by Erica Grivas
Plants and color are two of my greatest sources of happiness. But when I see a dyed plant—whether it’s a blue orchid or an oddly ochre heather—I’m instantly enraged.
You can find painted or dyed plants in nurseries, box stores and supermarkets. How did we get here? A French nursery claims to have invented painting heathers because their fields looked dull in fall as the heathers browned. As the image above demonstrates, you can probably see them from space.
Why does this make me so mad? So many reasons. It it unnecessary; these plants offer rich color variation naturally. They don’t need to look like superheroes. It’s also misleading. The color, which may or may not be advertised as fake, doesn’t last. That blue on the orchid’s blooms (achieved by adding food coloring to the plant’s water) will leach away with each watering. With plants that have been sprayed, like succulents, air plants, or heather, you don’t find out until new growth sprouts.
But my bigger fear is that in the same way fast food has souped-up our taste buds to require sugar and salt, these hypersaturated plants train our eyes to demand ever more glitz from the garden. In the process, we are losing our appreciation for delicate beauty and diluting our knowledge of the natural world. With the constant assault of stimuli from our phones and computers, we have less and less time or inclination to slow down and observe seasonal changes in the garden.
Now, even plants need to scream for our attention. How else can they compete with the magnetic attraction of your text alerts? One can imagine sequins, or lights, next. Oh, wait. Too late:
This is from the “Chameleon” line of echeveria; the vendor, Eurocactus, states; ”These plants have been treated with a specially developed paint that does not harm the plant or the environment. This treatment endows the plants with a unique aura. The colours will continually change, depending on the light.” They’re mood ring succulents. This company also states that they grow their products “as organically as possible,” and, strangely, includes a Native American in headdress and warpaint in its logo, because …. cactus?
It used to be that people used plants to create their own homemade fabric dyes; now, that system seems to have been reversed. If you want to spray-paint cut flowers or dried seedheads, that’s fine with me. Mostly. But please, leave the live plants alone.
Gardening always weaves between nature and artifice: where do you draw the line?