Here’s my take: we recognize that GenY wants to cut to the chase and start gardening now – they don’t feel the need to master the subject matter before jumping in. It’s life as one big Nike commercial, come on, let’s all just do it! Growing your own food is cool; being lectured about it, not so much. As one GenYer said at GWA, why read a gardening book when I can just Google my question and get an answer right away?
Generation Y is not only embracing a new way of learning; they are also redefining what a garden is. My interest in gardening began when I bought my first home and had an empty yard to fill, but some of the most popular blogs around right now have nothing to do with the suburban dream, and instead focus on balcony gardening, community gardens and urban homesteading, to name just a few. To be successful, the designer/nursery professional/garden writer of the future will need to rethink traditional teaching methods and topics and instead create engaging, personal gardening experiences. As Katie Elzer-Peters puts it in this post, her GenY husband is more excited that he’s growing his own food than he is to actually eat it.
In my design practice, I see a difference between younger and older clients. While roughly the same proportion of people interested or not interested in gardening exists in all generations, older gardeners often view gardening as a hobby. A hobby they are passionate and knowledgeable about, yes, but still a distinct activity separate from the rest of their life. In contrast, GenY clients approach their gardens as an integral part of who they are. They are eager to tell me how they want their gardens to support their lifestyles, whether that means space for organic edibles, a dog run where their pets can still be a part of the family, or a request for kid-friendly plants designed to appeal to toddlers. They understand that their little patch of earth is part of a much bigger environment, and they are respectful of that. Perfect roses aren’t the goal. Some want a garden to nurture while others just want to hang out in one. Regardless, they all want to experience their gardens, not turn them into plant museums, or worse, treat them as simply a space to walk through on their way to their real lives.
This idea is not new. Before I became a garden designer, I was heavily influenced by the book The Experience Economy, which proposes that consumers no longer purchase products, but instead search out experiences. Why settle for a plain old cup of coffee, when you can relax in a sleek coffee bar and sip an exotic coffee beverage, secure in the knowledge that your fair trade beans are an environmentally sound choice?
What is new is GenY’s expectation that these experiences will be both highly personal and available on demand. By 2014, GenY will make up 47% of the workforce, a larger generation than the Baby Boomers. And like the Boomers in their heyday, their view of the world is quickly influencing other generations. Depending on what source you use, I am either a young Boomer or an old GenXer, but I find myself absorbing GenY attitudes more and more all the time. The other day I was struggling to come up with a group of coral plants for a garden design. I could have called a colleague or asked for suggestions on my professional design forum, but either option meant effort and time. Instead I posted my question on Twitter and almost immediately great suggestions were pouring in, including some from one of my favorite growers. Hurray for my instant gratification, self-referential network! GenY isn’t just adopting a new platform for interacting with the world; they are encouraging the rest of us to adopt it too. And I for one couldn’t be happier.
When she isn’t blogging, tweeting, or updating her Facebook page, Susan Morrison can be found designing gardens in