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.