Who’s more controversial – Michelle Rhee or Scotts Miracle-Gro?


To most of the media, it’s the famous education reformer Michelle Rhee, ex-DC Schools Chancellor, who’s controversial, unpopular, even reviled by some, especially teachers’ michelle-rheeunions. (Interesting read on the subject.)  So when Scotts MiracleGro recently named her as a trustee, teachers called for a boycott of Scotts, and readers were presumably left with the impression that Rhee could threaten the otherwise stellar reputation of this fine company.

One report  concludes that her backtracking from national education reform and accepting a “gig on the board of Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. also won’t hurt her recuperation from years in the trenches.”  Because, I guess, Scotts is just a gardening company.  No controversy there, right?

So to the general media in DC and anyone following the career of this notorious education reformer/union-killer (depending on your perspective; I don’t have a dog in the fight myself), you’ll find reports of plenty of controversy surrounding the company in the archives of GardenRant.  It’s no stretch to call Scotts the most hated company in the gardening world and here’s a quick update on why that is.

Let’s start with a much-read interview with Scotts’ notorious CEO Jim Hagedorn by Wired Mag, aptly called  “Turf Warrior”.wsj

“I’d like to see biotech in every backyard,” he says.

And this Wall  Streert Journal article about Hagedorn’s “Cursing in the Board Room”  includes a video of the ex-fighter pilot describing business as war, among other gems.

Reports of Hagedorn’s cursing were widespread in the business world.  Trustees left over it!  There was an official reprimand.  Googling   “Hagedorn” and “cursing” gets lots of hits.

And though unreported in the news, everyone in the garden center business knows about the F-bombs Hagedorn launched from the podium at their largest trade show, which caused people to walk out in protest or disgust. The guy’s kinda hard to like.

We’re told to want this weird-looking monoculture.

Gardening Products

Oh, where to start? And how to not get sued?  I’ll just point readers to the products themselves, their ingredients, and reports in the media about them, especially the pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.  Let’s just say there are objections.

Then there’s the multi-million-dollar ad campaign to convince consumers that they need those products and in the case of lawn fertilizers, need them to be applied at the time of year when authorities urge us to protect our waterways by not using them.

Moving on, there’s Scotts’ involvement in biotech that Hagedorn is so proud of.  Seems their GMO Roundup-ready bentgrass is out of control, and the company’s been fined by the USDA for inadequate testing of it.  More about that.

Speaking of Roundup, Scotts is the sole U.S. distributor of this Monsanto-made product.  And you know how much love we all have for Monsanto.


Bird-Killing Bird Food

People still on the fence about the company turned anti-Scotts  after one particular event, which was reported widely in the business media, with headlines like “Scotts Miracle-Gro, the Bird-Killing Company” In 2012 they were fined $12.5 million for knowingly selling bird food that was killing birds (the seed had been sprayed with pesticides to increase its shelf life).

That news snowballed into a story about the National  Wildlife Federation’s partnership with Scotts which, unfortunately for the NWF, had been announced maybe two days before the legal settlement and fine were announced.  Many NWF supporters expressed so much outrage that the NWF finally relented and abandoned the partnership (and the $$$).  Here’s our story about that.

More Greenwashing

Giving money to the NWF isn’t the only attempt by Scotts to look good.  They’re also big supporters of the Garden Writers Association, which gives them the chance to parade their “chief sustainability officer” before writers at their annual meeting.  Let’s just say that partnership is very controversial within the garden-writer world and I was happy to see that Scotts spoke to this year’s captive audience of garden writers about something noncontroversial – digital marketing.

Legal Stuff

Under the category of general dickishness is the case of Scotts ripping off garden writer C.L. Fornari’s media campaign, then copyrighting the term she’d made popular. Amy Stewart wrote about it here on the Rant in an aptly titled post:  “Dear Scotts, Just try one time not to be so shitty.” After C.L. started a media campaign about it, they backed off.

In other legal action, Scotts is all over the place.

Best Take-Down

In a wonderful ad styled after Apple’s announcement of the Mac, the organic fertilizer company Espoma conveyed the dominance and general awfulness of this multi-billion-dollar company.



With what’s now known about the company, I wonder if Martha Stewart is rethinking her association with them.  In 2011 she was invited by Hagedorn to speak at the company (fee unknown) and later gushed about him “and his lovely wife Karli”.  Sigh.


  1. Ha! Michelle Rhee and Scott’s — not a lovable combo! It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that teachers would only now start to boycott Scott’s just because Rhee is on the board. Their products are poisonous with or without her.

    Anyway, IMHO, teachers’ unions are a much bigger problem in this country than Scott’s. Rhee was obnoxious, but at least she attempted to do something to fix the catastrophe that is DCPS. Unions blocking reform at every turn is not helpful.

    Oh, and when it comes to public education, everyone has a dog in the fight. All of us — even those without kids — pay for it, both literally and figuratively.

      • Yeah, it’s hard to follow and be invested in every issue — there’s not enough time!

        Anyway, let’s hope that Rhee doesn’t apply her considerable energy to creating some sort of evil fusion of Scott’s and education, like the “Scott’s Miracle Grow Success Academy” or something.

    • Right — she made DCPS worse. The achievement gap between whites and blacks in DC got worse while she was there. The poor Black kids that she came to help are worse off than before. And she spent millions doing it.

      • Exactly. And then she convinced a ton of people that had no clue about what was really going on that every other school in the nation had to do what she was doing.

    • As a teacher, I can tell you why this will make a difference. Most teachers are not gardeners, but they often have little flower plots lining their lawns. Because they are not gardeners, they believe the hype that the big box stores sell: namely, that this stuff is good for your lawn and flowers.

      Michelle Rhee, on the other hand, has played a big part in new “reforms” that are destroying education. The vilification of teachers in this country is deplorable and she is a huge part of that. Teachers know this. All teachers know this. Even the non-gardening teachers that just spread fertilizer on their lawn know this. And this is why it will make a difference.

    • If you truly think unions are blocking reforms, you need to start paying more attention to the real issues, and not just the talking points.

      • Fellow teacher Sarah, I agree that the vilification of teachers has been horrendous. However, teachers’ unions have been seriously damaging the teaching profession for decades now. It’s not Albert Shanker’s union anymore. Look at the crazy ass NY teachers union, who just this month has decided it would be a great idea to rally against the NYPD, for god’s sake! Thank God I live in a right to work state.

        Teachers’ unions inflict just as much damage to education as Scott’s does to the environment.

  2. They are both pretty obnoxious and toxic. Too bad Mary Gray pipes in about the “Anyway, IMHO, teachers’ unions are a much bigger problem in this country than Scott’s. Rhee was obnoxious, but at least she attempted to do something to fix the catastrophe that is DCPS. Unions blocking reform at every turn is not helpful.”
    I’m new to this blog and thought it was about gardening. If I want to hear anti-union right-wing nonsense I’d listen to Fox “News”.

    • The satisfying thing about seeing anti-union, teacher bashing, right wing commentary appear here is the very short wait to see it roundly called out in the next ten ensuing comments. Works for me.

    • I’ve got news for you…gardening can be political! The lively debates that sometimes occur here on Garden Rant usually don’t change anybody’s mind, but they are thought provoking and entertaining. Teachers’ unions don’t usually come up, but since Susan mentioned them in her post, I felt justified in sharing my opinion. Stick around, there are great people here.

    • I’m new to this blog and thought it was about gardening. If I want to hear anti-union right-wing nonsense I’d listen to Fox “News”.

      This doesn’t make sense to me. In an article that (tongue in cheek) damns Michelle Rhee with respect to Scotts, it seems bizarre to call out someone who says, hey maybe Rhee wasn’t that bad. Regardless of personal opinions on Rhee and/or unions, this wasn’t exactly off topic.

  3. As a teacher who discovered the passion for gardening. Both Rhee and Scott are bad. Rhee joining Scott just makes that company worse. Perhaps Scott will become better at destroying life. See Milton Glaser’s button ” It’s not global warming….”

  4. Looks like she might be a great fit! I mean, someone who is devoted to improving the American educational system and helping children would of course want to be a trustee in a fertilizer/pesticide corporation, right?

  5. Eeesh!! So much for Michelle Rhee’s dedication to education. What – didn’t make enough $? What are we learning about her values?

  6. My husband and I are 1) teachers 2) gardeners and all I can say is that this article gave us a ton to think about. But honestly, fake, phony products aren’t good for you or your yard right? Common sense? But like my father in law ALWAYS says… common sense ain’t that common anymore.

  7. Always boils down to, follow-the-money.

    Client told me today her school board now requires ANYONE wanting to dig a hole on school property to apply with the school system.

    In response, she was asking me if pear trees can grow in pots !!!!

    The average person using npk fertilizers does not know they are toxic to the water supply. Not Scott’s fault, the stupidity of the public.

    Notice it’s always women at the forefront of wanting change? I quit the lawn thing decades ago. Never looked back. Why? Too beautiful, and financially rewarding, to design gardens based on the best history has to offer across Europe.

    Pretty flowers? Merely good for the soul? Hardly. Proper mix of ornamental plantings can increase crop yields by 80%.

    I have read and know all you link to in this article. Sad every time seeing the need for it to be mentioned.

    Appreciate your time in writing the article, again, and with its links…..and the beat goes on ladidadida.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  8. Susan you are my hero!!!!
    As for whether “Martha” will re-think her association with Scott’s, unlikely. No matter how wealthy, people love getting invited to fancy places and having dinners with fancy people, and if you are getting millions in ad revenue for your struggling magazine, so much the better. People will compromise their ethics for a free trip. People will sit through a lecture trying to sway them to write positively about a company that makes garden products harmful to our environment just for a free breakfast (who KNOW whereof I speak!) So I have no hope for someone like Martha. Garden writers and tv hosts are targeted by these companies – they are given swag, coddled and paid attention to, and whole events are partially underwritten by these companies, just to convince the garden writers to be nice to them. To write positive articles about their new “organic” lines. They are being “lobbied” by gardenceuticals!!! And it works! If a sweet little garden writer can be swayed by a breakfast and some free plants, I don’t think Martha will stop her association, considering the money involved. Just my opinion!

  9. At our garden center Scot’s is the name that shall not be mentioned. It makes me wonder how long they can last when their brand is so reviled among the gardening community.

  10. To me, it is equal. I will not use Miracle-Gro, because I think that it damages soil. And I will not support Michelle Rhee, because she definitely damages schools.

  11. Classroom gardening can be educational at any age group. Count the leaves, try organic nutrients: Hydroponic planters have been donated to schools by at least one manufacturer.

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