Round Robin: Garden Snobbery

Notes from regional herb gardeners.

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Denver, Colorado—The world of plants is so enormous that we can spend a lifetime discovering it. I go from passion to passion weekly, but some gardeners go far beyond mere enthusiasm. Take the woman in line behind me at a nursery recently who inspected my cartload of purchases and congratulated me on buying some ornamental grasses and herbs, implying that anyone who didn’t grow them was a philistine.

Yes, even in the genteel sport of gardening, prejudice is rampant. Some of us look down our very long noses at those who do not hold the same high esteem for a plant that we happen to love dearly. We deride them for growing something else or for not being as horticulturally advanced as we. It’s snobbery: anyone who doesn’t know better than to grow petunias is pond scum. (That’s not true, of course: only people who grow scarlet salvias are pond scum.)

I have to admit that one summer long ago, I grew some scarlet salvias myself, and I discovered that I didn’t enjoy them. But many of the plants that I continue to grow and enjoy are also quite common. My friend Steve calls them “grocery store plants” because they can be found every spring in six-packs in front of every supermarket and discount store across the land. I’m glad that people grow and tend these plants, and I hope that they will find such pleasure in doing so that they will want to learn more about plants. It’s not necessary to aspire to ever higher plateaus of knowledge and artistry—not everyone can (or should) be a Gertrude Jekyll. After all, I never got beyond geometry in mathematics, my carpentry skills are elementary (although I still possess all my fingers), my bridge game is worse, and my ballroom dancing is strictly dismal. I’m comfortable with the fact that I don’t intend to get much better at any of those pursuits, so why do I make fun of those who don’t excel in something I do? Must gardeners constantly measure their worth by what others do? Perhaps. In judging others, we see how far we’ve come. And maybe, deep inside, we actually still love those purple petunias and scarlet salvias.