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Two Green Thumbs Down

I’ve become increasingly disturbed at how profoundly a love of plants hinders a person’s ability to enjoy ordinary life like normal people do.

"Spoiler alert: That will never survive your winter!"

"Spoiler alert: That will never survive your winter!"

I’ll share my own sad example. Any eagerly awaited road trip becomes an exercise in frustration as soon as I begin seeing plants I cannot identify. Even in my own neighborhood, a little piece of me dies every time I happen upon a mulch volcano or a newly planted Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana). It’s getting harder and harder to leave my house. 

But at home I’m not safe, either. Watching a TV show or a movie can be fraught with peril. If a plant appears onscreen, forget everything else. “Is that an azalea? I think so. And a bit chlorotic too.” Frankly, it’s appalling how often directors make geeking out over plants unnecessarily difficult. For whatever reason, they love to hide plants behind actors or place them far off in the distance, and they never, ever zoom in on identifiable features. And I can’t even begin to describe the emotional plunge that occurs every time a scene supposedly set in USDA Zone 6 shows Zone 7 plants flourishing in the background. A crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia) in Michigan? Are you freakin’ kidding me? At that point, I could be watching an Oscar contender yet never get past my outrage. 

The most egregious example? Tombstone, a favorite movie completely marred by an unforgivable botanical gaffe. Wyatt Earp and Josephine have ridden horses into the mountains. They rest in a charming little glade. First, the glade in no way resembles southeast Arizona. Worse, it is pocked by hundreds of fake red flowers that appear to have been cut from construction paper by local kindergarteners and taped to wire stems. There they are, onscreen, poking out of the ground, insulting any plant lover’s intelligence! Believe me, once you notice them, you cannot un-see them. 

I also find it impossible to enjoy films set in more garden-friendly climates than mine. It just fills me with envy. Towering evergreens and oversized rhododendrons in the Pacific Northwest, for instance. I just can’t. Or any film set in England. The odds of spotting a daphne in perfect health or a blue poppy (Meconopsis) growing out of a crack in a sidewalk are just too great. But worse are scenes where the venerable estate gardener—a character that by law must appear in every British movie—is depicted pruning a lilac in late summer or failing to tease out pot-bound roots. How am I supposed to follow a story when I’ve just witnessed something like that?

I’ve discussed this with other plant geeks, and we might form a political action committee. Or write a manifesto. But for this moment, I guess I’ll just go out and enjoy some gardening because—it seems—gardening has made it impossible to enjoy anything else! 

Illustration by Tom Beuerlein