Thursday, June 03, 2010

Where gardeners fear to tread


A friend asked me about plants that people are afraid to grow. What a fascinating question! On the surface, it might seem absurd—who could possibly be afraid of a simple plant? All it can do is live or die, right? Outside of Little Shop of Horrors, et al, plants are not really a threat. There is little reason to dread them. Yet I know many people do.


There are, I think, 3 main reasons for gardeners actually being wary of plants. The first I can think of it that many are afraid they won’t succeed with specific plants. This mainly applies to specialties such as roses (outside) and orchids (inside). These are plants where there are huge mythologies surrounding their care and delicacy. Actually, there’s not much to either. I know people who keep dozens of roses alive without much trouble at all. I also know people who keep hundreds of orchids alive and blooming with far less trouble than you might imagine.

The second reason people fear plants is their mortality. There’s the whole “black/brown thumb,” “plants hate me” thing. Or many people who aren’t afraid to maintain gardens are still morbidly afraid of plants dying under their care. To these people, I say: plants die; get over it. It happens to all of us. I think the "black thumb" talk is a euphemism for those who don’t want to be bothered with plants. To these people, I say: your thumb is fine; you just don’t want to grow plants. And there’s nothing wrong with that.


Finally, many would-be gardeners are afraid of aggressive plants that they feel may “eat” other plants in the garden. Unless you’re talking about truly noxious spreaders like kudzu, glechoma, thistle, and goutweed, most plants can be controlled, even violas (above). I find that planting closely and pulling out what I don’t want works pretty well. True, I don’t have acres, but few home gardeners do. To be honest, I welcome a nice, aggressive plant that will quickly cover what is otherwise a problem area.

Why fear plants? There are way better things to be afraid of these days.

13 comments:

Monica at Garden Junkies said...

Too many people are "afraid" to try. It's not like the plant is going to bite you, yell, storm out of the garden, or sue you for less-than-optimal care. You try, you learn, and yes, sometimes you fail. That's what makes you a better gardener. If you're not sure what to do, ask. If you don't want to ask, read. And if you don't want to read, just jump in and go with the hands-on experimental approach. Just find the approach that works for you and "fear" will be a thing of the past.

PlantingOaks said...

I am afraid to try ladyslipper orchids, because $75+ for a plant to die is awful rich for my blood.

I'm also afraid to try lilies from seed, because I know one day I will let the seedlings dry out and I will have hours and hours of work for nothing.

So, mostly I'm afraid of things that require a lot of time or money for not a great chance of success.

That said, I *do* have acres. (2.5 makes it plural, right?) and I love the violas that came with the place. You don't have to mow them like grass, the make places look like a 'garden' until I find time to put something else there, and they're easier than the thistles and bindweed and quack grass to get rid of when I do want them gone.

The bindweed has made me a little afraid to plant the morning glory seeds I bought though.

bart said...

I'm always afraid to ask where the hairy vetch is.

Stacy said...

This is exactly why I love mint! I have a corner area that I don't want to deal with - so I planted mint and it filled it in all nicely. I just have to wander by every now and then pull up the runners along the edges. No biggie! And who doesn't like their hands smelling like mint??

Laurie Brown said...

I'm afraid to try meconopsis, because I would be so disappointed when I couldn't get them to germinate. Or if they germinated, disappointed when they didn't make it outside. And I'm a person who will try to grow just about anything from seed! I think it's because they are so very desirable- I'm not upset if something common fails to germinate.

jodi (bloomingwriter) said...

My theory is that if a plant dies, it leaves a ready made hole to plant something else in. I've lost gazillions of plants over the years. We do have acres (7 of them) and I'm finding goutweed where I don't want to see it, which is worrying me. But alas, I don't think anything short of nuclear annihilation will stop it--and that seems a little drastic to me. You're so right that we have far more to be worried about these days...

Pam/Digging said...

Some people in Austin are afraid to try agaves and other spiky plants, even though they grow very well here. You do have to watch out for the spines, but the rewards---big, bold structure, year-round color and texture---are great.

Anonymous said...

The only thing I fear to plant are pastels. My husband hates them. Otherwise, I'm pretty much fearless. I've got the battle of the ground covers going on in my beds, and let the best ground cover win. I've even let the native red leafed wood sorrel, which most people weed out, stay. The red leaves work really well for my color scheme. Don't tell anyone, but I transplanted some yesterday to a place where there weren't enough. Most people would think I'm nuts if they knew.

Jean said...

Fear is what holds everyone back, from enjoying plants to living the life they're supposed to live. Life's too short to fear anything. As you said, it's okay if you don't want to bother with plants. Some people put too much unnecessary pressure on themselves.

I also like a plant that spreads rapidly but I do feel we all need to be cognizant of what may eventually become invasive. They say that 83% of the invasive plants in the U.S. started out in the horticulture industry!

Sharon Lovejoy said...

"The only thing to fear is fear itself."

But kudzu REALLY scares the heck out of me.

Thanks!

Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

Kate said...

I'm afraid to try sweet potatoes. I've heard so many conflicting accounts - they're good in all climates, only suited to the south, etc. I'm in the Hudson Valley, NY, and have heard of people growing them with varying degrees of success around my neck of the woods, but never tried them myself.

B. Strong said...

My 1/3 of an acre was covered in aegopodium, aka creeping fangtooth Kim's-bane, when we bought the place. 7 years of hand-digging later, it's 99% gone. That last 1%, though, scares me, because I know if I blink too slowly, it will take over again.

Jeffrey said...

I recently bought orchids online at givingplants.com and it's growing magnificently. It has instructions provided along with the shipment and follow it by heart I guess I am spending my money wisely. :)