Like food, the plant sector has not escaped the proliferation of concepts and anglicisms such as "plant addict", "plant parenting" and more recently "slow gardening" (eco-gardening without stress), which resonate particularly strongly with young city dwellers. Like digital applications facilitating the maintenance of plants, or connected modules for small food production .
Do they reveal an acute ecological awareness or the deeper relationship that younger generations have with plants and, more broadly, living things?
A better understanding of their degree of “affiliation” with nature helps to explain the gap frequently observed between ecological awareness and the implementation of virtuous behaviours; although quite stable in individuals, this greater or lesser feeling of closeness to nature can evolve according to experiences, emotions in contact with living things, if only through the care given to plants of interior.
In January 2020, one thousand young urbanites, aged 25 to 40, responded to a recently published survey conducted by ASTREDHOR and Audencia Business School . This investigation explores different dimensions of their relationship to plants in the private space.
Do urban youth have a lot of plants at home? Do they dream of having more? What do they ideally expect from their plants? How do they perceive the activities around gardening? The study also looked at the social bond generated by plants, including from the angle of social networks. She also explores the link between environmental awareness, commitment to sustainable food and relationships with plants .
Ecological awareness, aesthetics and psychological benefits
Spontaneous evocations associated with indoor plants among young city dwellers are mainly reflected in terms of mental well-being provided by plants, such as relaxation, but also aesthetics. Physical well-being also which was revealed by the evocations of the "services" provided by plants in terms of air quality. However, 19% of young city dwellers say they remain indifferent to plants.
If young urbanites are waiting for a reconnection with nature, their vision of plants seems rather anthropocentric, turned towards the use, the utilities of the plant - in particular its potential benefit to fight against the stress or anxiety generated by city life.
Better understanding how living organisms function and their requirements is not clearly a primary concern, on the contrary: some of these requirements to keep them alive, such as watering for example, are perceived as constraints.
Taking care of your plants, chore or pleasure?
Caring for plants is perceived as a task that takes time and occupies space, which is very often limited in urban areas. In our survey, 60% of young city dwellers live in apartments and are therefore forced to garden “above ground” , 14% of them do not have outdoor space and are potentially forced to garden “indoors”.
The presence of insects and soil is also very often perceived as a source of nuisance or “dirtiness”. Asked about their ideal plant, young city dwellers cite the criteria of ease, resistance and lifespan as their first qualities. This does not prejudge the pleasure they take in gardening, but a split has been observed. Half of young city dwellers say they enjoy repotting, pruning and maintaining. For the other half, these activities are rather perceived as a constraint.
Finally, the press and social networks echo a trend towards “plant parenting” among young people, like the education of a child or the adoption of a pet. Even if 43% of young city dwellers say they become attached to a plant as they would to an animal, 26% of them have no or no more plants because they are partly dead.
Among young urbanites, it is therefore difficult to speak of a real reconnection with the living or of the restoration of a real "affiliation" with nature , while many anthropologists point to the need to go beyond the human-nature dualism in Western countries with a view to ecological transition.
The relationship to plants among converts to short food circuits
The issue of sustainable food is becoming more and more important in our society, especially among younger generations. Thus, in our survey, 44% of young city dwellers say they are flexitarians (strong reduction in meat consumption, without for all that prohibiting it) and 39% regularly or exclusively buy food from organic farming. Is caring for plants an extension of this ecological awareness?
We have crossed these elements relating to the environmental awareness of urban youth with their perception of gardening activities. The results show a continuity between the environmental awareness of urban youth and their appetite for plants.
Our survey also reveals that young urbanites who make choices for sustainable food (regular purchases from short food circuits or frequent consumption of certified organic foods) are the most inclined to green their environment and value the care required by plants. .
From the edible city to urban resilience
Faced with urban growth, the ecosystem services of plants (reduction of heat islands, shade, humidity, etc.) no longer need to be demonstrated and the individual actions of citizen-gardeners can actively contribute to urban resilience in the face of climate change .
To encourage this private gardening, it would be necessary to know how to count on the social links induced by the maintenance of plants, including indoor ones. Indeed, according to our survey, young city dwellers who value the upkeep and preservation of their plants are the most likely to maintain exchanges and social ties with neighbors or friends around plants; they feel a strong sense of belonging to a “green” community.
These same people find themselves in the enthusiasm of the younger generations for “edible cities” which actively promote sustainable food, in particular via short urban or peri-urban circuits, which can induce in return a feeling of belonging to these collectives . It could be appropriate to encourage synergies between the food communities and the communities around gardening to facilitate a real reconnection with the living, going beyond the vision of a "useful" nature, and thus encouraging a greater presence of plants in the private living spaces.
Eating and gardening are two activities that allow homo urbanus to maintain, restore or even strengthen his sense of affiliation with nature and plants. The successive confinements due to Covid-19 have shown how essential these two activities are to the psychological balance of citizens, first and foremost urbanites who have strongly reinvested in home cooking and care for indoor plants.
Gervaise Debucquet , Teacher-researcher, socio-anthropology of food, Audencia ; Allan Maignant , Director ASTREDHOR Loire-Bretagne, Astredhor (Technical Institute of Horticulture) and Anne-Laure Laroche , Animation of a Mixed Technological Unit STRATège, Astredhor (Technical Institute of Horticulture)