloudy skies. Plus machinery and so-called tidy-ups. Shrubs turned into blobs, loud annoying noises and the suspicion that you have to get a man in to control things.

    The personal experience of gardening now often equals patio pots and hanging baskets. I believe the sales of tender annuals are ever-booming.

    Damn it I seem to have got into that mood without even trying.

    • That’sa good point, maybe people are more intimidated, thinking that you have to be a designer to create a garden and have a degree in horticultura to actually grow things!

  12. Sorry I ignored what you had said, getting carried away. In fact I too blame the RHS and the TV programmes but not just for concentrating on veg, also for making things very complicated instead of really focussing on simplifying. And for dishonesty. Never telling you there are lots of ways to do things or admitting what goes wrong. Making a big fuss about everything. Hardly ever talking about weeding or short cuts. Constantly propagating instead of doing what lots of gardeners want to do, ie buy plants, place them nicely and keep them looking good and growing well.

    Interesting subject though. Wish things would change again.

    • You are so right! I hadn’t really thought about the fact that yes, the programmes and RHS do sem to want to make things seem complicated. Maybe that’s why people think they can plant up a pot or hanging basket, because they can see that is simple. Most don’t want to spend all their free time gardening but would like to have a garden to use to enjoy being outside and I’m all in favour of that, even if it is to sit reading the paper with a coffee or a glass of wine on a warm summer’s evening. That is possible with a well (and by that I mean simply) designed garden that requires work just 3 or 4 times a year.

  13. We have a few friends who share our love of gardening, and many who enjoy being in our garden. Perhaps the trend in South Africa is towards housing estates with managed public green spaces included in the levy. Rather than a private garden. But I can’t imagine life without a garden until I’m too old and frail to be physically active.

    • I agree, life without a garden would be very sad indeed. Shared space is good but somehow it is the solitude of a garden that makes it special a shared space wouldn’t be the same.

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