The Roots of Plant Snobbery
Recently there have been two excellent posts on the nature of gardeners’ personal plant likes and dislikes, one in The Blooming Garden and the second in Angie’s Garden Diaries. These thought-provoking posts reminded me of a very disappointing experience I had involving impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) and The Wall Street Journal.
In March, 2013, I wrote a post about the impatiens blight that got a fair number of views. One of the viewers was Bart Zeigler, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. He asked if he could interview me on the impatiens’ decline.
Now, I am at best an occasional reader of the WSJ. I don’t like their politics, and it seems that the quality of their reporting has declined since the paper was purchased by Rupert Murdoch. However, I admit I was thrilled to be contacted by the paper. Politics, shmolitics, I thought. My blog is going to be mentioned in The Wall Street Journal! And that means VIEWS!
So I did the interview and waited in an agony of anticipation. When the article appeared, I was dismayed.
Mr. Zeigler’s focus was less on the impatiens blight and more on the “good riddance” attitude held by certain practitioners of haute horticulture. The article had quotes from three people who were glad to see the back of impatiens. The most instructive came from Manhattan-based garden designer Jeffrey Erb:
“I try to give my clients something they are not expecting, and impatiens don’t really fit that bill … I guess what really bothers me about impatiens is that people plant them because they are easy.”
So. Right there are two foundations of plant snobbery: scorning plants because they are common, and because just anyone can grow them.
Now, I like to grow unusual plants. I like it when people point to a plant in my garden and ask, “What IS that?”. But I don’t dislike a plant simply because it is common. I like marigolds. I like Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’. I could go on, but you get the point.
I would say that a garden consisting only of the most common plants is likely to be a less interesting garden. However, there is nothing wrong with a garden that combines the old standbys with more unusual offerings.
As for “too easy” – most people would consider that a virtue. And here’s where plant snobbery and class snobbery can overlap. I suspect that many of Mr. Erb’s clients who opted for plants that are not “too easy” are paying Mr. Erb or someone else to take care of those plants.
In addition to ubiquity, people criticized impatiens for having leaves and flowers that are “withery and wimpy” as well as “flat and dull”. This only shows how emotion shapes perception, because otherwise these statements are just silly. Either that, or the impatiens in question are planted in too much sun, or maybe they just need some water.
I was the only person in the article who had anything good to say about impatiens (as opposed to the three impatiens critics). I wish Mr. Zeigler had asked for my reaction to all the disdain heaped on this poor suffering plant, but he didn’t. The takeaway quote from me was this: “They’re a really nice, easy plant.” In other words, my role in the article was to be the unsophisticated dimwit who likes “nice, easy” plants.
I believe in the original draft of the article, it read:
“They’re a really nice, easy plant,” he said, adjusting his polyester stretch pants and wiping the hayseeds from his hair.
And after all that, the article didn’t mention my blog, or even that I wrote a blog, even though that’s how the reporter found me.
However, I’m not bitter. In fact, even though it’s been a long time since the article appeared, I’m considering sending the reporter a thank you gift. Do you think he would like a nice basket of impatiens?