GARDEN GEEKS ( Yes I’m Talking to YOU)



this Aloe marlothii is the stuff of which my plant geek dreams are made
this Aloe marlothii is the stuff of which my plant geek dreams are made

I think it is so funny that people who garden passionately automatically think we will have things in common just because I also garden passionately. Yes, I am a plant maniac and proud – but I am so far from the plant obsessed and jargon-spouting, horticulturally saturated lady who works at one of my favorite nurseries as to almost be from a different species. Like the difference between a Neanderthal and a Homo erectus. This is not a value judgement – it is a statement of fact. Our plant lust does not tie us together – we can’t go out to lunch and sit comfortably, discussing the merits of one variety of protea versus another – I would probably drown myself in my Moules Marinieres. She would most assuredly roll her eyes at me, questioning how I do my job effectively considering that I can’t tell the difference between a Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’ and a Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’. She would think I was shallow for wanting to talk about the Vogue cover featuring Kim and Kanye (otherwise known as Kimye). I would leave to get a pedicure and she would leave to sharpen her felcos.

Well – I thought I was different from her, until I was on site with a lovely hipster client-to-be, and while I was rhapsodizing somewhat floridly over the existing desert palms on the property (they were INCREDIBLE), I saw her looking at me oddly and I realized, oh wow – I’m that person. The person who just geeked out in a somewhat uncomfortable way in front of a “normal”. The plant lover who used botanical latin in front of someone not initiated to our brotherhood, and was promptly branded with an L-shaped finger-sign right in the middle of my forehead. Loser! Oh snap. Serves me right. Who am I to think that I am different? I am a Garden Geek to the core. I just sharpen my felcos after my pedicure.

We all geek out in very different ways – my way might not look very impressive in the world of hardcore garden geekiness. I am often at dinners with people who are incredibly hort-savvy, and they expect me to go toe-to-toe with them as they lay bare the ins and outs of successfully whip grafting a fruit tree. They are usually disappointed with my attempts at clever conversation. But put me in a garden like Ganna Walska’s Lotusland, in Monecito, CA, and I will become Maria Von Trapp, arms out and spinning in giddy circles, shrieking “Look at the BEAUCARNIAS!!! The stacatto rhythm of their layout is PERFECT!!! Check out the grove of DRACENA DRACO – a GROVE! How COOL is THAT? OMIGOD I have that aloe!!! And I have THAT aloe! Damn I need MORE of those aloes!!! WHY DON’T I HAVE A BROMELIAD COLLECTION?????” … and so on.

I am inspired by plants in dramatic collector gardens, where the narrative is clear and bold and on the edge of an Alice In Wonderland tale. Those are the gardens that make me weak in the knees – I become such a geek that even the docents get uncomfortable with me, especially since I will often interrupt them with my own comments about the plants and the gleefully strange story of the erstwhile owner of Lotusland, the glorious Ganna Walska. Read more about this amazing place and this legendary vixen here.

So what brings out YOUR Garden Geek, and how are you different than your other gardening friends? Are you proud of your inner geek, or somewhat sheepish? Do you hide it, like I do, or do you display it with an in- your- face braggadocio? I’m sure we come in all stripes – put your on a freak flag and let it FLY!!!!

Oh, ps – Let me take this moment to confess – I can TOTALLY tell the difference between Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’ and Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’.  (wink!)

Previous articleSeen at the garden show
Next articleWho’s Eating Our Orchard?
Ivette Soler


Fasten your seatbelts, Ranters, I hope you like riding rollercoasters! I’m Ivette Soler, a garden designer and writer who lives and works in Los Angeles, California. I have been designing since 1997, working primarily with the subtropical and succulent palette that thrives in my corner of the world. I started my blog, The Germinatrix, in 2004, and I have been enjoying a vibrant dialog with the online garden community ever sine. In 2011, Timber Press published my book “The Edible Front Yard“, in which I make the case for ridding ourselves of thirsty, dull front lawns in favor of beautiful, bountiful gardens that mix food with ornamentals. I am thrilled to be a part of this illustrious and opinionated group, and am looking forward to RANTING with all of you!

Let’s do a little speed-dating so you can get to know me better:

I am a Believer – I know that gardens and gardening can and will make this world a better place.

I am a Maximalist – I believe that more is more and more is better than less!

I am against Horticultural Xenophobia – If you believe that we must eliminate well-chosen exotics from our landscapes in favor of a natives-only palette, we might have words.

I am a Talker – I love to get into it! If you have anything you want to challenge me about, or if you want to dialog about anything I post, please comment away! My love of blogging is rooted in dialoging with a large number of passionate gardeners with diverse opinions. I will rant, and I expect you to RANT BACK

I cast a wide net – This is a big world, and I believe our gardens are more interesting when we open ourselves up to ideas other than those that come to us from the established gardening world. I am inspired by fine art, literature, product design, theatre, fashion … you get the picture. I will often bring in ideas from other areas of culture to our conversations about gardens and the way we garden.

I like exclamation points and sometimes … yes … ALL CAPS – I really talk like this!!!! I can’t help it!!!

I am eager to move the conversation about gardening and the place it has in our lives forward, so hop on, make sure you are strapped in tightly, and LET’S GO!


  1. Hi Ivette, My garden geekiness has evolved over the years and it definitely changed when I moved to north Florida 10 years ago. I thought I knew what I was doing in the garden, but was totally humbled by failure. For example I planted bunches of tulips the first fall I was here–I bought them from a local store–but only one leaf sprouted. The soil doesn’t get cold enough for long enough.

    These days I’m a native plant and an edible gardening enthusiast and work hard to spread the word!

    • Hi Ginny! Yes, I believe the evolution of a true Garden Geek is an important period of growth – a matriculation of sorts! We deepen and become more nuanced in our geek-dom, and that is a very good thing. Especially when we change zones! Now THAT is a test not every G.G. would pass, but it looks like you did it with aplomb – HI 5 for that!!!!

  2. Love this post! And it’s got me thinking – am I a plant geek at all? What excites me are gardens, esp the inviting ones with seating and bird baths, etc.
    WHen I feel the disconnect is when people give me their pitch, whatever important garden-related cause it is, and it’s something I’ve heard possibly hundreds of times and written about on several occasions, too.

    • Hey there Susan! You know, even though you may not be in the “Plant Geek” subset of Garden Geekiness, but you are very representative of the “Design Geek” – those who drink in the whole thing and respond exactly how a true Garden Geek would – starting a blog and devoting the rest of your days to making sure people GET IT! And thank goodness for that because – Hello, THE RANT!!!! XOXO

  3. I’m gonna go way out on a rhizome here and just say it: there are no plant geeks like orchid geeks. A few years back I helped out with American Orchid Society judging at an orchid show; it was my job to bring the plants over to a judging team and then bring ’em back. I picked up a beautiful plant, which I could see was a big, white Cattleya species or hybrid. Before I got within six feet of the judges’ table, two or three of them had already correctly identified it as a Cattleya trianae var. alba, knew which clone it was labelled as, and one was already doubting that it was correctly labeled because that particular clone was known to be sterile, and this was allegedly a seedling offspring, and it was blooming at the wrong season. I rest my case.

    There are levels of geekicity that we both awe, admire, and shudder away from, all at the same time.

    • Oh Jim I just LOVE your last line – yes! I embrace it and I shudder simultaneously. And you may be right about the Orchid People (checking around the corner to see if any are close) They are hardcore. And rightfully so, because that stuff is HARD. Getting an orchid to bloom again? WAY beyond my skill set. They have my respect, but we probably won’t be having that after work cocktail- I would bore them to tears, and they would be offended by the fact that after one attempt that failed, I have never even tried to get an orchid to re-bloom. Please don’t tell them! There may be hit squads involved.

  4. I don’t run into gardening geeks very often. I am normally out-geeking everyone. Even the blue hairs at my Hort Society ask me what a plant is on the garden tours. I used to know many more of the latin names, but I have allowed myself to slack off on that. When I was in my 30’s I was at a party and the topic turned to gardening, at which point I was gushing about plants, and may have uttered a word or two of latin. I was labeled a snob behind my back later.

    • Don’t worry about it. I just give people a blank stare when they use common names. I seriously have no idea what most people are talking about regarding plants until they give me at least a genus.

    • Oh the WORST offense – the accidental dropping of a botanical name at a social event where nobody cares! The crickets one can hear chirping after such a faux pas – as if you just dropped a huge F-bomb in front the hostess’s toddler! Been there. Scarred for life.

  5. I’m a geek/nerd/crazie in anything I am passionate about. Gardening is just one area of geekdom. I see the glazed look, the stepping away from the rabid person quite often. And the eye rolling from family members.

  6. I was raised by a plant geek and my father-in-law worked at a wholesale nursery so there is no hope for me. AT least I’ve learned to keep my gloves on outdoors so I don’t have to hide my hands!

    • Linda see I get judgement from GG’s all the time because of my manicure! It’s a kind of reverse snobism. You come by your Gardener’s hands not only honestly, but genetically! You have to be super proud of being a second generation Garden Geek! Props. Much respect to your OG Dad, too!

  7. Oh, Ivette, what a terrific post! I love geeks of all kinds. To me, these are people being passionate about something, one of the keys to a fulfilling life. I wish people’s quirky and diverse passions were more appreciated here in the US; it is so wrong to squash that flowering of a person. Thank you for promoting it as both cheerleader and role model! xxoo

    • Why thank you Evelyn darling – you keep me on my toes!
      You are SO RIGHT – without a passion so deep that it edges close to being a little embarrassing, where would we be? I think of the people that I know that are so crazy about music that I know not to play certain songs when they are at my house because they will be deejaying the rest of the night, completely out of the social loop. It is so lovely, so endearing, and heartwarming. I am very happy to be a part of a community that openly embraces that passion and that flies that freak flag high!

  8. I am the go-to plant geek in my district of federated garden clubs, no question. Everybody loves me for my geekiness, but if I have a besetting sin, it’s that I naturally speak botanical Latin, and I’m constantly asked to give the plant name “in English”. Or “But what’s the common name?”. I can’t help it – it’s who I am. Mostly I embrace my inner plant geek. Like last year, when a fellow friend and plant geek came to visit and we went on a tour of the Philly Flower Show and Longwood. When we got to the Longwood conservatory main room, we both saw the same plant from across the room and tore off for a closer look, almost running down some employees who were changing out a portion of the display. We yelled “plant geeks coming through!!”, and they stopped working and cracked up.

    • Oh yes, Susan – any big garden show is just as full of hardcore geeks as Comicon in San Diego, where the Trekkies and the Sci-fi Fantasy fans dress up and go mad for a week straight. Is that what lies in store for us GG’s Dressing up as our favorite horticultural specimen? From our lips to the ear of the Universe! I would LOVE to see that!!!!

  9. Yes, I AM that Geek too. Though I label myself a Hort-Head, its all the same for certain. I have my Garden Coaching Clients every day where I have to be really careful to stick to “English” or they freak out and look at me like I have Lobsters coming out of my ears when I slip into the botanical Latin by mistake at times. Then when I’m working in the nursery I have to wade the muddy waters between speaking my “Hort-Head” language and the balancing act of speaking to those who don’t know how to plant ANYTHING!
    BUT, when I’m with my plant-geeky friends and we start up about Lotusland or Chanticleer or the like, its warms the soil in my heart. 🙂 I have to get my nerdiness about plants out somewhere!

    • It’s a delicate balance, isn’t it Christina? WHEN can we go full geek and when must we be a little more on the down-low? Sometimes indulging our GG is exactly the order of business, and that is when the peacock feathers come out and we all strut our nerdy stuff!!!

  10. I’m hugely passionate about growing things. Just figuring out what it takes to make them grow, and then doing it. My main focus is on edibles because, as the daughter and granddaughter of farmers, I think it’s very important to grow as much as you can of what you eat. And then preserve as much as is possible in ways that will make you eager to use it. I also grow succulents and cacti. For the most part I cannot tell a sedum from a dudleya (okay, I might be able to swing that one, but not reliably). But what I lack in name-retention, I think I more than make up for in passion.

    I cannot speak the jargon. Nor the Latin. But I can speak to seeing kids’ faces light up when you hand them a fresh-pulled carrot, or have them taste a nasturtium for the first time, or when they walk around the schoolyard smelling the lemon oils rubbed on their hands from a leaf. Yesterday I had a couple of first-graders nearly in (happy) tears because I gave them a head of lettuce. And I can speak to my co-workers & neighbors being so excited when I bring homemade jams and jellies to them, or hand them tiny pots of my wildly successful cuttings. They all think I’m a little nuts, but once you find your geek-niche, why fight it?

    • Laura, you are in my plant geek realm. I also don’t know the Latin terms, but I have been doing edible gardening since first attempts in my college apartment’s kitchen window (in the late 1970s).

      If you are like me, you are starting tomatoes, basil, peppers and other seeds indoors to transplant in a few months. I started some lavenders and thyme a month ago, and they are now outside to be transplanted. Plus I spent a couple of sunny days to finish pruning the apple tree fence, and some roses (they are both in similar plant families).

      The backyard is getting completely remodeled with new hardscaping (yay for landscaper who called back… boo to the guy who came and never called in his estimate). He placed the saffron crocus in a safe place under the apricot tree, so they will go into the high planter next to the kitchen steps. Which will include a sunken old garbage can to contain the mint (for mojitos). Oh, and the tales I could tell of my travails with keeping Improved Meyers Lemons alive!

      Edible gardeners are their own kind of “geek.” Some a little more maniacal than others. I would never think I would be able to grow all of my food, but I can grow some interesting things and most of the fresh herbs I would want. Especially since one focal point of my back yard is a twenty foot tall Laurus nobilis… that is lots of soup!

  11. Great post.Wonderful comments.

    I’m for sure a geek. It’s ok though; I’m married to a geek and work at the National Arboretum! It’s tough though, out there in the real world.

  12. I’m definitely a card-carrying garden geek. I try to test the waters before I start spouting off about plants. Are their eyes glazing over? Has their pulse slowed to a critical rhythm? Is drool beginning to roll down their chin? Or are they slowly backing away, hoping I won’t notice. I sometimes do need to talk about things other than plants and the state of gardening and other garden affairs. That doesn’t make me any less of a garden geek, though. (and not afraid to admit it!).

  13. Oh, where to begin. Being called nature boy in elementary school because my dad gave tree ID walks for our class? Learning wild flowers of the local mountains in high school by carrying around ID guides? How about my great grandfather winning camellia and dahlia flower awards at state fairs? I’m in deep and it’s still just scratching the surface. I can identify as garden, design, craft, horticulture- geek and probably a few more. Proof? My 5-year old daughter says soil, not dirt. I tell her mostly Latin names for plants too. I’m just waiting for parents and teachers to start correcting her through their ignorance! Yikes! However, compared to watching TV or video games this is the real world; full if wonder, trial and error and determined beauty!

  14. I, too, am a geek. I, too, have to hold back so I do not appear snobbish. In my day-to-day life, at work and at home, it seems there are so few of us, and it gets lonely. I guess that is why I eagerly follow so many blogs. Oh, to have a true geek friend or friends among which I can uninhibitedly unleash my pent-up geekiness with no shame or caution. Always enjoy your posts.

  15. Oh, yes, such a garden geek! My true love is trees, and as a subset, pests and diseases of trees. I can go on ad nauseum about bark beetles and borers. Yes, I think dog vomit slime mold is the coolest! Don’t you? I try to keep it in check, but sometimes, my kind friends will indulge my need to play Name That Tree, then pat my head and pass me a cup of tea.

  16. Funny post, Ivette, I love your voice!

    I’m more a latent GG than most others, for a couple of reasons: a) I’m on the reserved/quiet end of the spectrum so if another wants to vomit botanical Latin to impress others, hey, knock yourself out! It’s great another garden geek is passionate about growing zucchini (for example and not to disparage said growers). Passion is the wonderful thing about growing and enjoying plants in general.

    b) many of my (potential) clients would either be confused and/or annoyed if I went on and on about the apparent aesthetic virtues of one perennial/tree over another. I mean, my passion doesn’t necessarily translate into theirs. (And no, I’m not a “mow, blow, and go” kind of guy.) Some customers, funny enough, don’t like or don’t care to be in the presence of a know-it-all and condescending geek.

    Lol, no wonder I never attend garden visits…

  17. Oh gosh, years ago, back in the 1980s, I took several Hort. classes at Merritt College in Oakland CA. LOVED the classes and my instructors who first off told us we would have to learn botanical Latin as we would be tested on names of plants. A few years later I moved up to the Pacific NW and while looking around in a local nursery with a friend who professed to be a plant lover and gardener, I asked the staff about some sort of Campanula…I was a good student and had learned to use the specific language. After all I was at a nursery. Well my friend got very sniffy with me and made a snarky comment about my using the Latin name. I was very embarrassed (what had I done wrong?).
    Fast forward, I indulge myself these days with a Hardy Plant Society membership. Fantastic group of people.

  18. Wow what a great subject!! I am totally a plant geek. I am a designer and OF COURSE speak the Latin names. Otherwise I don’t know what the hell anyone is talking about!!!
    I actually have all old VHS tapes of “A Garfeners Journal” and “a Gardeners Diary” shows from when HGTV used to actually HAVE garden shows!!
    I still watch them. My husband calls it my “happy place”.
    Well I just went to a Springfest show (had a fever and felt like crap but didn’t want to miss it!! Sorry to everyone I may have coughed on!!)
    The FREAKS I saw there made me re-think my label of a plant geek for myself!
    Omg COLOR YOUR FREAKING GREY HAIR LAIDIES!! And put on some clean clothes!! Holy crap my garden geek friend introduced me to one freak after another! One woman actually had cat hair all over her black shirt and pants! Not just a few but a damn thick covering of cat hair! I laughed right in her face and could not suppress my smile!! Still giggle now when I recall it.

  19. Plant geekiness is relative. I get that look if I say a little common latin in front of my non-gardening friends. Or rescue a poor grocery-store primula from on top of a radiator at a local restaurant. But I’m in awe of some of my gardening acquaintances who seem to know every species and I’m sure never forget where they plant things.

  20. I consider myself a garden geek, but I do not know the latin names of almost any plant, so I’m out of my depth with this group. I get some pretty weird looks at work when I recover the coffee grounds for my compost, so it’s nice to hang out with some other gardeners, even if it’s virtual 🙂

Comments are closed.