Gardening Insurance


There are those among you who will say that the delicate tendrils of amusement provided by GardenRant as you sip your morning coffee should not be torn asunder by anything as brutish and non-chlorophyllic as our nation's summer-long debate over health care.  Gardening is peaceful and tranquil, a respite from the monstrosity that is political discourse.  A great democracy deciding how best to govern itself is exactly the sort of loutish neighbor one erects yew hedges to protect against. You will, of course, say as much in the comments.  

But I beg to differ. Health care is of tremendous importance to gardeners in general–by this I mean people who make their living by growing plants or gardening–precisely because of the perils they face at their jobs: flesh wounds inflicted by spiders, thorns, and pruning shears; backs and knees in desperate need of an ice pack or a titanium replacement; the nagging fear that the flu will rob them of two weeks' work.

Garden writers face similar perils:  having iron flower pots lobbed at us when we upset our readers, for instance.  It's a risky business, one that calls for some sort of plan of protection.  But what, exactly?

It's an interesting question.  Some argue that insurance should only insure against the unexpected, the catastrophic, and that everyday disasters like sprained ankles and the flu and prescription refils should be paid for the same way we pay for car repairs and home repairs:  without a call to the insurance company.

This is the sort of plan I have now–a catastrophic insurance
policy. I pay cash for doctor’s visits and save the insurance for the real disasters. But even though paying cash
for everyday medical treatment is supposed to make me more price-sensitive,
there’s one problem: the doctor doesn’t know how much anything costs. At the
auto mechanic or the veterinarian's office, I can choose the more cost-efficient way to
resolve the problem because the mechanic and the vet can lay out the options
along with their prices and let me decide. But there’s no menu of prices in the
exam room. 

So what if gardening came with insurance?  Would I want catastrophic coverage or the full HMO, ten dollar copay variety?  I wondered about this as I followed the news about the late blight epidemic on the East Coast.  Wouldn’t it be nice if I had gardening insurance to protect me against the misery of a healthy tomato crop turned to black mush in its prime? I got to thinking: What kind of health plan does my garden need? 

Catastrophic coverage. Well, yes, I’m absolutely going to need protection against such disasters as late blight, tent caterpillar infestations, plagues of locusts, and so forth. And I don’t want the insurance to pay out in cash, replacement plants, or expensive chemical treatments. If my tomato plants are wiped out by blight, I’d like a lug of Brandywines left on my doorstep in early October, when I still have time to enjoy them fresh and freeze a few for winter. 

Hospitalization. Has your orchid refused to bloom for three years? Is your ficus tree feeling unwell? No problem. Send it off to the hospital and somebody with more skill and compassion will nurse it back to health. And if it dies, they’ll send you home with a younger, more beautiful version of the same plant and you’ll never know the difference. Try that with regular health insurance! 

Prescription drug coverage. A ten-dollar copay for fertilizers, insecticidal soap, and truckloads of compost? Hmmm.  Sign me up. 

Durable equipment. I do like to buy durable equipment. I’ll need one new pair of pruning shears every three years, a new shovel every five, and replacement gloves once every twelve months. Benches, arbors, and trellises would have to be subject to pre-approval, I suppose. 

Mental health and substance abuse services. One could argue that gardening is its own form of mental health treatment, and that substance abuse in the great outdoors is one of the sublime joys of the gardening lifestyle. So perhaps those services are already included at no extra charge. 

Pre-existing conditions. Now, here’s the bad news. So much of what goes wrong in my garden is someone else’s fault. The poor soil was here before I was. The weeds come up on their own. The long shadows cast by the house, the passers-by helping themselves to flowers, the fog and the wind and the rain and the drought—all of this will, sadly, be excluded from any gardening insurance plan. 

So there we are—the plan hasn’t even begun accepting applications, and it’s already in need of reform. Let the debate begin.


  1. @ Helen – I’m with you on this one… but am trying to keep an open mind to both sides of the debate.

    If there was an excessive weed coverage – sign me up!

  2. I agree with Helen, as a Canadian and ex-Brit having the benefit of largely free health-care, I don’t understand why you’all aren’t rushing to embrace a plan where everyone, regardless of income, can get the health care they need. And I ain’t talking just gardeners and sunflowers.

  3. I’d like insurance against my perennial enemy, dandelions, and also that $#*@! Sweet Annie I planted last year that made thousands of babies all over my front beds this year. Said coverage should come in the form of a crew of (preferably attractive and scantily–but comfortably; I wouldn’t want them to chafe!–clad) strapping young gentlemen delivered to my house ready to weed, while I sit on the porch with a lovely adult beverage.

    I assure you, plenty of us here on the US side of the border don’t get the controversy either (I get why the insurance industry is lying and lobbying against it, of course. But ordinary citizens, who are just as vulnerable as everyone else to going bankrupt from a medical catastrophe or losing their coverage the minute they get sick; who can’t start the small business they dream about because the soul-destroying corporate job they have comes with (increasingly expensive and minimal) health insurance they can’t do without–them I don’t understand, at all. Speaking as an American, Americans are just weird, I guess, and easily riled up about things than make no sense to people from other countries.)

  4. Well Amy your starter plan sounds just fine for people who already have and can afford their own gardens. What about the estimated 50 million of your fellow citizens who can’t even afford a pot to put a petunia in? Often those folks will put it off or wait until they are desperate before they will go to a local or national park, arboretum or botanical garden. Then they may have to wait in long lines, pay up front entrance fees and the plants they came specifically to see may not even be in bloom. They wouldn’t even consider going into a private garden center to purchase plants, garden supplies and equipment on the free market.

    Now there is this crazy talk about requiring people to have gardens. How is that even possible if they do not have access to soil or even sunlight. Will they have to stop drinking water and bathing to water plants that will just die anyway because the crappy insurance they are forced to buy doesn’t come with adequate land, nutrients and sun, just to keep the plant industry profitable?

    Public parks, arboretums and botanical gardens are subject to the same pre-existing conditions as private gardens. If they are devastated by some unfortunate disaster or whim of nature then what? Where will the gardenless go as a last resort then?

    Obviously there needs to be an expansion of the existing meager public options that now favors elderly and disabled gardeners with reduced or no fees and easy access. Without a public option for all, it is just a bunch of smoke and mirrors protecting the profits of the big players in the horticulture industry.

  5. Actually, I have insurance for basic home repairs. It’s pretty awesome.

    As for garden insurance, I’m sure it’d be a good thing if it was how I made my living, but it’s a hobby for me. It’s not life or death for me.

    In all seriousness, neither come even close to the importance health care reform in the US. I can’t believe anyone who has spent any amount of time in the system can’t see how badly it’s broken. I’d like to see the UK NHS system implemented here. Basic health needs met, no matter what, and you can always buy private insurance for the extras if that’s your priority.

  6. More dittos from me…

    And how about those death panels? Are they going to make me take out that old dogwood and be deciding who gets to take up space?

  7. Since I started gardening 30 years ago, I’ve had a number of accidents that have resulted in the following injuries:

    Broken ankle
    Broken thumb
    Broken fingers (4)
    Broken wrist
    Broken arm
    Broken ribs
    Broken spirit (when plants die unexpectedly)
    Numerous lacerations requiring sutures
    Double-hernia surgery (too many big boulders)

    Of course, I’ve also had encounters with bees, wasps, poison ivy, and black widow spiders.

    So am I just a klutz? Maybe. Nevertheless, I obviously need insurance coverage, and I’d love more choices. I think a public option is an excellent idea. Without it, there will be no real “change” in health-care reform.

  8. Another ditto for Michelle! And just try explaining the US system to someone from another country who doesn’t follow things here too much.

    “Health insurance costs HOW much?”

    “You can be kicked out of your insurance for a pre-existing condition?”

    “The CEO of XXX Health Corporation is paid how much?”

    “No, I’m sorry. You are having me on. If things were that bad, no-one in the States would put up with it. Pull the other leg, it plays Waltzing Matilda.”

    “No, we don’t have to wait for care. If we want the wine-with-meals option, we can buy additional insurance, but basic’s good enough for most people.”

  9. Wondering if lawn would be considered a pre-existing condition…

    Having been turned down for health care due to a pre-existing condition (who would imagine that seeking fertility treatment would exclude a person from health care for a lifetime?), and having injured myself in countless ways during the course of my gardening career, I can only say that I pray that common sense returns to our population.

    We must stop acting against our own interests in favor of lining the fattened pockets of the insurance industry and drug companies.

    It is most ironic that so many of the detractors of reform are themselves covered by Medicare.

  10. I would think there would be no debate that is is a brilliant post. Bravo, Amy! The comparison between gardening and health care is perfect.

  11. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I live in backwards land here, and I am at ground zero for all those crazy townhalls you’ve been hearing about (and I live where we have a Medical Marijuana program in place — you’d think we’d WANT a NHS). I was starting to think that thinking had died off… To the Canadians and Brits I say, everytime the U.S. discusses health care, the 4 foreigners who hate their system are trotted out to talk about long lines and factory-like medical visits. I don’t know what to say — please remember that 260 million Americans do not all think the same way (hell, some of us just don’t think…). 🙂

  12. Great post, Amy. This is a very important discussion which I’d like to see more (sane) people get involved in. I did my take on this on August 20, but I really like how you’ve made your analogies. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Nice Article. Most visitors of this sight, gardeners all seem to be progressive types and I love the comments this piece has provoked, however please.. Keep it a Gardening Site..Progressive politics avaliable elsewhere-Buzzflash, Huffpost, Daily Kos. etc. Don’t start something where folks like Rush Limbbroke need to rally against us. Or we’ll have to start following the planting directions on the tags.
    3 marigolds to the foot…in a straight line if you please.
    Check out the Beatle’s digital re-releases out today.
    Happy Trails

  14. This is the best post I’ve read on any blog in awhile – and Christopher, you outdid yourself this time! Must be all that time alone on the mountain.
    Thanks, all, for the entertainment.

  15. Norm, your comment couldn’t have said it better. You write what I was thinking.
    On the other hand I did laugh as I read this humorous blog about plant insurance. Since most of us gardeners learn by doing the plant insurance industry would go broke quickly.

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