Recently I was quoted in a Strib article on the perceived divide between the new generation of gardeners and older, female practitioners of the horticultural arts. They used a Twitter exchange between a young male garden blogger and myself, also a garden blogger, to set the tone. The original conversation was spurred by the blogger's comment that he was not a gardener, but a food grower. He suggested that older women gardeners were all about the ornamental aspect of gardening. I differed. I know when I'm amongst my Master Gardener group, yeah, there's a lot of salt and pepper hair, and sensible shoes. But there's also spirited sharing of our latest gardening adventures; rain gardens, edible landscapes, composting, native plants, vermiculture, permaculture...we're all over it.

I had actually met this personable young man a few months before at a garden blogging event. As I remember we met in the hotel lobby and talked about, what else, gardening. Later on when the food vs flowers comment was made I fired off a few good-natured tweets at him. He fired back in jest as well. In the end it was all good. The article was shared through social media and soon a small hullabaloo among some garden bloggers ensued over who said what about who and who conceived the story idea of middle-aged women gardeners. As if that phenomenon had never been noticed before! The article brought up some good points but I do think there are some other points to consider before you go pooh-poohing us for only growing pretty flowers. Yes, we middle-aged and older women gardeners are guilty of beautifying the world one yard at a time. However you need to see this in the context of womens' history. Food-growing? Gosh, been there, done that. In my lifetime I know that by the time I came along my grandmothers were glad to be done with that aspect of gardening. My young, widowed, pioneer-strong grandmother clawed that Kansas clay so that her six, out of ten, surviving kids could supplement the commodity cheese and beans they received, with fresh vegetables. As the youngest child, my dad would get lost literally in her meandering tomato patch. But I knew her garden only as a place where equally tough peonies and irises grew accompanied by incredible birdsong. My daintier, also young and widowed grandmother picked cotton and hoed weeds in the watermelon plot through hot Mississippi summers. She was known to kill dangerous snakes with a single blow of her blade. So in better times, when she arrived in California, she filled her front yard with stunning roses, could you blame her? Still, there among the flowers she tended an orange tree, guava bushes and berries. It's possible that women might not have become CEOs, software developers and astronauts if they had been tied to a garden of necessity. Yet at some point in retirement they might turn to one of somewhat leisure. Still we have some mighty women, now much older, growing food and becoming famous for it; Rosalind Creasy, Alice Waters, Sylvia Thompson, Anna Pavord to name a few. We are more than happy to pass the hot, heavy work of rurual food-growing and urban farming to the next group of young, strong backs. Just don't be surprised if you visit our gardens and see herbs among the ornamentals, Bull's Blood beets for foliage color and salads, cherry tomatoes climbing arbors alongside clematis, blueberry hedges and more. We haven't completely given up on food growing, we've merely adjusted our aspirations.