“I’m No Purist”


Lately I’ve been hearing that disclaimer a lot in the gardening world as writers assure their readersPurist_1 of their flexibility on such issues as organic growing methods or the strict use of native plants only.  And I see it in other contexts, like a medical writer on the issue of using medical websites that carry advertising.  I suppose on every issue in the world there’s a purist position that’s held by a minority, with the rest of us distancing ourselves from that position, even if we support it in large part.  Maybe especially in that case.

Take me, for instance.  Since I started ranting here and elsewhere I’ve begun to hear myself referred to as someone who would never use chemicals in the garden, and as a cheerleader for native plants, neither of which is true.   So for the record, on these and probably any other issue out there I’m no purist.  Because make no mistake about it – I sure as hell use Deet and Roundup to protect against assault to my person.  Just because we’re gardeners doesn’t mean we have to roll over for every species out there, flora or fauna.   And on native plants?  I’m struggling to play catch-up with the mainstream media in its love of this new buzzword, reminding gardeners to ask a lot more questions than simply "Is it native?"

But there’s another reason I’m happy to claim membership in the "I’m no purist" club, and you all know what it is.  It’s that purists are no fun.  It might even be drags on the collective consciousness – or just plain drags.

Still I can’t resist this mini-rant, that it pisses me off when I see a homeowner walking around his yard with a big ole can of Roundup and a nozzle, spray-bombing every weed in sight.  People, there are lots of great weeding tools on the market and face it – you need the exercise.


  1. Okay I HAD To laugh at that lst line – they DO need the exercise, but I’m thinking that is the point – they don’t WANT to break a sweat weeding – the prevailing theory: “that is what chemicals are for!”

  2. I think a lot of those writers don’t know what a “purist” is — they just know they don’t want to be tagged as one. It’s a way to establish credibility with Joe Sixpack, who distrusts anybody in authority, especially someone who comes out and tells him he’s doing it all wrong.

    The way life happens, it’s practically impossible to be a “purist” — there’s always some situation that will force a contradiction.

    At the same time, I’d also like to gently disagree with the notion that purism is “bad” and point out that most movement in culture and society comes from the edges where the purist “drags” live, and moves toward the middle.

    That onward and upward image of “endless progress” we’re taught to love sure as hell doesn’t get its start in suburbia.

  3. I’m a guilt-wielding non-purist. I see so many places where gardening advice jumps straight to, “bomb it or poison it.” So I try to set a good example for anyone who looks to me for advice (Maude help them), but sometimes it’s just not reasonable. Yet I still feel badly when I have to bust out the sythetics.

  4. You go girl! I am a “purist” until it comes to poison ivy. then I will use any means necessary to rid my yard of it. I agree with your sense that most “gardeners” would rather use herbicides than actually get dirty and weed. That seems to be their response to any plant/animal/insect that “invades” their garden: KILL IT.

  5. Gotta agree with your sentiments Susan. I think we’re all purists until something becomes an inconvenience to us, then we reach for the , kill the sucker that disturbed our peace, and then revert back to our purist stance.

  6. I’ve noticed a lot of people (not hardcore gardeners) tend to confuse ‘native’ with ‘drought tolerant’- and also ‘organic’ with ‘heirloom’. Like the guy I overheard at Whole Foods who said to his wife “Look, honey, they have organic tomatoes!” But just because they are from Whole Foods and they are heirlooms doesn’t mean they are grown organically! I think these buzzwords cause a lot of confusion for people, and they get them confused because they all make them feel warm and fuzzy and ecologically pure and wholesome.

    But yes, I agree about being a purist. I would never, ever use a pesticide in my garden, but I’ll use DEET and wear clothes I’m pretty sure were made in a sweatshop.

  7. A work colleague today reminded me, at my invitation and with great warmth, that I am a perfectionist. Almost a purist.

    Organic: Yes.
    Natives: Yes.
    Compost: Yes
    Internal combustion engine: No.

    Ants in the garden: Live and let live.
    Ants in the house: Where’s the closest can of sprayable death?

    We all have our limits.

  8. Good observations about “purists”. It annoys me too. I roll my eyes at some of the extremes they go to at Whole Foods. A little bit of artifical flavoring never killed anyone. I don’t think Round-up isn’t all that bad, either. I wouldn’t breathe in the fumes or anything, but it works to kill plants on a biochemical pathway that humans and animals don’t even have. (And over 50% of the soybean fields in the US are “Round-up Ready” so whatever we do in our backyards probably doesn’t mean much.)

  9. Purism is a standard to live up to but not always possible. When my 30 x 130 foot gravel driveway is half covered with weeds, my significant other will give in to a chemical solution. I wish vinegar or bleach were as effective but they’re not.

    I have to take strong issue with native plants, though. I’m originally from California and as Amy will let you know, there is an active encouragement and culture of native plantism that permeates the state. The California Native Plant Society is highly organized and has chapters throughout. There are also many botanical gardens and nurseries devoted solely to native plants and all of the major botanical gardens have extensive areas devoted to them. I live in New York now and the paucity of information, nurseries, gardens, and people’s general awareness of native plants is sadly minimal or missing. New York is lucky to be a large enough state with many ecosystems and is rich in plants and I find it very sad that the vast, vast majority of people don’t care.

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