Gardening goes to the boys.
There’s a new crop of gardeners on the scene: they’re young, handsome, and they know their way around a pile of dirt. Some are latter-day hunter-gatherers and others are aesthetic geeks who drool over orchids like some dudes salivate over fantasy football trades.
The guy gardener is not an entirely original phenomenon. In the United States, The Men’s Garden Clubs of America (TGOA/MGCA) was first established in 1932 to promote camaraderie among men and facilitate community beautification as well as gardening education. Today, the organization has more than 2,800 members, though due to organizational changes in 1992, women are now amongst that number.
Meanwhile, across the pond in Surrey, England, Gerrard Winstanley and The Diggers started planting in 1649 as a form of public protest. Nowadays it’s called guerrilla gardening, a phrase coined by NYC activists in 1973 that’s being popularized anew by Richard Reynolds, shown here discussing seed bombs and the first manscaper on our list.
Richard Reynolds, 33
The Guerilla Gardener
As Richard puts it, “Guerilla gardening is the illicit cultivation of someone else’s land.” In other words, it’s like squatting for geraniums. Apart from his own balcony garden, which he maintains communally with his neighbors atop a 10-story housing block, he takes care of seven guerilla gardens.
“My emphasis is on public and neglected property,” he says. “Using plants to make a provocative statement.” And, at times, a more romantic one. In a show of the couple that weeds together stays together, he recently proposed to his girlfriend on the same plot of lavenders where they first met five years ago. Remember that the next time someone compliments you on your tulips.
Mike Lieberman, 31
Urban Organic Gardener
Los Angeles, CA
Mike Lieberman insists he’s not a gardener.
“When I think ‘gardener,’” says the boy from Brooklyn, “I think of a middle-aged woman who’s been doing it just for the beauty of it and not considering all the other aspects.”
Aspects like taking on the industrialized food system and eating a predominantly plant-based diet.
The label-shy food cultivator started his first fire escape garden when he was living in the East Village in the spring of 2009. He’s been blogging about it since on his gardening blog, which averages about 1,000 hits a day.
“A lot of the information that’s out there in the gardening space is written for other gardeners. My blog is about raising awareness of the food system through fire escape and balcony gardening. I’m all about, grow one thing and you’re doing something. ”
Jason DaPonte, 35
Managing Director: The Swarm
Full disclosure: I first met Jason DaPonte, Managing Director of The Swarm, during our university years. That means we spent a lot of time around loud music in dark clubs at odd hours of the night. Imagine my shock and awe when I discovered some 15 years later that he’s a mad cultivator of exotic orchids.
His Tumblr Growing Crazy, which is followed obsessively, recounts his adventures in taming his rooftop wilderness. Formerly an allotment gardener (the UK version of the plot system), he was kicked out for free-forming.
“I was planting so that it looked nice instead of keeping neat and tidy rows. That was against the rules.”
He’s also of the one-plant-at-a-time school of growing. “So many people say to me, I could never have a garden like yours. To them I say, well, start with one pot.”
Reggie is a basil and tomatoes kind of guy; you won’t find any flowers in his patch unless they’re marigolds that have offered themselves up as “sacrificial lambs to the aphids that attack my garden.”
He argues that there are two uniquely contemporary factors that draw men to gardening: one, a burgeoning interest in DIY organic sustainability employing a “control what you grow” brand of logic, and two, “Society gets away with saying males can’t also be producers, you know, ‘manning up’ to go gardening. But there is something unconscious happening here. Men want to be physically responsible for something and produce with their own hands.”
There’s a social component in it, too, says Reggie. He has two gardening buddies that pop by his house when they’re in the mood for cultivating some herbs or pruning some vines. In the winter they make beer together, in the summer they grow together. It’s an arrangement made in bro’ heaven.
“I’ve been gardening since I was a kid,” explains Michael Nolan. “I was always sorta fascinated with the whole idea of the way things grew.”
Like most of the other guys featured here, Michael sticks to the edibles, but tries to strike an aesthetic balance. “I’m working on the first-ever Steampunk themed garden now: a combination of wild edibles, herbs, flowers and lots of rust.”
Michael predicts that the trend of men gardening will continue to grow vertically in the years to come. “It goes beyond being the cool thing to do these days. Guys are taking better care of themselves and growing your own food is a logical step in that direction. Plus, chicks dig gardeners.”
Richard Reynold’s image: Alessandro Rota
Main image: Solly Markovitch