May 3, 2011

Are "Gardeners" Middle-Aged Women?

male garden bloggers
Every since I read the Obsessive Neurotic Gardener's Why Can't a Dude Like Flowers? I've been meaning to update my listing of male garden bloggers. Since that post there has been a spike in male garden bloggers. Women still dominate the garden blogging field, but there's a larger male presence than just a couple of years ago. Today I came across a trend piece about the new crop of male gardeners, and figured it would give me a couple more men to add to the list of male gardeners. Not only did it give me a couple of male gardeners I'd never heard of before, it also gave me some food for thought.

The blurb for Mike Lieberman, who blogs at Urban Organic Gardener,  reads:


Mike Lieberman insists he’s not a gardener.
“When I think ‘gardener,’” says the boy from Brooklyn, “I think of a middle-aged woman who’s been doing it just for the beauty of it and not considering all the other aspects.”
Has the resurgence in vegetable gardening made ornamental gardening uncool? What are these "other aspects" that the middle-aged women who do it for the beauty aren't taking into consideration? I suspect they're probably things related around certain popular buzzwords like "food security" and taking control of the "food system." Remember it was uncool to be a vegetable gardener? People who grew vegetables were seen as being less sophisticated, poor, and out of touch. Have we now reached a point where it is uncool to be an ornamental gardener? If you garden for the beauty of it, are you not doing your part for the environment? Missing a chance to stick it to the man running the agricultural-industrial complex? A few years ago I would've agreed that the word "gardener" would've conjured up images of an older woman, but today I can't say I agree.

At gardening events that I attend in Chicago I see that the people who come out are increasingly diverse. When I think of  "gardener" I think of people who look like me, my friends, my neighbors and, yes, even middle-aged women. That's a good thing. Although, I don't understand taking on a garden blog with the word "Gardener" in the domain if you don't think of yourself as a gardener.

What do you think of when you think of "gardener"?

27 comments:

  1. In general, I hate generalizations (lolz). I think of a gardener as a person who likes to grow things -- I don't associate it with a particular gender or color or age. People all come to gardening at different stages of life, for different reasons. It's all good, why try to be divisive or associate certain motives to a whole age or gender? I have to laugh because timing has never been my strong suit. When I was growing up, my mom always had (still has!) a veggie garden and that was WAY uncool/unusual in the 70s. When I started gardening in my early 20s (a tomato was my gateway plant), NONE of my friends my age was into it. Still unusual/uncool. Now that I'm middle-aged, I finally fit a demographic but it's (surprise surprise) a non-cool demographic. Eh, suck it. :)

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  2. The best part of being me, besides that there's only one me, is that I garden because I like plants. I grow what I want, when I want and I'm not swayed by trends or politics. I garden because I like plants and I'll grow just about anything. I'm not an ornamentalist and I'm not a vegetable gardener. I'm just a gardener.

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  3. From a male urban gardener, I say "rock on!"

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  4. Ooh them's fightin' words. This harks back to the same old argument us "younger" garden bloggers were having a few years back. But I digress.

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  5. The first thing that comes to mind is I agree. I don't really see him as a gardener, either. ;)

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  6. I didn't mention the part about "gardeners being middle aged women who garden just for the beauty, not considering all the other 'aspects' because, well, it's ludicrous. We are environmentalists, we're out there teaching folks how to build sustainable food systems and that you can grow things even when you have space limitations. Stereotyping "gardeners" in this manner is ignorant and shallow. The biggest difference I can see is that we were more clothes.

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  7. I'm not really sure how you would define a gardener. At the same time, I'm not ready to admit that I'm a middle-aged woman either...haha...

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  8. @Katie, Hahaha. I know, right?

    @Gina, I think maybe I agree...Maybe he sees himself as more of a "farmer" or perhaps a food activist? Dunno.

    @Carri, I'm not a middle-aged woman, either! So the image of a middle-aged woman as a gardener doesn't fit me either.

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  9. Gina's comments are cracking me up!

    The whole idea of stereotyping gardeners does two things for me: it shows a lack of understanding of the gardening community (even the virtual gardening community is WAY more diverse than the vision he seems to have) as well as a sort of holier-than-thou attitude toward gardening in general. To say that the man or woman happily growing her roses is unaware of the "bigger aspects" of what gardening is makes it seem like A) that gardener is an ignorant narcissist or B) gardening is supposed to be some big political act. It can be if you want it to. That's great. But it can also be about joy and beauty and there's nothing in the world wrong with that, either.

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  10. *happily growing his or her roses (I shouldn't comment before I'm properly caffeinated!)

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  11. Here in Tokyo if I try to come up with a quick, short list of the gardeners I know, there are 7 guys only 1 female.
    Also, when visiting garden centers, nurseries and flower shops there are always guys around. Maybe is a cultural thing, but I never see gardening as a girl thing.

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  12. I think of anyone from an elderly woman tended roses to a young man in the horticultural industry. I don't really see it belonging to anyone in particular. Just my thoughts.

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  13. I don't really think of either ornamentals or vegetables as being cool or uncool. Most people seem to be vegetable gardening to do two things: try to save some money or return back to the land. As for the field being dominated by women I definitely think that is a fair assumption. Our local garden club may have 5-6 men verses 25 women. In addition the age bracket has 5-6 people under 40 and most members being in their upper 50's to 60's.

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  14. I'm 46 and started gardening about 5 years ago. I think of it in terms of first loves and crushes. My "first love" was vegetable gardening, but then I got crushes on several types of flowers. Now I'm having an affair with chickens.

    Interesting, though -- I'm one of the youngest ones in our local gardening club, and we only have 2 male members out of 50. Most of the women there are retired and primarily ornamental gardeners. At the same time, I just joined a community plot that is almost all veggies with a few flowers mixed in. The demographic there is lots more diverse for age, gender and race.

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  15. I think mostly of elderly men.

    Garden blogging is different. I've been surprised how many garden bloggers are women. Have tended to assume that's because more women than men like writing about things, rather than because they are more likely to be gardeners.

    Esther

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  16. I'm a middle-aged woman and garden blogger, and I think he's dead wrong. Stereotyping is one of the scourges of human nature, I think.

    MBT, yours was the first garden blog I came across that was written by a man, and that was really cool to me. At that time the whole world of garden blogging was new to me. I can't remember now for sure, but yours might have been the first garden blog I found period - whether written by a male or female. After that as I found more and more garden blogs, I found male garden bloggers to be quite rare. I love that more men are gardening and blogging about it.

    I started gardening as child, and while my mom grew some flowers, they were secondary. Our family's main focus was the huge vegetable garden. As an adult my first gardens were veggie gardens. I didn't get into flowers until years later when an elderly neighbor shared some perennials from her garden. Since most of my current ornamental garden space is woodland, foliage, not flowers, dominate. There are plenty of blooming things though, and about 1/2 or more are natives, for ecological reasons.

    The gardens are science laboratories for me. Experimentation and propagation are favorite things about gardening. I love the pollinators, worms, and other bugs. I love dirt - the smell of it, the feel of it, and the wonder of it. I love that a handful of dirt is home to millions of living beings I can't even see. I love starting plants from seeds and watching every stage of their development. I love the miracle of a seed. I love the flowers too, of course, but they aren't what began my life-long love of gardening, and aren't primarily what has held my interest all these decades later. It takes a lot of patience for natives started from seed to bloom - they can take easily from three to five years from seed to bloom. If I gardened primarily for flowers, I'd do a lot more annuals and cultivars, and would buy more mature natives. Gardening connects me to nature in an intimate way, and has taught me all kinds of lessons about presence, patience, hard work, perseverance, trial and error, failure and success. Gardening is, for me, a way of life.

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  17. Wow, halfway through this post, I wsas forming a comment but you all have expressed it just fine. Anyone who indulges in generalizations is looking for trouble. Love gardening, hate labels. There's no point.

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  18. I think it's more the general contempt in which our entire society holds middle aged women. I guess us middle aged women are so busy watching soap operas that we can't remotely be expected to have opinions on topical issues or be capable of absorbing information other than infomercial diet tips. What a putz.

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  19. I'm ashamed to admit that I used to make those kinds of generalizations, but over time my perspective changed radically. When I first started traveling and giving talks, I was surprised to discover that my audience was very diverse and not what I had expected. I learned pretty quickly that I was carrying around an unfair bias in my head and that I needed to check that immature arrogance at the door.

    Gardeners are a diverse bunch. As widely diverse as there are people. The act of gardening is physical, creative, and often-times emotional. We all get something different from it and as a result have our own reasons for doing it.

    Those middle aged women Mike speaks of may not be doing it for the same reason(s) he is (although I know MANY who are far more radical) but they're not idiots. They've thought of the "other aspects."

    Personally, I'm known primarily for writing about food gardening, but I'm a pretty equal opportunity plant lover. I love all of them. My tastes and interests evolve with time, too. I've recently found myself falling in love with and growing things I NEVER thought I would touch. I garden for a multitude of reasons, some I'm not even sure I have figured out yet. I realize that it's arrogant, limiting, and entirely inaccurate to try and place myself in a box, so perhaps I shouldn't try to do that so readily with other gardeners.

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  20. Oh... I forgot to mention Class and the media and how these two things come together to paint this generalization of who a gardener is. When I was starting out as a gardener, I went to the bookstore looking for books and magazines about gardening and nothing I saw related to my experiences as a young, urban gardener with no money (or space). The gardens I saw profiled were FANCY and obviously cost a ton of money to build and upkeep. These people had land and a budget. For a very long time gardening media focused on a specific demographic: people of a certain age with a certain amount of surplus time and/or money to hire people to help them. As far as gardening media of the 80s/90s was concerned, I didn't exist. And neither did the countless people from all over the world who were building homemade structures out of pipes and growing grapes or winter melons in their front yards...

    As time passed (and through the connections I made via my website), I discovered that all sorts of people are gardening in all sorts of way... I wasn't alone. I just appeared to be because of this fixation on a specific (moneyed) demographic for so long. The Internet has changed that, but the general media still has this portrait of a WASPy, hyper-perfectionist Annette Benning in "American Beauty" with her matching apron and gloves set and perfectly pruned roses. That's the stereotype Mike is subscribing to and I'd imagine what he had in mind when he wrote that.

    It's funny because I now know that that stereotype is the minority and not the majority.

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  21. no I'm not ;-)

    I hate soccer and there is nothing else on TV so I might as well make the garden pretty and grow my own produce (tomatoes and potatoes, and the lot), and try to be good at it. That for me is being a gardener (digging the dirt for pleasure and getting return on investment even if it where only pretty flowers).
    Being a male garden blogger is about sharing this information, takes some years of (unsupported) backbraking garden activities to loose some of the disappointments (not everybody still has middle-aged grandpas giving advice) that comes with gardening .. I try to learn from others, and let other learn from my learnings.

    I don't understand the "enjoy my wine in my labour free garden and a lot of time to do it"- comments of non-gardeners. What is there to enjoy in those gardens ?? Come and enjoy your wine in my garden, I'll learn you some "tricks" and you'll become an active gardener soon ;-)

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  22. The dynamic is changing as you say. At my garden center over half of my customers are male, ages 20 to 50, the exact demographic the garden center world is looking to attract. The secret? Carry what they want to buy!

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  23. Sorry but to ask such a question when I was growing up would have been way beyond comprehension. Of course I'm way past " middle age . " Everyone was a gardener, whether it be for beautiful flowers or great veggies, gardening was a way of life , be they male or female.

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  24. I don't think you have this guy on your list: http://www.agardenforthehouse.com/ He's one of my favorites. That stereotype pisses me off. My mister and I garden and blog together and we haven't quite reached middle age. Granted, I do more of both since I'm a homemaker and he has to go out into the world to a "real" job every day. He loves the ornamentals just as much as I do but is more interested in sneaking vegetable plants into the flower beds than I am. We joined a plant swap group this year. Ages were pretty diverse but he was one of the few men there and that was disappointing. Growing up, I think I thought that most serious gardeners were men- dunno why for sure.

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  25. Forgot to add something: we're not really about being political and/ or "sticking it to the man". We're more about trying to capitalize on our land's ability to generate income. The potential is there. We are only beginning to tap into it. I can't wait for the day when the mister's real job is here on the flower farm.

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  26. Anonymous2/26/2012

    I am young male that loves gardening. It is a newly found passion that I discovered not many years ago. I have found a friend that is into it as much as I am ... would like to connect with others to discuss my new found passion. I would like to join a garden club? any in the Georgia area.....Ps....just planted a batch of tulips and excited cause they are about to bloom.... my daffodils are already looking amazing..

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  27. When I think of gardeners, I think of my father, which I guess blows the whole middle-aged-housewife image out of the water (rain barrel?). I've started trying a bit of gardening, myself, inspired in part by the urban gardening projects around Berlin, where I live. The gardens around the former runway in Tempelhofer Park and the Prinzessinnengärten (http://www.smart-urban-stage.com/blog/future-of-the-city/city-soil/) play horticultural host to people of all ages, genders, ethnic backgrounds, & & &. I'm proud to be part of the green revolution, and I don't think it's of particular note that I'm a guy.

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