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Millennials moving to green

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Young gardeners are putting down roots, seeds, vegetables, fruit trees, mulch and pot plants all over the world

Millennials are sprouting in every direction, and are now the fastest-growing age group worldwide when it comes to gardening. They are putting down roots, stems, veggies vines and mulch everywhere from city centres to rural retreats.

From London to Lima, New York to Sydney, and Joburg to Buenos Aires, millennials are getting down and dirty to celebrate the greener things in life. For many living in a high-rise or the middle of a big city, a lack of green space gets them down.

Even a hanging box on a balcony railing or an array of potted plants can brighten their days. While this often solitary practice appears at odds with a generation portrayed as self-interested and flashy, millennials have accepted a link between happiness, purpose and gardens.

Smack in the hub of Cape Town’s concrete CBD lives Corrie Gunter, whose apartment resembles a jungle. A science officer at the UCT Biopharming Research Unit, with a masters in biology, Gunter, 30, “takes his work home”, finding it necessary to his wellbeing.

“Plants create a space in which you are never alone. Today everything happens so fast. It is go, go, go. Through gardening, you learn patience, to take your time.”

Gunter sees a trend towards gardening and greening all around him. “Walk in the City Bowl and notice how much greening is taking place. There’s a nursery in Kloof Street selling pot plants and some restaurants have introduced greenery. People want green spaces.”

Buying plants is expensive, so Gunter and friends run a cuttings club, meeting occasionally to swop. What grows best for him? Philodendrons are popular as there are numerous varieties, from delicious monsters to sweetheart vines.

Carnivorous plants, such as pitcher plants and Cape sundews, are rewarding, as are the succulent vine string of pearls and the maidenhair fern, or begonias. Where does it all stem from?

Poppy Jamie, a UK well-being entrepreneur whose mother launched Happy Not Perfect, the millennial-targeted wellness app, says: “Anxiety and stress are prevalent. There’s urgency for activities which distance us from technology and nurture communities.”

Simpler than yoga or meditation, gardens or a walk in the park are now preferred by half of Britain’s under-35s, research shows. Hein Scholtz, 33, is a TV director. He has a collection of 200 orchids in his Cape Town home. He has established a water-wise garden and plans a small orchard.

He understands why many young people are passionate about gardens. “Young people, especially in cities, often want to connect to nature. Growing plants is a rewarding solution.” 

Shruthi Nair and her husband are growing most of the vegetables for their needs in their garden in Kensington, Joburg. Picture: Supplied

Time is often in short supply for the young, but Joburg resident Shruthi Nair, 35, is living the dream. Between raising a son, running a creative industry project and working for an arts incubator formed by William Kentridge, Nair makes green space.

Up at 4am, she sees to her son’s needs, then it is gardening time as she waters and tends her fruit and vegetable garden in her Kensington home before starting her work day.

“Working with the soil is in my DNA,” she says, recalling early days in southern India on summer holidays at her grandfather’s rice farm. “We all have agrarian roots, but we lose touch with the soil. Today with many threats to our natural resources it’s wonderful to realise even a small patch or balcony space can generate produce.”

She buys limited fresh produce. “We’re close to self-sufficiency,” says the UCT fine arts graduate who settled in South Africa in 1994. “My husband and I grow leaf vegetables, tomatoes, carrots, and herbs – virtually everything we need.”

Their garden includes a fig tree and lemon tree and an abundance of indigenous foliage plants. In line with regenerative gardening practices, the couple maintains a large compost heap. “I enjoy bartering surplus produce with friends,” says Nair. 

The fourth annual Garden Day SA will be celebrated this Sunday. Taking part is easy: visit www. gardenday.co.za to download a toolkit with hints, tips and how-to videos, all aimed at helping your create the perfect celebration and following @GardenDaySA on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Tag @ GardenDaySA and using #GardenDaySA. Garden Day was created by the gardening app Candide.

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