How did gardening become so cool?


Nicole Elphick

"For myself and my fellow arboreal incompetents, the phrase 'how does your garden grow?' sounds less like a nursery ...

"For myself and my fellow arboreal incompetents, the phrase 'how does your garden grow?' sounds less like a nursery rhyme and more like a stinging taunt." Photo: Stocksy

Like pickling, knitting and comfortable sandals, the Millennials have yet again stolen something from the hands of the elderly generation and claimed it for themselves. In this case, it's the gentle art of gardening. When you hit up your local nursery, you'll likely find it full of twenty- and thirty-somethings yearning for a succulent to call their very own. The City of Sydney's Green Villages initiative holds regular free seminars for newbies, but don't try to sign up for their most recent one on 'balcony and terrace gardening' – it's already booked out. Even inconstant gardeners like myself are picking up a few seedlings in the hope of growing some cheap herbs.

Richard Unsworth, founder of Garden Life, has seen firsthand this upswing in enthusiasm for the way of the shovel. "It's become hip to garden," says Unsworth. "I think it's a combination of a few factors. It's a result of the craft-driven 'I made it myself' movement. I also think there's a need to return to simplicity and nature in a world full of mass-produced products and experiences."

One of the noticeable key trends has been an ardent embrace of indoor pot plants. From terrariums to cacti to larger tropical plants, not since the macrame-laced '70s has gardening inside been so chic, probably in part spurred by the fact many of us now live in inner-city apartments rather than suburban houses with giant backyards. A quick search of Instagram for the tag #fiddleleaffig brings back pages full of stylishly curated shots of white walls, timber floors and the ubiquitous plant. (The fiddle-leaf fig is so popular Unsworth currently has a waiting list to purchase the photogenic tree.)


"Social media has been a huge cause of the resurgence," says Unsworth. "People are now sharing all parts of their home life online and it's a new source of inspiration for many. Design blogs such as The Design Files and The Plant Hunter are filled with gorgeous images of plants and beautiful interiors. I follow a NY-based company called The Sill who seem to be on the front foot with indoor plants in the metropolis." The images he speaks of are indeed entrancing. The pretty sight of expertly styled greenery in paint-rimmed concrete pots is enough to set any wannabe pixie minimalist dream girl's heart aflutter.

Now, this return to nature is all well and good for those born with a green thumb. Those who spent their formative years digging in a backyard will take easily to the soil like the earthworms they are. But for the bookish, indoorsy types amongst us, who were more likely to be reading Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Secret Garden than pottering around in an actual garden, the whole thing can be a tad terrifying. How often to water? How much sun does this need? What is causing those holes in the leaves of my kale? WHY ARE ALL MY PLANTS SUDDENLY DYING?

I am one such black thumb. In my incapable hands, greenhouses become slaughterhouses and herb gardens transform into herb graveyards. So far I have massacred rosemary, basil and rocket with my inability to nurture nature. I would estimate that in the past few years I've been trying to grow my own little plant patch, at least half of my crop has died or been eaten by the well-fed pests that seem to litter my yard. For myself and my fellow arboreal incompetents, the phrase 'how does your garden grow?' sounds less like a nursery rhyme and more like a stinging taunt.

I would like to report that persistence has paid off, but truthfully my greatest moment of horticultural glory was also an embarrassing display of my ineptitude. My backyard is an overgrown tangle of leaves and vines that I refer to as 'charming', but could also be accurately described as 'unruly'. My botanical knowledge is limited and there was one particular growth of plants in the backyard that I had privately dubbed 'those giant grass weeds'. I kept meaning to trim them, but continually put it off. Then one magical day the plants blossomed into a flurry of flowers. It turns out those plain-looking 'weeds' were actually a bed of magnificent irises. So I got to have a brief taste of what it must be like to be a natural-born gardener. And it was bloomin' lovely.