I hate being a gardening know-it-all

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These tulips on the right bloomed early because they are the Praestans Shogun species, not because I fertilized them a lot.

And the funny thing is that I’m really not. I’m not a master gardener, a CNLP, or any kind of horticultural professional. I’m just a writer/editor who loves to garden, geek out on gardening books, and keep up with new ways of thinking about traditional garden practice. And, yes, I like to use botanical names. They make sense to me because, with exceptions, a plant may have five different (and often contradictory) common names but it generally has just one botanical name.

This is not the culture for many longtime gardeners. The use of botanical names is considered snobby, even laughable (and makes me a know-it-all). The fact that there are many classes of tulips, which bloom at different times, including species tulips, which are more apt to perennialize, is unimportant (and makes me a know-it-all). Tilling to clear ground and get rid of weeds is still considered a good strategy. Leaf blowers and power mowers are omnipresent; lawns are fertilized and weed-b-goned. Some of the old schoolers still “lift” bulbs for whatever reason people used to do that.

None of this is a big deal (except the blowers and the lawn stuff). I’m glad that people love to garden, however they go about it. But there’s a disconnect when I talk to fellow gardeners who think they’ve already learned all they need to know about gardening. Because isn’t learning ongoing with almost any activity, especially gardening, which is so intertwined with scientific advancements? I think so, but I see an attitude in the world of gardening that clings stubbornly to outmoded (and ineffective) practices and passed-down knowledge that may or may not have any scientific provenance. I know people are still throwing down random egg shells, Epsom salts, and coffee grounds, and that they will tell all their gardener friends to do the same. Not that it will do any harm, but still. I’m heartened by any effort to increase the advancement of science-based knowledge in the gardening world, so hurray for Susan and Linda Chalker Scott for promoting the pro-science movement. Long may it thrive.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com

12 COMMENTS

  1. You can never know it all! We all have to keep learning. Fortunately I coordinate the Master Gardener Program in Ulster County NY and we adhere to the guidelines of providing Cornell’s research based information. These are the best volunteers I have ever worked for and i constantly talk about how there is always something to be learned. We staff a helpline that answers all types of calls, questions and identifies pest and problems. I also believe the Master Gardener title is a bit of a misnomer. Its the volunteer part we focus on in Ulster County.
    this is an ever-changing world and we have to keep up. The MGs here love Garden Rant !
    PS the first nursery I worked in organized the perennial area by scientific names. I had to learn them!

  2. I agree… I’m always learning something new about gardening. I tell people that I can meet someone who has just taken up gardening in the past week and they probably already know something I don’t. Snobbery does not grow well in my garden.

  3. I took the Master Garderner courses 7 years ago and as Will Rogers once said, we are all ignorant, just in different subjects. The same still applies, at least to me. The objective is to enjoy.

  4. Thanks, Elizabeth! I couldn’t agree more. Actually, I wore my gardening outfit (or at least pants with plants on them and green wellies) to the DC Science March last weekend. Here’s to garden science!

    Also, I’ve only been gardening for a couple of years, and I didn’t realize that using botanical names–or explaining to people that certain types of tulips are likelier to return–was thought snobbish. Oops.

  5. Here, Here, Elizabeth! Yes, in many fields it’s known as “life-long learning” and it is essential in the modern world. Eggshells and epsom salts are to gardening what anti-vaccine advocates and raw chicken diet followers are to human medicine.

  6. “But there’s a disconnect when I talk to fellow gardeners who think they’ve already learned all they need to know about gardening. Because isn’t learning ongoing with almost any activity, especially gardening, which is so intertwined with scientific advancements?” – This is so true! Everybody should be willing to listen and open their minds to new practices. The old ways will always work but there’s no harm in trying out new processes for the better! Also, don’t worry about being called a “know-it-all”

    Those who freely call people that term are smart-shamers at best. :p

  7. I’m on your side… feel free to talk to me all you want about latin names, scientific practices, and other such know-it-all type of things. I’m a sponge, eager to learn, and appreciate those like you who are eager to keep gardening moving forward. Tradition has its time and place, but so does science. 🙂

  8. “I like to use botanical names. They make sense to me because, with exceptions, a plant may have five different (and often contradictory) common names but it generally has just one botanical name.”

    Oh heck yes. We are in the same botanical boat.

    I don’t care if Latin is “snobby” – it’s the very best way to know what you have and share gardening knowledge with precision.

Comments are closed.