Are You Afraid of Gardens and Nature?

Are You Afraid of Gardens and Nature?

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Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont, Kentucky. December 2008.

Most of us know that gardens and nature are good for us. And good for our children, too. Dirt is healthy for kids, but forcing them outdoors does not work the way it once did.

Baby boomers, as youngsters, got kicked out of the house after breakfast. We weren’t allowed back until lunchtime. We got tossed out again and came home dirty for dinner. Boomers practically grew up outdoors. (Until I am sentenced to the lockdown unit of assisted living, I will wander around gardens and nature.)

In the meantime, it has been harder than anyone imagined unplugging our grown children—the selfie generation—and connecting millennials to salamanders and sassafras.

Bernheim, June 2016.

When smartphones arrived, less than ten years ago, it became possible to be outdoors, unhinged from a desktop. But mobility only added to the “nature deficit.” There was a deepening disconnect to the natural world. Time-sucking social media and a flood of apps, designed to keep you staring at your smartphone, took a toll. There’s a limit to multi-tasking. You can’t Tweet and listen to a songbird at the same time—unless it’s the mechanized chirp-chirp of the Twitter birdy.

Andrew Sullivan in New York magazine offers a first hand account of the misery caused by this “epidemic of distraction.”

David Brooks, in a New York Times op-ed piece last week, entitled Intimacy of the Avoidant, used comedian Louis C.K. to fully lay out the problem: “You never feel completely sad or completely happy. You just feel kinda satisfied with your products (gadgets). And then you die.”

While boomers edge toward smaller plots, a younger generation digs a deeper hole into virtual reality.

“…Google wants a mobile VR platform that doesn’t just introduce people to virtual reality but makes them want to stay there.”

My cousin Gene Bush, the writer and horticulturist, wrote, “If we gardeners cannot reach the next two generations of potential gardeners then the hobby, as we know and love it, will die a slow death.”

It’s not yet time for despair. Some seem to be finding their way out.

A few young outliers are poking around in gardens. In fact, I know dozens of these courageous Souls of the Dirt. Panayoti Kelaidis, the legendary plantsman and Director of Outreach at the Denver Botanic Gardens, has recently written about two extraordinary talents: Jeremiah Harris, the “insectivorous plant prodigy,” and Kenton Seth, the “garden master and crevice crafter.”

A few weeks ago, my 27-year-old nephew, Buz Hancock, emailed photos of three houseplants he raises on the top floor of his Chicago third-floor walkup. I identified his crop as a bromeliad, Celosia and a Chrysanthemum. “I got good taste, right?” he asked.

I couldn’t have been happier if Buz had claimed bragging rights for flowering the relcalcitrant stinky corpse flower, Amorphophallus titanum, in his bathroom.

Nature girls in Salvisa, Kentucky. August 2016.

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans teach Stanford University’s hugely popular class, “Designing Your Life.” In a recent New York Times story about their work, Burnett said: “One of the meta-narratives out there is that you should figure it out by 25, or maybe it’s 27 now. Then there’s the other thing of failure to launch, that millennials are slackers. Part of the permission we give people is: Reframe this. You’re not supposed to have it figured out.”

Be patient.

Millennials need encouragement.

Brie Arthur is reeling in timid adult gardeners and children. She is nurturing them with Brussels sprouts and brio. Brie, a graduate of Purdue University, with a degree in Landscape Design and Horticulture and a minor in entomology, earned her professional stripes in ornamentals in North Carolina. She worked for Montrose Gardens, Plant Delights Nursery and Camellia Forest Nursery.

Brie Arthur at the Bullock Elementary School, planting cool season veggie liners donated by Peace Tree Farm. August 2016.

And now, Brie travels the country, nearly every week, as a green industry consultant. She is focused on teaching and inspiring landscape contractors and independent garden centers. She has also established a foothold as a resource coordinator for school gardens.

“The school gardening initiative is the one that I hope to see explode,” Brie said.  “My first major venture, with the Bullock Elementary School in Glassboro, NJ, was just awarded the first NJ Farm to School award. The entire school district is following this lead and I am working with 12 schools around the US to transform their grassy campuses into foodscapes.”

The 37-year-old Arthur understands the thread that holds us all together.

We eat.

Millennials love food.

The United States has an estimated 180 million acres of suburban land. A portion of that includes each home’s footprint, but there’s a lot of land left over for potential Yard to Table food.

Brie became interested in foodscaping when she bought her second home. Money was tight and she knew it would be cheaper to produce the food she wanted to eat. “So I started sneaking food crops into the home foundation landscape that I had inherited,” she said.

“I lived in a neighborhood with Homeowner Association (HOA) restrictions and worried I would be fined. I began developing design strategies to meet my needs (and the needs of others interested in cultivating food) while abiding by the ‘beauty rules.’”

Brie won her neighborhood’s “Yard of the Year” in 2007.

Brie Arthur

She now dreams of a green, sustainable future where—in the front yard—there is an “intersection of edible plants in a traditional ornamental landscape.”

Her first book, The Foodscape Revolution: Finding a Better Way to Make Space for Food and Beauty in Your Garden, will be released next year on March 15th at the Philadelphia Flower Show.

Lloyd Traven, co-owner with his wife Candy of the progressive Peace Tree Farm, considers Brie Arthur “the face of the Green Industry.” Brie shrugs this off and says, “It is a privilege to be considered a person with a relevant message.”

“Dream big,” Brie says.

Posted by

Allen Bush
on October 12, 2016 at 7:50 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy, Unusually Clever People.

    • Aurora Toennisson
    • 3rd November 2016

    As one of the lamented “Millennials,” I assure you that folks of my ilk are interested in gardening. I am an avid gardener myself, and I am constantly giving cuttings and divisions away to friends and colleagues my age who are wanting to dig in.

    • Laura B
    • 13th November 2016

    I think the disconnect of this group and Nature is vastly overstated. I am mother to young Millennials, I work with older Millennials. My children, their friends, and my younger co-workers are as interested in and invested in Nature as my generation (X) and older generations are. Meaning that some are all-in, and some are all-out. And some are in the middle. Those who are all-in do what other “all-ins” of other generations have done : bike, hike, hunt, fish, garden, play sports, learn about their surroundings and why this thing does that …

    • admin
    • 15th November 2016

    Aurora, I love the cleverly designed Minecraft garden game. That’s brilliant.

    • admin
    • 15th November 2016

    Laura, thanks for the good news from your end. I have millennial children. One gardens; one does not — at least, not yet, although I have high hopes that he will one day. My granddaughter is photographed several times in the story. She loves being outdoors. That is a huge credit to my daughter.

    • Michael Dodge
    • 15th November 2016

    I was so very fortunate to be born in the English Lake District and as a child could do what I wanted to do during the day as long as I was home before Mum went to work in the “Mental Hospital” in the evening. My pals and I wandered the lanes and fells, built dams across streams and dens to hide in! I always brought home a bunch of flowers (primroses, cowslips, bluebells, wild roses etc.) for my Mum. With five children, a home to look after and her night nurse duties, Mum did not have time to “do the garden”. So at a rather young age I took on the responsibility for it. I loved working the earth and planting stuff. I ordered a Collection of Shrubs for small gardens from a newspaper. I ordered a Cox’s Orange Pippin apple–simply the best tasting apple in the world (slightly biased). When old enough I delivered papers in the early morning before going school. At this time I was building a “rockery” and filched small pieces of rockery plants from customers gardens, “they won’t miss a little piece” thought I. I have been truly blessed to see beautiful gardens and to meet some of the loveliest people in the world–gardeners!

    • admin
    • 15th November 2016

    Michael, I loved reading your lovely account of a childhood outdoors and gardening. I haven’t given up on Cox’s Orange Pippin. I’ve failed a few times (it doesn’t seem to like our heat and humidity), but I love the taste, also.

    • admin
    • 15th November 2016

    Cousin Gene, this morning I took your advice to heart and worked in the garden. Of course, that’s what we do most days. I planted 6 peony ‘Coral Charm’. The ground was hard as a rock. I had to soften the soil with a watering. The temperature is heading to 82F. I’ve got to cool off.

    • Tom Christopher
    • 15th November 2016

    Hugely inspirational. Thank you, Allen.

    • Garden
    • 15th November 2016

    Teaching kids early that dirt is “good” is a good thing. I’ve seen parents cleaning kids every second they get dirty and then complain about how they always stay sick.

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