It all started when Adam Overland’s colleague at Minneapolis’s Southwest Journal gave him a petunia. To transport his new plant home, Overland hung it on the grab handle over his car’s backseat window. In his humour column the following week, Overland praised the roving greenhouse fashion he had accidentally created: “I’m calling it ‘cardening’—that is my new term,” he wrote, “but you can use it, as long as you let me merge.”
That was in 2007, and it’s unclear whether style-section writers touting the trend in the Guardian and Apartment Therapy in 2021 are aware of Overland’s trademark (or engaging in proper highway etiquette). But cardening—growing plants in one’s car—has taken off. “It’s a fantastic source of light—nowhere do you have more windows than in your car,” says Overland, who still works as a writer. This serene trend is part of the pandemic gardening craze, and has seen everything from pickup trucks to Volvos planted with dashboard succulents, miniature herb gardens and bonsai trees. Cacti are a hardy option, but those spines could spell injury if placed in the car’s cupholder.
It’s not the first appearance of these natural air fresheners. When the original flower-power vehicle, the Volkswagen Beetle, was manufactured in the 1950s, a clip-on porcelain vase was an optional extra. Even this was a throwback: at the outset of motorcar travel, Henry Ford invented the “auto vase.” On hot summer days, a bouquet of fresh flowers was necessary to mask the bouquet of battery acid (and the sweat of fellow passengers).
Now that modern climate control has taken care of function, cardening is all about flair. Overland coined the term more as a joke than a lifestyle, but he sees the appeal, especially for the green-thumb-challenged. “I should have taken it up,” he says.
This article appears in print in the December issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “‘Cardening.’”