Gardening, like many life skills we learn as we grow up, is generally cultivated from our families, whether with our parents, grandparents, guardians, neighbors, or community group. Gardening is a life skill because it allows you to grow food for yourself and your family and incorporates many skills, such as math, reading, science, and even history.
“Like many people throughout our world, I got bit by the gardening bug while learning how to grow vegetables and flowers from my grandparents and my mother," says Bruce J. Black. “When learning this skill and developing my passion, I did not realize the full benefits and how this passion would impact my life.”
Intergenerational gardening is the act of older adults passing along plant information, gardening skills, and cultural traditions to younger generations. This practice happens in many situations, including volunteers such as Master Gardeners teaching garden classes in their community or families spending time together growing plants.
Gardening benefits have been increasingly documented in recent years. Gardening is most noted for its benefits in improving physical and mental health, reducing stress, influencing fresh produce consumption, and positively impacting checkbooks and property values. When teaching is incorporated into gardening, the benefits have “perennial tendencies.”
Intergenerational gardening cultivates:
- an increased interest in gardening as the younger generation ages,
- builds relationships between elders and children while helping to counteract negative stereotypes,
- improvements in physical and mental well-being and life satisfaction in older participants,
- a safe environment for cultural and life experience sharing, and
- an exploration of skills (reading, math, science, geography, etc.) and life lessons (responsibility, accountability, life/death, patience, etc.)
Everything growing in a garden is not only the plants. Gardening is one of the many everyday activities where intergenerational transfers can happen. In my experiences as not only the child but also now as a garden educator, learning opportunities happen on both sides.
Biologist Rachel Carson said, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” This year with 55 percent of American households – up from 35 percent in 2014 – growing food in either a garden or a community garden, the possibilities for intergenerational gardening are prolific.
For more information on a volunteer opportunity incorporating much intergenerational education, check out the University of Illinois Extension’s Master Gardener program at extension.illinois.edu/mg.
About the author: Bruce J. Black is the University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator serving Carroll, Lee, and Whiteside counties. Black’s primary areas of expertise are in fruit and vegetable production, plant propagation, and community and youth garden education.