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