Are plants for the rich or for the poor? There seems to be a moral minefield around this question and I’m struggling to keep up with where we’re supposed to be on the issue.

Hello; my name’s Ben and I’ve just spent some time on Twitter. Now I’m annoyed and ready to rant!

How I got here.

Readers around the world will probably be familiar with the BBC’s gardening show called Gardeners’ World. It’s a generally amiable programme hosted by Monty Don and his small collection of dogs, with other presenters who visit gardens around the UK. Granted, not exactly ‘challenging viewing’ but it provides warm Friday night solace for its viewers, gardeners and non-gardeners alike.

The episode that aired on Friday the 17th of March 2023 visited The Linn Botanic Gardens in Scotland, formerly one of the only private botanical gardens in the world. It was established by Dr Jim Taggart in 1971, and developed with his son Jamie until Jamie’s tragic disappearance on a botanical expedition to Vietnam back in 2013. Jim Taggart died in 2019 at the age of 84 and the garden, with its nearly 4,000 species, faced an uncertain future.

Linn is now under new ownership, in the hands of Matthew Young and his young family. This appears to have annoyed a small but vocal section of Britain’s gardening Twitterati.

I’m not sure what’s annoyed them the most; the fact that the family used to live in Barbados, that they had enough money to buy an overgrown botanical garden, or the fact that the BBC’s gardening show decided to feature this new venture instead of another segment about potatoes or sweet peas.

                                                                                            Bicton Garden in Devon, a different Botanical Garden

A lot of it is jealousy that someone has the money to buy a nice home and an interesting garden while they grow a few vegetables and annuals in their small gardens. While I sort-of sympathise (it would be my dream project too!) life deals us our cards; sometimes we get lucky and sometimes we don’t. Would these people prefer Mr Young and his family spent their money on private jets and fancy cars, rather than salvaging an important garden from dereliction?

It got me thinking…

I’ve had run-ins with people who accuse me of being out of touch with what it means to be a ‘real gardener’. I’m not entirely sure what this means, but I think it means that in order to be a ‘real gardener’ you must grow vegetables and annuals every year.

After my household bills are paid I buy plants and books (usually second hand, usually about plants!), but I work right through the year with no holidays, don’t own an expensive car, and I don’t go to restaurants etc. Not really an ‘affluent lifestyle’….

I live and breathe gardening. I don’t do gardening in the way the gardening Twitterati would have me do; I spend my time maintaining and creating gardens, and improving my knowledge and understanding. Yes I’m interested in ornamental plants, and for ‘social activist gardeners’ this appears to suggest I’m part of some vague and sinister elite. Guess what! I grow ornamental plants in my garden because I work long days and don’t have the time to spare nurturing vegetables and annuals. I plant things in my garden and they get on with it.

                                                                                                      Please only look at this plant if you’re wealthy

…are ornamental plants for the rich?

What sort of a ludicrous question is this? Plants don’t care who you are providing that you can give them what they need. They care what’s around them if they get squashed or if another plant steals their water, but have no opinions on how many other plants you grow.

Plants don’t care if they’re growing in a private garden or a public park, if you had to pay an admission fee to see them or if you wandered in off the street. And they don’t care if they were cheap or expensive to buy.

                                                                                               Please only view this plant if you’re NOT wealthy

Why do some people feel the need to suggest that only wealthy people in society can get pleasure from certain types of plant?

Yes, it’s usually the more financially secure who can establish a garden themselves, and thus it’s these people who get the most pleasure out of plant ownership. There are plants everywhere, in parks, gardens, on streets, in shops, online, in books… you can look at plants, enjoy them and learn all about them without buying them!

I know many professional gardeners, people like myself, who primarily work in other people’s gardens rather than having a garden of their own. But, and this is a big ‘but’, their knowledge and enthusiasm is far greater than that of their employers! They, we, garden vicariously through the gardens of our employers.

It’s also entirely possible to derive enormous pleasure from seeing plant in parks, arboreta and any other public place without owning the garden.

The idea that ornamental plants are primarily the preserve of the wealthy is ridiculous, but seems to be the assumption made by a great number of individuals and gardening organisations.

But wealthy people like gardening too…

Yes, indeed they do! They have the luxury of larger gardens and larger plant buying budgets too, but they don’t have a monopoly on passion and knowledge! Appreciating plants is one of the last truly universal things that everyone can enjoy without reference to rank or status; a good plant is a good plant whether you own it or are just looking at it.

                                                                                                                     Trees we can all look at and admire

Now I’ve got this off my chest I’m not going back to Twitter for a while. To Mr Young and his family I say this: I wish you the best of luck in your new home, and that you share the passion for the garden that Jim and Jamie felt before you.

And to the gardening Twitterati I say this: you really don’t want to see how Koos Bekker spent £9 million in four years to create the garden at The Newt in Somerset…