Gardeners as a Tribe- by Felder Rushing- back

People tend to gather naturally into groups of like-minded folk – think of all the different sports, religions, politics, and music, each having hierarchies, sub-groups, and fringe elements. Gardeners are no different – and can even be considered a type of “tribe.”

With little but plants in common, we exhibit all the typical stereotypes of a society-within-a-society, an unrelated clan of sorts, spread across the land in diverse settings.

Our loosely-affiliated band has scientists and teachers, and life-long students – the university high priests of horticulture and their Master Gardener choirs. Our plant doctors make diagnostic visits, and pesticide and potion salesmen hawk “snake oil” like Wild West medicine men. Garden writers too often proclaim themselves gurus, when in fact many of us town criers are as humbug as the wizard of Oz.

There are zealots gathered under the banner of one plant or another, clubby societies with rules and ribbons promoting their own sense of perfection, each at odds over whose plant is supreme. Isolationist native plant enthusiasts raise dire warnings over the demise of our countryside besieged under a flood of “invasive exotics” from afar.

Botanical gardens, as contrived as any zoological park, send safaris to roam the earth in search of additions to their collections of rare or endangered plants; they are places are for preservation, observation, inspiration, education, and recreation. 

There is a huge army of professional gardeners, from architects and designers to growers, tool manufacturers, sales people, builders, and maintainers. Most are as mainstream as any other business enterprise, but there are specialty shopkeepers as well, and even organizers of back-alley plant swaps who are well under the radar of the government plant inspectors.

We have riotous debates – even lawsuits - over landscape style and expression, from Old World classical to contemporary chic; we have ethnic English, Oriental, and Native gardens, except in those high-walled developments where proponents of tightly manicured landscapes band together with strict covenants to gate out those of us who prefer looser, more naturalistic settings.

High-end horticulturists, purists and dilettantes try to lord it over “penny opera” dirt gardeners who are in it just for the love of it. Ain’t that the way most societies are set up?

Of course, as a foil to the hardcore plants people, there are outlaws and oddballs on the outskirts; they, too, are precious, because they raise alarms and make changes (Frank Zappa once said, “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible”).

Welcome to a little peek into the Gardener tribe.