Plants Are People, Too

[This post was originally published by Horticulture Magazine and is being belatedly archived, and post-dated, here so I don’t lose it.]

If you ask Ken Druse what his favorite plant is, his answer will most likely be “whichever one I’m looking at. Every plant has an incredible story.”

Speaking at the Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Whippany, NJ last week, Druse gave an entertaining and enlightening presentation based on his latest book—Planthropology: The Myths, Mysteries, and Miracles of My Garden Favorites (Clarkson Potter, 2008)—declaring that “plants get no respect” but that recognizing them as individual beings brings them to life. To prove it, he proceeded to share nearly an hour’s worth of interesting facts and stories, along with slide after slide of stunning photographs that had many of us scribbling down names of newly discovered friends in anticipation of inviting them into our own gardens.

My favorite was the Arisaema fargesii, aka Jack-in-the-Pulpit, or Cobra Lilly.

In Planthropology, Druse notes it was his first encounter with Arisaema fargesii that led to his becoming “a man who loves plants”. His mother had described “Jack” as “a clergyman, and the tower was his pulpit… Peekaboo was a favorite game of mine at the time, and here was a living example: a man in a little tower that came right out of the floor of an enchanted forest.”

Druse shared many similar stories; some factual, some personal, all interesting. From explaining to a friend that soap smells like roses, not vice versa, as fragrance has been bred out of roses over the years; or the Lady Banks Roses he grew at his brownstone in Brooklyn that climbed the full four stories, into the window and across the room… with a total of 10,000 flowers; or declaring that “trees are our pyramids”, and noting the Declaration of Independence was written with ink derived from oak tree galls — each story added a bit of personality to whichever plant he was speaking of at the moment.

He also noted the importance of getting children outside before they’re 3 years old, “before video games get them”, so they can experience the myriad wonders the garden holds and ensure that a third generation doesn’t continue the trend of America being “a nation of insiders.”

Planthropology is a wonderful read and a visual feast; a perfect way to bring plants to vivid life for gardeners and non-gardeners alike. It is inspirational reading while waiting for warmer weather to return, and is an ideal gift for helping family and friends get a better appreciation for your own passion and possibly getting them outside to meet a few new best friends!

NOTE: Check out this article from Ken Druse, “Permission to Garden“, wherein he notes, “the hours we spend in the garden will help us in other parts of our lives.”

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