Thursday, February 23, 2017

Is Gardening Only for the Privileged?

The privilege of a gardener became abundantly clear as I was looking through library books about landscape design and saw no homes or yards that I (who easily qualifies as a privileged white woman) could relate to. They were all either sweeping estates or fancy little urban courtyards.

I'm obsessed with xeriscaping, native plants and perennial gardening, but the only reason why I could afford replacing the front yard with what felt like a million plants was because we live in a gentrified town and refinanced our home, which increased a sizable amount in value over just five years. And that situation is definitely a privilege. I knew I couldn't keep ignoring the privilege of a gardener anymore when, on one of my favorite gardening podcasts, a caller actually uttered the words "the help". As similar situations and conversations continue to arise, I keep returning to one difficult question: is gardening only for the privileged?

I'm aware that I embody "privilege." And that it took me until I was 30 years old to come to terms with the idea that gardening has largely been reserved for the rich and the white illustrates that fact. Even with my very modest income and lifestyle, I am the epitome of white privilege. And as I become more entrenched in my passion for plants, gardening and sustainable garden design, I realize more and more that gardening really seems to be a pastime for only the privileged. This is a real problem because in order to better the world, the ability to better your own little piece of it should be available to everyone.
My first real attempt at CO gardening - our rental in 2010. I got the dirt from Big Lots and plants from a Native plant sale.
No matter how "low-maintenance" it is, gardening costs a lot of time, money and effort. And it usually requires the ownership of a home. Not to state the obvious, but that makes it a passion that only people with extra time and money can pursue. I work a salaried job and so does my husband. So every once in a while we have room in our budget and days to improve the tiny piece of the earth that we call our own. And still, time and money are large constraining factors on all I'd like to do.

Gardening should never be an experience reserved for the privileged. Getting your hands dirty and caring for the land offers immense health and emotional benefits. Replacing lawns and "dead zones" with easy-care plants benefits the local ecosystem in huge ways. Actively taking part in the care of a garden greatly impacts young minds.

That's why community gardens, pop-up parks, accessible ecological education, plant and seed swaps and a place for gardening in early-childhood (and higher) education are so incredibly important.
Support your local community gardens, garden education programs and sustainability programs now by volunteering time and/or money if you have it, and offering your vocal support or vote if you don't.

Gardening has been a passion of the privileged for a long time, but it doesn't have to stay that way. This spring and summer, I plan on volunteering my time to our beautiful community garden in Fort Collins, The Gardens on Spring Creek. I'd love to learn more about how I can join in the effort to make gardening, gardens and natural spaces accessible to everyone, and our community gardens seems like a great place to start.