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Gardening with Generation Y

Studies dish the dirt on Millennials

IS Generation Y interested in gardening or are they just not sufficiently engaged in gardening?

That's a tough question to answer, no matter if you're a parent, gardening writer, consultant, human resource manager or garden centre manager. For the purposes of my short foray into the world of Generation Y - also known as my overly connected, sometimes not quite getting it but still my children - I will compare Baby Boomers (born between 1944 and '64) with Generation Y, also known as Millennials (born 19772000) and how both of these demographics view gardening.

Generation Y's buying power should not be underestimated since Gen Y occupies a percentage of the population slightly less than the number of Baby Boomers. Generation Y may want to garden but they do not want gardening to dominate their lives. And along with their interdependence with their peers and their electronic devices, Generation Y seems to question everyone and everything as a part of their mantra. My kids don't seem to know when enough is enough, even when I have outlined the parameters of a given situation. God help their employers!

In an article in USA Today, Stephanie Armour writes, "Generation Y doesn't expect to stay in a job, or even a career, for too long. Generation Y wants change as they multitask their way through it." Compare those beliefs to Baby Boomers, who stuck with one job most of their adult lives. What does this say about how long Gen Y-ers might stay with gardening?

In a Ball Horticultural Co. consumer trends survey in spring 2008, the reasons that "new to gardening" persons gave for not wanting to garden were: Do not have time to garden, not interested, gardening is too much work, no room to garden and don't know how to garden. Added to that is my kids' reasoning that, "Dad, it's just not cool."

Baby Boomers gardened to put food on the table, for status, to improve the property's presentation and as a hobby. As well, Boomers use more environmentally damaging gardening products than any other generation.

Generation Y gardens for function to create outdoor living spaces for them and their friends to enjoy and to improve the property's resale value. Generation Y also believes that a lawn is a liability as are any gardening products that damage the environment.

A report by Robert C. LaGasse and Kelly D. Norris,

called "Gardening with Y" states that most of Generation Y uses computers, cellphones, love to multitask and 74 per cent use electronic media to acquire news. The report went on to say that Generation Y uses peer-related garden websites more often than company websites while preferring free content versus paid content and they prefer user-driven content. They like mentors, are attracted to social movements, demand instant gratification and the instant information found on their electronic devices.

Boomers by comparison did it the old-school way by talking in person to develop networking contacts, working hard at one or two jobs during their lives while listening to authority and mature advice and they trusted what the company told them, more so than Generation Y does.

These interdependently independent Gen Y-ers are a difficult bunch to encourage into gardening, as a hobby, lifestyle or career. For horticultural schools the problem of attracting Generation Y into school comes down to competing with "white collar" jobs that use technology and are perceived as more sexy than digging in the dirt. Still, some Gen Y-ers follow horticultural careers because of their desire to make a contribution to protecting the environment.

For marketers who want to attract Generation Y into gardening and buying the associated products, don't just blog about products, have a Facebook page to be "in" with them or send promotional emails to sell stuff. Generation Y sees such efforts as propaganda and they tune out. If the gardening industry wants to become a member of the "Y tribe" try using one of their own to do the writing, blogging and selling using a lexicon they appreciate. Don't be a Levis Strauss company that went from $8 billion in annual sales to under $2 billion in sales because they failed to appreciate changing demographics. Remember Gen Y-ers trust their peers, not the man, so why should we assume they will buy into marketing written by Boomers?

In all the reports I have read on Generation Y and its relationship to gardening, aside from the themes mentioned herein, one theme was continually mentioned - the need for much more gardening how-to information and information on how gardening helps the environment. This information has to be targeted at Generation Y's needs and desires. Most importantly, be creative, unorthodox, individualized and remember that Generation Y values its ideals because they created them.

Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist, garden designer, writer, consultant and organic advocate. For advice contact him at