We’re Not Normal (opinion)

Robin Siktberg

I am an unusual person, perhaps even a bit odd. I say this because by age 14, or maybe even earlier, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be an editor of a horticultural magazine. And, somehow, by a path that involved some twists and turns, I actually am.

I’m also unusual because I was gardening as a child and loved it, and with the exception of a small break during college when I owned no outdoor space, not even a balcony, I have always grown plants. And even then, I had houseplants.

I have always known that my passion for plants is stronger than that of the average consumer. By virtue of the fact that you are a greenhouse grower, operator, or are in some other way associated with this industry, chances are your interest in plants goes beyond the norm, too. So it’s important that we step outside of ourselves and listen to what “normal” people think about gardening and buying plants. That’s especially true for the Gen Y group we are all so concerned about in terms of our industry’s future.

When I was in my twenties, I was the only one of my friends who gardened or even thought about plants at all. Flash forward to today, and we are all homeowners and parents, and I can’t tell you how many times I’m asked for gardening advice. My friends are all more than interested in plants now — and they’re spending money.
So I was surprised when our assistant editor, Karli Petrovic, who also works for our sister retail magazine, Today’s Garden Center, stirred up a small firestorm of controversy when she wrote a column about why she and her generation are not gardening yet.

In her column, “Why I’m Not Gardening and No One Else My Age is Either,” Karli pointed out that she and her friends are not gardening for a number of reasons, including lack of time, money and space. She said her generation is more focused right now on building careers than buying plants, but said to give them time.

Several readers objected, saying they knew young people who garden— how could Karli speak for a whole generation? One reader said, “Really don’t understand their attitude. To me, coming home to water plants or garden was a stress-reliever when I was in my 20s.”

All of us could point to someone in their twenties who gardens. But is that the point? Those people, as much as we appreciate them, are not the norm for their age group.
Karli’s full opinion and all of the comments, both positive and negative, can be found at TodaysGardenCenter.com. And for those who find yourself upset with her honesty, I encourage you to sit back for a moment and listen, even if what you hear is uncomfortable. I believe she speaks for the majority of her generation, and we bury our heads in the sand at our peril. We need to find ways, even on a small scale, to appeal to people like her, who are not quite there, but will be soon. Because we’re not normal. They are.

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3 comments on “We’re Not Normal (opinion)

  1. Catherine

    It is not her opinion that was disturbung, it is the fact she writes articles for the green industry…kind of a joke for Greenhouse Grower, in my opinion. Does she have any actual horticultural experience to validate her writing for a trade magazine?

  2. JBF

    If you really want to see a shock, take a good look at our industry and see the ages of the folks in our industry and who is up and coming. I think you will see a gap between 25-40(?), sure there are a few of us, but not many of my friends I started in this industry with are still in the industry. I moved to sales when I saw I would have hard time making it ($) as a grower unless I started my own business. There is not much you can do about it, just realize it is going on good or bad.

  3. Paul Riddell

    Speaking from experience, both as a retailer and as a member of Generation X, not only is Karli right, but Robin is right for emphasizing it. Yes, we all know twentysomethings who love to garden. Yes, we all know twentysomethings who get relaxation from watering their plants. I also know that these stand out because they're relatively rare. The emphasis on career over gardening is very valid, which is why we have to keep working on offering low-maintenance solutions for the individuals who have maybe one day per week to expend on their gardens or yards. We also have to remember that we're competing against so many distractions, many of them worthy and even laudable, that aren't so much of an issue when we get older. (Me, I got into serious gardening when I was 22, and I was an absolute freak among friends and co-workers who couldn't see why I'd waste my time on any plant that wasn't either immediately edible or smokable.) Most of all, we'd best listen, because the current arrogance I keep hearing in the plant trade, effectively acting as if these darn kids should get with the program and get off our lawns, will be a major dissuader from gardening in the future. I'm 46, and I still instinctively stay away from venues that treated me with disdain and vitriol when I was 22, as do a lot of my contemporaries, and the best way to guarantee that our kids will stay away from gardening is to be both dismissive and patronizing as to their needs from gardening right now.