Health News Digest

April 30, 2007

Getting Your Hands Dirty:  Improving The Environment By Gardening


By  Michael D. Shaw

What could be more Green than gardening? And, what single activity—accessible to nearly everyone—could be more readily positive for the environment? But, it seems this venerable hobby is in somewhat of a decline.

As reported by the National Gardening Association:

The $387.00 average spent on lawn and garden activities nationwide by participating households in 2005 was $62.00 or 13 percent less than the $449.00 average spent in 2004. The $387.00 average spent in 2005 was $53.00 or 12 percent less than the five-year average.

Households that spent the most on their lawns and gardens in 2005 included those with no children at home, married households, college graduates, two-person households, those in the South, those with annual incomes over $75,000, and among people 45 years of age and older.

Master Gardener Joe Lamp’l blames the decline on today’s intensely busy lifestyles, although he notes that:

“…busy affluent homeowners are moving away from do-it-yourself and more toward purchased gardens and the labor to take care of them. The results are immediate and personal maintenance is eliminated.”

And, a recent story in the New York Times, commenting on what aging baby boomers are up to in their gardens stated:

“Although boomers are still gardening, they are slowing down. Their backs are giving out. They’re tired of expensive perennials that keel over in a drought.”

Thus, more interest in the above-mentioned instant gardens.

But, there’s still the question as to why the younger set isn’t taking up the gardening hobby as avidly as did their parents and grandparents. Ironically, the answer might lie in the very immediate gratification/no-brainer products now being highly touted at a gardening center near you.

Self-described Renegade Gardener Don Engebretson takes a dim view of these products, referring to them as “pandering” and “insipid.” His point, and it’s a good one, is that allegiance to any hobby is based on the quest for advancement of skill. He notes that:

“We become hooked on hobbies that allow us to get better, to experience with ease this year something that had baffled us before. Why does a person spend four hours shooting a round of golf? Being outside is nice, the walking is good for you, but slicing a stroke or two off the score you shot last week is the whole point of the exercise.

Husbands and wives who scuba dive come home from an expedition to Bonaire and immediately start planning next year’s trip to Cozumel, where the dives are deeper, the currents faster, and the required diving skills more advanced.”

Engebretson likens the garden-in-a-box kits to the paint-by-number packages:

“You simply place the cardboard canvas on an easel, then fill in all the spaces numbered “1” with brown, “2” with yellow, “3” with blue, etc. When you’re done, you’ve created this perfect painting—but have you learned how to paint? Have you developed in any way as an artist? Have you learned one single damn thing?”

Or, putting in another way:  Instant gratification does not a long term relationship with a hobby make.

Our Renegade Gardener lists seven benefits of gardening…

  • Easy access to your hobby
  • Stress reduction and communing with nature
  • Increase in home value from the landscaping
  • Environmental stewardship, with plants removing air pollutants, and improving the aesthetics
  • Making new friends
  • Improved self-confidence, based on learning this new skill
  • Exercise—as strenuous as you care to make it

As with any hobby, there will be failures at first. Engebretson suggests joining a garden club to hasten the learning curve.

Finally, while most lawn and garden commercials tend to include older actors and spokespersons reflecting the status quo, this is self-defeating, I would think. If the industry wants to bring in a younger demographic, it should make more of an effort to appeal to them.

For a country in which a majority of citizens claim to be concerned about the environment, the gardening hobby should be embraced, nurtured, and allowed to bloom.