Botanical gardens are experiencing an identity crisis, with chrysanthemum contests, horticultural lectures and garden-club ladies, once their main constituency, going the way of manual lawn mowers. Among the long-term factors diminishing their traditional appeal are fewer women at home and less interest in flower-gardening among younger fickle, multitasking generations.Oh, lord. We don't indulge a love of pure beauty anymore? Because of careers and multitasking?
Forced to rethink and rebrand, gardens are appealing to visitors’ interests in nature, sustainability, cooking, health, family and the arts.Cooking, health, family... that sounds older and more traditional than flowers. We're all working, working constantly now, so we can't stroll through a flower garden. Even our optional activities must have a sharp cutting edge of functionality and hygiene.
Some are emphasizing their social role, erecting model green buildings, promoting wellness and staying open at night so people can mingle over cocktails like the Pollinator (green tea liqueur, soda water and Sprite).Oh, it's all so damned good for you. Wellness. Greenness. Liqueur and Sprite.
In May, the Atlanta garden opened an attraction that would fit right in at a jungle park: a “canopy walk” that twists and turns for 600 feet at a height of up to 45 feet, allowing visitors to trek through the treetops. Not far away, food enthusiasts can stop in at a new edible garden, with an outdoor kitchen frequently staffed by guest chefs creating dishes with fresh, healthy ingredients. Edible gardens are the fastest-growing trend at botanical gardens, consistently increasing attendance, experts say, along with cooking classes.Can't we just eat our vegetables in private and not make a godawful show of it? Everyone must be instructed. And yet this is conceived of as the way to be young and popular.
“There’s a generation that will be less interested in gardens,” says Daniel J. Stark, executive director of the public gardens association, “but that generation is incredibly interested in what’s happening with the planet. Recently, my own two daughters, and a friend, were reading me the riot act about cutting down some trees.”So dad proclaims what his little daughters will be interested in. Incredibly interested in. They'll be all about saving the planet. Greenness! Wellness! Save that tree, but not because it is beautiful, so it can absorb the nefarious CO2.
Mr. Stark’s daughters are 4 and 8.
Well, that's what Mr. Stark said. Here's hoping his little dears find some respite some day from the relentless pedantry of nutrition and ecology and, in some transformative, revelatory moment, stop and smell a rose.
(Photo taken on June 12th at Madison's beautiful botanic garden, Olbrich.)
Maybe the kids will rebel against the Puritans of the older generation who have misappropriated so much of their precious time with morality lessons. It could be a whole movement, returning to the hedonistic love of the beauty of nature. They might care about flowers again. I have a good name for this movement: Flower Children.