Published on April 15, 2019

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photography by mikey neff

It’s fair to say that it began with the great succulent craze of the early 2010s, when the humble desert plant took over Pinterest, at first slowly, and then all at once. By 2012, the direct-to-consumer startup The Sill was founded, honing in on a young audience who seemingly wanted to bring more green into their homes. By late 2018, it raised $7.5 million.

Today, the hashtag #houseplantclub has been used over 900k times on Instagram, #succulentlove over 1.1 million times, and #crazyplantlady over 600k times. That’s not to mention more niche tags, like #monsteramonday (165k) and #interiorrewilding (85k). It’s clear by now that millennials have a thing for plants, so it makes perfect sense that they’re starting to outgrow their confinements.

Reaching beyond their terra-cotta planters, millennials are now beginning to garden. Today, 29 percent of all gardening households are occupied by 18- to 34-year-olds, according to 2018’s National Gardening Survey, and with resources abound that obliterate traditional barriers to entry, that percentage is only set to grow.

Gardening today is getting way easier

“The same barriers to entry exist for new gardeners today that existed over the last 20 years: I don’t have time, I don’t have space, I don’t know how,” says Donna Letier, founder of Gardenuity, a new company that offers container garden kits and the resources to make them flourish. “We cut down on these barriers with a combination of technology, data, horticultural experts, and convenience.”

Education—as anyone who has ever googled why their houseplants’ leaves are turning a particular shade of yellow—is crucial for keeping greenery alive. When it comes to gardening, a bit more planning and technical information are required than is for simply caring for a pothos. This has always been the case, even for gardeners 50-plus years ago. The difference today is that updated technology, accessible resources, and expanded communities—both in real life and online—make gardening more approachable.

“The younger demographic builds out their own communities; our customers feel like they are not only part of a movement, but that they are also creating the movement,” Letier adds. “The growing experience is designed to make you play in the dirt and to enjoy the journey as much as the harvest itself.”

Nature therapy’s benefits are real

The reasons millennials might find themselves tempted to get their hands dirty extend beyond the pure aesthetics of owning plants. Increasing scientific studies on the health benefits of nature make a compelling case for city dwellers to find opportunities wherever they can to go outdoors, even if that means making the most of a fire escape garden. Not to mention that an increasing interest in wellness—and awareness of stress’s detrimental effect on physical health—makes this pastime alluring for multiple reasons.

Not only can gardening provide the same benefits as a workout in reducing risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer, but it’s also been shown to be effective at reducing stress. “When you garden, you stimulate all your senses,” Letier says. “The feel of the freshly harvested leaves, the smell of the herbs, the sight of new beginnings, the sound of water—all these sensations release endorphins, those feel-good hormones that help put a smile on your face.” Even the physical act of sinking your hands into a pot of dirt has notable health benefits: Studies have shown that the microbiome found in dirt can have effects similar to those granted by an antidepressant. Exposure to and involvement in nature has consistently proven to have a therapeutic effect on individuals—that’s part of the reason the world’s happiest countries have greenery in excess, as well as the freedom to roam laws that make it accessible to everyone.

Increasing concern about unsustainable food systems and expanding general knowledge about food quality, labeling, and processing has also led some to garden. “We’re noticing a lot of younger gardeners interested in growing their own food,” says Mat Pember, cofounder of Australian gardening company The Little Veggie Patch Co. “I would say that a lot of millennials have a high social conscious, and with more thought invested in our environment and sustainability issues, it’s not surprising to see them take an interest in growing food.”

Just as increasing time spent in the kitchen and the rise of dinner parties have helped foster a greater sense of community and wellness amid millennials, so too has the increasing popularity of gardening—even if that garden might just be a kitchen countertop herb garden. “Food has always been a conduit and, despite our many differences, has the ability to bring people together,” Pember adds. “If you want to enrich the food experience, you need to get to the source, and gardening is the only way to tap in at its source.”

Perfection isn’t the utmost aim

For some, the act of keeping a plant alive and trying to grow seeds to into full blossom is—above all—an activity that, in its simplicity, makes for a perfectly calming pastime that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) end up as an extra reason to stress. When Sierra Tishgart, cofounder of cookware brand Great Jones, found a serious New York City real estate score—an apartment with a balcony—she first started planting flowers in pots. By the time her lease ended, she prioritized finding a space where her newfound hobby could have more room to flourish. Then, she started her first Tishgarden.

“It forced me to put down my phone, to get my hands dirty, and to really see a project through,” she says. “The best thing about gardening, especially as a first-time gardener, is that you really learn the power of resilience. I’d watch a flower die and then I’d watch it come back and realize that it might actually be okay—it was really the first time that I had, as someone who’s lived in cities, that kind of relationship with nature.

That’s the thing with plants, after all—sometimes they die. Even the most experienced of all plantfluencers can attest to having accidentally underwatered or overwatered a beloved piece of greenery. A tomato plant might shrivel (as Tishgart once discovered after having left her garden to the care of a friend while she traveled), or a plant just might not find its footing in your backyard, windowsill, or countertop. That’s why, when a plant does flourish, the sense of pride that comes along with that crop is even greater.

It might be tempting, as it is for millennials who take on any new activity, to turn a home garden into a project with greater ambitions (after all, a recent study has shown that—millennials experience higher levels of perfectionism than previous generations) but the beauty in this activity is in the trial-and-error, the slowness, and the mindfulness it helps to cultivate. “I really wanted to keep this as a hobby for myself. Millennials are so quick to professionalize everything and want to be the best at it,” Tishgart says. “I liked that gardening was an act of discovery and surprise. There were some things I could plan for, but there are also so many things outside of my control.”

Plants spark joy—and mindfulness

More than houseplants, which can require, at most, regular watering and the very occasional repotting, gardening creates constant opportunities for growth, making it a sustainable means of relaxing—not just a one-and-done activity. “If you work in front of a computer all day with stressful clients or colleagues, gardening is an activity that can help relieve a little stress,” Letier says. “When you take a minute to water your garden, the sheer act of being present and nurturing is a natural stress-reliever. When you focus on the present moment, on the plant, the soil, the sun, the water, you’re not worrying about your to-do list.”

At the end of the day—or week or whenever you’ve mastered the art of keeping your rose bush in tip-top shape; preventing your countertop rosemary from drying out; and growing the juiciest, ripest tomatoes—there’s no greater pleasure than sitting back and enjoying the results getting your hands dirty. “I feel very fortunate to have a garden,” Tishgart says. “There’s nothing better than entertaining around it and having people over. It’s such a simple pleasure to look at flowers and be around them and pick your own herbs when you’re cooking. It brings other people joy.”

See more benefits of nature:
Growing Up Around Nature Can Lead to Better Mental Health Later, Study Says

Just 5 Minutes Outdoors Can Make You Happier, According to a Study
2019’s Biggest Wellness Trends Will Have a Lot to Do With Nature

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