“You must visit my friend Mary; she’s a plantswoman.”
I’m a fairly placid sort of chap really. I do what I do and I’m largely happy for the world around me to just happen.
The word ‘plantsman’ or ‘plantswoman’, however, elicits a strong response from me; I’m never rude I hope, but if someone introduces themselves as a plantsperson then I do feel inclined to challenge them.
What is a plantsperson anyway?
It’s a word banded around fairly widely in the gardening world, but as far as I can see there is no actual definition.
In my experience ‘plantspeople’ fall into three categories:
1. People who have a large collection of plants.
2. People who have a large collection of opinions.
3. People who know a lot about plants.
‘Plant collections’ fall into two categories.
You have the botanical collections, where enthusiasts have gathered together a large number of plants with a common theme. This might be plants from a particular region or habitat, plants of a particular botanical family or genus, or even plants raised by a certain breeder or during a certain era. These collections are built by gardeners with specific interests, with the best ending up being important reference collections for us all.
Then we have the ‘credit card collections’, gatherings of plants brought together by someone who just likes having lots of plants. There’s no problem at all with gardeners having a lot of plants together, providing of course they work together to create a garden that is pleasing to the gardener. However, spending lots of money at the nursery doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, imply any particular level of knowledge.
It’s healthy to have opinions about plants and gardens. Sharing those opinions, however, can be risky.
As the old saying goes, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”; this would certainly be good advice for some in gardening circles. Having an opinion doesn’t mean you’re right, and lambasting someone else’s planting choices purely because you wouldn’t have done what they have done is nothing but rude and obnoxious.
There are those in ‘planty’ circles who have made themselves into gardening personalities purely by by being opinionated, and some are just unnecessarily rude. If a plant is grown to perfection by an enthusiastic gardener then it should be celebrated, at least publicly.
I love having plant knowledge. I hope I never use it to belittle other gardeners; that’s not what I’m about.
I get enormous enjoyment from being able to go into a garden and know what I’m looking at; it gives me a greater appreciation of the depth of what I’m seeing.
Those who don’t spend their time nerding out with plants will still enjoy garden visiting, although as with my recent Abbotsbury post I do wonder about those people who just march around everywhere; how do they see things?! I personally enjoy knowing about the plants and taking my time to personally appreciate them.
A wise gardener once imparted a very important piece of gardening wisdom to me: novice gardeners think they’ve got a good knowledge of all they need to know, while expert gardeners are those who appreciate the scale of how much they can never possibly grasp.
Certainly when I was a novice gardener I knew how to sow seeds and take cuttings. I knew how to plant trees and roses. As I’ve gained more experience I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that gardening knowledge is a lot more fluid and flexible than I’d originally thought. Some people will find this intimidating, others will find it exciting; it’s down to us as individuals.
I’ve had the privilege to meet some incredibly knowledgeable plant people in my life so far; these range from amazing ‘arch-nerds’ who know a everything about a small number of plants, right the way through to people who are knowledgeable about a wide range of topics. I respect and value all those people who have encouraged me to look outwards to learn new things.
Knowledge is a precious gift and should never be squandered.
Inevitably there are always those who seek status in life. Some are regarded highly because they’re generous and kind, while others just try to put others down.
I’m not naïve; this is something that occurs everywhere in society, not just in gardening.
Those who weaponise obnoxiousness should be ignored. There’s no need to belittle other gardeners. No good comes from putting people down, and just buying plants for your gardener doesn’t make you a ‘somebody’ (although the nursery will be glad to see you!).
I increasingly wonder about those gardeners who leave nurseries or plant fairs with cars full of plants; do they all have massive gardens, or do they kill lots of plants?
A Proper Plantsperson
Let’s leave our egos at the garden gate and come into the plant world with an open mind and an open heart. We don’t need to compete; there’s plenty of joy for all of us. We can all afford to share our love of plants and gardens.
It’s nice to share plants but that’s not always possible for all of us, yet sharing our experiences and knowledge with others, with the aim of helping other gardeners out, must surely be a noble aim.
To me the mark of a true plantsperson is their willingness to share their knowledge and passion with others. When we’re in the company of a plantsperson we should be excited by new possibilities and a new love for our gardens, not downtrodden because our plants aren’t rare or obscure enough.
*When I say ‘library’ I mean the chaotic arrangement of bookshelves hosting an assortment of gardening books in a bedroom.