Neither an Influencer nor a Follower be


    Guest Rant by Marianne Willburn

    Tesselaar’s Blue Storm Agapanthus is worth growing because it’s a high-impact, no-nonsense plant, not because it typifies the 2016 Color of the Year “Serenity” – photo credit: Tesselaar Plants, 2006

    Though I enjoy dressing well, I’m no fashionista.  For the most part, I can ignore the “collar in or out this season?” “jeans high or low?” “fly up or down?” as I’m usually wearing heavy boots and dusted all over with the full body tan that only soil can provide. But to my horror, this drivel is starting to creep into the solidity of my gardening world, and not only creep, but be taken seriously.

    Last week I was notified via a reliable garden media source closer to hipster than hip replacement, that Pantone, Inc., the [apparently] well known “authority on color,” had announced in a secret European meeting that the new colors for 2016 would be ‘Rose Quartz’ (a soft pink) and ‘Serenity’ (an even softer blue).  Leading, one can only assume, to a heated lunchtime debate over the exact color of the sky that day over Milan.

    The idea that my eyes will now be subjected to these two insipid colors for the entire run of 2016 – as retailers run to their designers to find new and horrific ways of flogging them to an unsuspecting public – actually makes the 2016 US Presidential election sound appealing.

    Some kitchens are still living with the unfortunate choices of the 70’s such as “Harvest Gold” and “Avocado.”  And I’m pretty sure that the 90’s “Overcast” is probably responsible for the entire grunge movement in Seattle.  If the cultural sycophants wish to subject their bathroom suites and naked legs to pastel colors, why not let them and continue to plunge my hands, and head, in the soil?

    A garden trend-setter supping from the fusion of Serenity and Rose Quartz on Leucophyllum frutencens.

    It’s not as easy as that. The concept-based retail experience that is now “the garden” has an attached billion dollar market that is growing in leaps and bounds.  If we are not advertisers, we are categorized as either influencers or followers – and no one is expected to opt out.  “At least,” as Douglas Adams once wrote “no one worth speaking of.”

    In this particular case, my job as a garden columnist – pardon me, influencer – (albeit of the small, innocuous variety), is to help fellow gardeners – pardon me, followers – get excited about these new colors and how they can relate to the thousands of dollars of garden tat – pardon me, merchandise – that will presumably be tinted in the “calming and compassionate” colors of Rose Quartz and Serenity.  Flowers, containers, tools, clothing, good God, maybe your next pastel pair of Wellies.

    I find such consumerist nonsense neither calming nor compassionate.  Instead it cries out for a third group of conscientious objectors collectively thumbing their trowels at the establishment. If a group identifier is required, perhaps it could be as simple as “gardeners” – a faction weary of the rampant commercialism in the gardening world, and the effort both to dumb down, yet over-complicate the processes and methods of gardening.  Seriously, if it’s as easy as 1-2-3, why the hell do you need 123 different types of pruner to make the right cut?

    ‘Soiled Khaki’ has been the color of the year for the last two decades around here.


    Gardening is an incredibly worthwhile pursuit on levels both physical and spiritual. It can be life changing for those who have lost connection to the tangible world around them. But it’s also hard work, requires continuous study, and it’s often not as pretty as the endless stream of text-deficient garden porn would have you believe. It may or may not be for you, but you’ll never know unless you stop buying the tchotchkes that make you think you’re gardening, and actually put some skin, and sweat, into the game.

    A trowel with a Rose Quartz handle is not going to make these and other truths any easier, and “influencers” moving further and further away from the actual processes of gardening in order to sell the latest and greatest to their “followers” – or worse, in order to garner more followers – are not doing those followers any favors.

    £3.99 at a London hardware store 19 years ago and worth every penny.

    There are good products out there. Certainly many are innovative and some are worth a small investment – even I can admit to this in the midst of my heresy.  And, there are occasions such as holidays and birthdays which call for a bit of profligacy. However, I can’t help coming back to the fact that the 19 year old trowel I reach for every morning never felt the gilded touch of a bunch of secret colorists seeking the zeitgeist.


    Marianne is a Master Gardener who writes from Lovettsville, VA. You can read more at Small Town Gardener or become a follower at The Small Town Gardener on Facebook. She’ll try not to influence you too much.


    1. Thank you. I hate the yearly Pantone color nonsense.

      I do have two Pantone coffee mugs, which are kinda cool, but they should leave gardeners alone.

    2. Marianne:
      (Though it’s not exactly what your blog topic is about, I’d like to comment.)

      “…it’s often not as pretty as the endless stream of text-deficient garden porn would have you believe.”

      What a great line. Not knowing enough about that, I still imagine you’re probably right. However, I must say, in my opinion, you are a terrific photographer. I love the photography on your web site and the last two photos here tell a story. The dirt on the pants, the wet shoes, probably wet socks, the leaves left on the ground….it conveys good, thorough, yet loving work. Important work.

      When Amazon’s Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, you could see that the photos were far larger and the stories were fewer in number. Web sites require so much scrolling through pics now to get to the articles. Some even believe our smartphones are causing “photo-taking impairment effect.” –

      It’s so ridiculous to see the Tour de France spectators holding up their smartphones as the riders fly by.

      “Pal. Did you hear those bikes? Feel that wind, see those bodies? Wow.”
      “No, but I got it on film.”

      I love my camera, but if words, actually sentences, don’t come to mind when I’m looking at something in a garden, I try, though it’s not always easy, to keep my hands off it.

      Great blog post.

      • Thank you Marcia for that link and your many kind words. In response to your thoughts – there’s a meme going around the internet at the moment – a picture of 20-30 spectators going wild over something or other and every single one of them has their phone out taking a photo. All except one – a lady in her seventies or eighties, who is very carefully studying whatever is happening with her arms comfortably over the barriers. Such a telling photo – she is soaking in that moment, the others will merely add it to the thousands of similar images on their phones and never have been a part of it.

        I do want to make it clear however that I love a bit of garden/plant porn. Who doesn’t? It’s rich, sumptuous, inspiring and my kind of bedtime reading. My concern however, is that it seems to be no longer a part of the genre that is garden writing, but is inexorably becoming THE genre. I know that many people learn visually, but there is much more to be imparted by the written word, particularly the well-written word, and we could lose a lot in the process. I highly recommend Noel Kingsbury’s recent post on this very topic “The Rise and Rise of the Feel Good Garden” at Noel’s Garden Blog. A great essay – not your 100-characters-or-less nonsense.

        Again, thanks for your comment!

    3. While it may be only a pigment of their imaginations, the Pantone Color of the Year sends brides, designers and tchotchke manufacturers worldwide into a retooling frenzy. As midwestern cut flower growers, we have the enviable postion of being a year or more behind the hot trends of the coasts. In the meantime, our only displays of Rose Quartz and Serenity will be the beautiful bruises of a farmer’s life.


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