Plants make you a better person



They must. How else could I spend so much
time—enjoyably—online and off, with people whose lives are in every other way
so completely different than mine? Not to mention political beliefs and
opinions on various areas of controversy (often best not to ask).

Last week, as you know, many of us who write about gardening
and plants met for a few days in Raleigh
at the GWA
meeting. As conferences go, it was a conference, with sessions,
and dinners and so on. It distinguished itself in 3 ways: the wonderful garden
tours, the incredible swagathon going on in the vendors’ hall, and—most
important—the high quality of my fellow attendees. I have been to quite a
number of conferences—first, art-and-museum gatherings in the 90s,
then the magazine-related professional events of my current career, and now gardening meetings.

There is not one person from any of the art/museum/magazine
conferences I have attended with whom I still correspond. I don’t remember who
the museum people were. The magazine people tend to move in tight cliques
according to the prestige of their publications, barely offering elevator
acknowledgements. Festive dinners and cocktail gatherings help slightly, but
not enough.  On the other hand,
since our first bloggers’ gathering in Austin, then in Chicago, and finally, my
first GWA in Raleigh, I have gained dozens of friends and friendly
correspondents with whom I keep in touch on a regular basis via various social
networks. I expect to see many of them again in Buffalo and Dallas.

It must be the plants. It has to be.

(Clockwise, Susan, Christopher from Outsideofclyde, Chris's friend Ani, David Perry, Billy Goodnick, Helen Yoest, Tony Avent, Dee, Carol.)

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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


  1. It’s the plants! I have probably spent as much money on plants as I would on drink or cigarettes. I like to think it is better for me, and the world.
    All you have to do is admire a plant in a garden, and the gardener will be giving you seeds. I don’t think that I could admire a necklace in a jewellery store and I would be pressed to take it. (I wish).
    Gardeners all over the world are more than happy to share their help with any question you might have, they really go out of their way.
    I read somewhere, that florists are the happiest workers, they are surrounded by living plants, taking in carbon dioxide and giving back pure oxygen. A natural high!

  2. I was at GWA and never saw you – waaaa! I talked with both Amy and Susan at numerous stops along the weekend but YOU I missed completely.

    I spent 18 years working at a large zoo and its conventions were somewhat similar to GWA. I think there are just certain characteristics that draw people to work with plants or animals.

  3. I’ve been a gardener all my adult life, including six years as a Master Gardener. Yet, I don’t think I bonded so deeply with plants until: a) I began photographing them (digital SLRs make it cheap and easy to become obsessive) and b) began writing about them. At that point, I looked up and discovered a whole community of folks with the same ‘growing’ obsession. And I liked what I saw.

    Sorry to have missed you all in Raleigh (my sister was my proxy), but hope to meet up with you in Buffalo (definitely) and/or Dallas (on my wish list).

    And congratulations to all of you on the Blotanical win.

  4. Gardening keeps you humble, too–more than other endeavors. Bad writing doesn’t wither and die right before your eyes (it might seem like it does, but physically it sits there on the page all nice and neat), but plants can and do all the time, despite the best efforts.

  5. Sorry I missed you John–but I was only there until Friday. I knew the remaining tours were great only from the tweets and posts about them.

    Thanks Helen, though I am a bit confused that we won for Maryland blog!

  6. The garden is one place where people of all persuasions should just leave “political beliefs and opinions on various areas of controversy” outside the garden gates. The same should be true of garden centers. We have customers from left, right, and in between. There has to be somewhere we can meet, and just get along. Working in the garden, while bringing flowers and food to the table is a civilizing activity, in a less than civil world.

  7. At the CSF my friend Ani was a bit concerned that being around plant nerds could get a bit boring. Half way through the event she commented that these people have so much depth and she was having a wonderful time touring the gardens with all these strangers. I think a gardener’s natural curiosity about how things work and the desire to make things attractive spills over into interest in a lot of other areas. That was represented in the eclectic conversations among strangers with the common thread of gardening running through it.

    Some how I have volunteered to be on the committee of the new West Asheville Garden Stroll, ,even though I live in the wilderness in a different county. At the follow up potluck party to a very successful stroll I met the diverse group that put this together. There were artists, business people, horticulturists, and a few of the home owners from the stroll. These new urban pioneers are reclaiming an old inner city neighborhood. Again this was not a boring group of people at all.

    You’ll love this Elizabeth. One of the instigators for the garden stroll in West Asheville was a former resident and volunteer for Garden Walk Buffalo way back in the beginning. When I told her there were now close to 300 gardens and a book on the Buffalo event she was amazed.

  8. I started going to GWA annual meetings in 1981, and it is true. I’ve met several thousand people in the intervening years at those meetings and I did not find one person to be mean spirited, unfriendly, and just a S.O.B. It is the plants, How can someone spend serious time caring for plats and be a bad person?

  9. I almost never meet a gardener I don’t like, and it doesn’t matter if we have zero besides plants in common.

    My theory is that it IS the plants–they are giving off chemicals that dose us into a sense of peaceful connection to all creation. And especially to fellow addicts.

  10. Did you see Washington GWA sponsored by Miracle-Gro/Scotts?
    How does that jive with garden ranters?
    Am I the only one who notices this?
    Meanwhile, Scotts is pumping fresh goods into Smith & Hawken stores for Christmas.

  11. No doubt about it, plant people rock! I’ve been working in the perennial business for twenty years and have met some of the nicest people in this business. When I faced an employment crossroads about six years ago, I couldn’t stand the thought that I might have to work in another industry. I was so very fortunate to find another job doing what I love.

    On the personal side, I’ve made some lifelong friends through an internet gardening forum and we now get together at least once a year. I’ve been totally awestruck by the number of “strangers” who gladly have opened their gardens to us. “Strangers” is in quotes because they truly are not strangers, only gardeners we haven’t met yet!

  12. Ken, how about a guest rant from you on the subject?
    And no, you’re not the only one who notices the GWA/Scotts connections. Though I’m in the DC area, I didn’t attend.

  13. Thanks Christopher–Garden Walk’s roots are long and deep!

    Ken–and Susan–Scott’s sponsored plenty at the GWA conference in Raleigh and I’d bet they give to just about all the regional events. They gave to the last bloggers’ meet-up in Chicago too. In the interests of full disclosure.

  14. I am glad so many people had a great time, and the gardens around the Raleigh area are wonderful. But, and here comes the rant,
    I heard the comedian at the GWA dinner cost $18,000 (I do not have hard evidence of that).
    I also heard that awards are considered a money-making opportunity for GWA. It cost me $300 to submit work for awards this year.
    The convention is just that — a convention with much of the trappings. How about some meat with those potatoes?
    I would rather attend a symposium where I could learn survival techniques — if they exist — than go to a Karaoke bar.
    The first two words, Garden and Writers, are soon to join Dinosaurs. Extinct!
    All that said, I heard Amy’s presentation was great!

  15. Raleigh was my first GWA symposium and I have to say the people, schmoozing and action in the bar was fantastic–I felt welcomed and included in everything. There was some attempt made to address future needs re Social Media and harumph! GenYers. Let’s look to the future for ways to incorporate a sustainable living on a healthier planet as communicators in a field that is in major flux.

  16. Yes, it must be about the plants. Each of us is attracted to plants for various reasons; for one it might be for the color or combination of colors, another the scent and another for the wildlife it attracts. Of course there are those who are attracted to a plants weirdness, zone denial and wicked-ness. Yet, we all come together peacefully, from different perspectives, to enjoy the plants, accepting each other for who we are. The geeks, gawkers, and guides, while looking at gardening life differently, we may not agree, but we can accept each other

    So, now let us all go out and be the example for the world…H.

  17. I have to share this with husband. To show him how much nastier I would be if I didn’t garden. My m-i-l once commented that I wasn’t happy unless I had dirt under my fingernails.

  18. Ken – WHAT comedian at GWA dinner? Did I sleep thru that?

    Agreed though that the GWA award entry fees are prohibitive and need to be revamped to 21stC.

    As for Scotts/Miracle Gro sponsor of WDC GWA Congressional reception at USBG this week – they gave a huge hunk of change and 400+ trucks of soil for the new-ish National Garden at the USBG plus they are HQed in Ohio as is the Congresswoman honored that eve. It’d be weird IMHO if they hadn’t attended it.

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