Plant People Terminology (From My Own Independent Perspective)

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Recently I started a social media diet. I never thought I consumed a lot of the stuff to begin with, but it’s like crack, so of course I did. With a social media timer on my new phone, I’ve started to accept and acknowledge just how much time I’ve been wasting. I’m tired of reading things that have not been peer reviewed, of seeing the same people taking selfies over and over, of content that is masked to look personal but it’s just marketing for a brand or persona, and worst of all, reading the same information repeated over and over by different people in different ways. It’s driving me bonkers! Does it appeal to anyone? It must since consumers just canNOT avert their gaze.

“Calgon, Take Me Away!” This is old person speak for (you guessed it), I had to escape the monotony of social media and do something healthier and more productive for myself.

It’s nothing personal, but I just lost an uncle after losing a friend last December, and like others, I’m realizing I’m really getting into my own life and I have things yet to do. I work a lot and need to rest.

Maybe this is my midlife crisis? I bought a new-to-me JEEP and I’m buzzing with excitement. I will be working as much as I can to pay for it and to get away.

I’m just going to be honest with you, I don’t heavily curate, and what you see is my process. I have ideas that I mull over and then I throw them at the wall to see what sticks. What don’t we talk about, those of us who work with plants on a daily basis? What can I say and what shouldn’t I share? It’s kind of awkward honestly.

Unlike online life, I have a lot of plant friends that I regularly chat with and talk to and these conversations feed into my ideas that I’ve wanted to post here.

So this one is simple. All it took was someone in an online group referring to one of my employers as a “gardener who sells plants” and my confusion grew as I wondered if this was some kind of “witty” insult or just plain ignorance. (Both of my employers are insanely talented nursery owners, designers, and plantspeople.)

And so I define a few words that I often see misunderstood…

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Arborist: This is not just a person wielding a chainsaw or handsaw. They come certified and you can tell if they’re good by their work. I came from a logging family, and I see many arborists as artistic loggers, especially when they dangle upon high with a chainsaw at their side. Don’t hire just anyone when it comes to the health of a tree. We had this 7 headed Doug fir beast and these professionals removed it. I love this company so we had them back last year to limb up the other Doug fir and once again the crew was great.

Small jobs are even more important. If you prune a tree incorrectly when it’s young you might as well cut it down because you’re not doing it any favors. Sad but true. A real arborist will prevent that. The Doug fir was likely topped at some point. I don’t know who or what did it but you don’t want to live in a region with windstorms and a 7-headed Doug fir tree.

Botanist: Too often the word botanist is being used when the word gardener is more accurate. I’m amazed at the ease with which folks just slap on hashtags. There is NO SHAME in calling yourself an indoor gardener. Just being a home gardener is something to aspire to since it means you’ve acquired some space. I know a few botanists and they are not all gardeners. They study plants, they look at pressed and dried samples of plants, but they don’t garden and grow monsteras. One even contributed a great deal to the most recent climate change report, and I respect and admire the work that they do, so I am always and forever an amateur bot-ann-ist.

Breeder: Hey, it’s not just a label for your friends with kids! There are also plant breeders. I know A LOT of plant breeders. I guess I hang out in the kinkier corner of the Hort world, but I know folks with massive breeding projects that are part of ornamental horticulture internationally, and I know basement breeders gardening under lights.

Florist: A career I admire since I’ve known a few and I know how hard the work is and how long the hours can be. I don’t see this career misused but I am amazed at the interest in flower farming and I know it’s become a huge trendy topic. It IS important to buy local and to support local growers.

Flower Farming: Flower farming overlaps with horticulture a little bit but the industry is considered agricultural work. When I think of the blooming fields I think of traffic on my way home from work. One farm actually cut all of its flowers down early just to stop people from trespassing on their land to take selfies and portraits. It was a fallow field that they’d then planted with sunflowers before planting a new crop of conifers and deciduous trees. The fact the people flocked to this “photo op” to get something for nothing by trespassing still amazes me.

Garden Coach: Not a job that requires much other than experience and gardening training. This is a job that I do on the side and I love it. Sometimes I just walk around and ID plants so that homeowners know what they have, and other times I work beside them so that they can learn how to do regular tasks and maintenance. To me, this job is one that means you’re just a helping hand and you’re there to encourage folks. If a coach isn’t willing to get dirty with you, they’re not a coach. (Simply my opinion.)

Garden Designer: Some are really great and some are not. I do think of them as artists. Some are more popular and “in style” while others are designing paintings over and over for office buildings and hotels. As a horticulturist essentially trained in art criticism, I will stop at this point. I could say a lot.

I personally struggled to design my own garden since I really had a nursery of plants that I was growing and learning about for years. I still call it my garden laboratory with an emphasis on labor.

I like to have one design client each year to help. My favorite thing to do is to take an established space that’s “meh” and to make it magical.

As with everything in life, you will get what you pay for… Keep that in mind.

Gardener: A person who tends to plants. Yup. This includes an indoor gardener. Some are likely life-long or expert, but again, this is not a shameful designation. Gardeners are G-R-E-A-T!!!!

Horticulturist: A professional trained in the successful growth of plant crops. Doing this all at once is like conducting an orchestra or running a kitchen during rush.

Laborer: The word I often hear used when an individual wants to hire muscle for cheap. I dislike the vagueness of this word and how it’s often meant to imply that the laborers are possibly undocumented immigrants in this country so you can pay them less.

* I knew a skilled laborer once who had once been on the Jerry Springer Show. He didn’t like to talk about it but it always made me laugh.

Landscape Architect: More of an architect than a landscaper, and definitely not a plant expert. It’s very common that plants are included in plans that won’t live long. It’s best when a landscape architect acknowledges this weakness and works with a plant expert. Most often, they have the ability now to hire consultants and that’s a good thing. You cannot be everything to everyone. Don’t waste the client’s money by planting the wrong plants in the wrong place. I see this all of the time and I know for a fact that some special native plants I helped to grow were used in a project by a hotshot landscape architecture firm and I bet they’re already dead.

Landscaper:  Meh. A necessary thing. When a new neighborhood is built, it is landscaped. When a new parking lot goes in, it is landscaped. Many of these projects are based on cost and they use the cheapest plants they can get in the largest sizes. It’s not designed, it’s just planned and planted. Pleasingly finished, but maybe not always a pleasure to look at.

Land-scraper: The name jokingly given to any crew that comes in and essentially destroys a landscape or garden that didn’t need that amount of “leveling”.

Master Gardener: This one is complicated. If you’re a Master Gardener because you seriously care about the community and gardening, then you can stop reading here. If you got your certificate so that you can whip out your big imaginary d*ck and slam it down on the table in front of a group of people, then you’re just an arrogant know-it-all ass. It is sad that individuals have tarnished a decent program, but the ego needs what it needs, and calling oneself a “Master” is a huge selling point for many people. I’m embarrassed for those who’ve suffered because of this. Working retail, I’ve personally been attacked by “Master” Gardeners quite often who’ve felt overly self-assured and it’s just sad. I feel sorry for them. Coming to a nursery to condescend to a person working on the weekend to make yourself feel smarter is a strange way to spend your time.

Don’t be a person who needs to get the certificate so you can go around correcting everyone. And if you try that with me, I might just verbally swat at you. You never know who the person working retail is that day, and no, the customer is not always right. Seriously. It’s impossible. Stop abusing retail workers because you think you can get away with it. Just be nice.

Mow and Blow: A landscaping crew needed for the very minimum of what you could likely do yourself on the weekend but instead you don’t in order to have more free time. (I don’t mean for that to sound mean. I get it. I just HATE the blow part. Luckily I don’t get a lot of that where I live but some areas have it all day.) Also, don’t expect a mow and blow company to do it all for you either. Sometimes, it’s ok to call in a specialist and you might really like the results.

Nurseryman, Nurserywoman: Any individual successfully growing inspected crops of plants for sale. I work for a nurseryman and a nurserywoman.

Plantsperson, Plantswoman, Plantsman: This is NOT a name you call yourself, it is a name you earn in the industry from your peers. It is an honorary name. It is something to aspire to and it should be a goal for many of us in the profession. To be considered for this, you must excel in multiple areas. Typically this means in horticulture, botanizing in the field, floristry, writing, teaching, speaking, any specialized area with trees, and work in public gardens or parks.

Professional Gardener: The person you hire and have respect for their skills since they know a lot more than you probably do. They’re worth the cost, and will leave your garden looking better than beforehand. I’m still shopping for one myself, but I need just the right person to work with since I am likely going to be what is called an “eccentric” client.

Seedsperson, Seedswoman, Seedsman: A professional horticulturist and specialist of seeds. One who grows seeds to collect seeds and who lives for seeds.

Ed Hume and I at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle a few years ago. As a child I saw packets of his seeds in my Grandmother’s garage and at the local Fred Meyer. He was someone I deeply admired for many years and it was wonderful to meet him in person.

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It is entirely plausible that I left out a lot of titles. I sort of worked on this and then forgot about it, and then once again today the term “plantsmen” came up on Instagram. The post had honest-to-goodness REAL plantsmen (two of them are people I know), and it is special when you have a large group of them gathered, but it was disappointing to see a bunch of dudes. Not much diversity, but they are plant geeks and hardcore experts and that can be a scary group to run with and I am sure it’s intimidating.

Only recently have I been included as a “plantswoman” and when my peers called me that in public during an online event, I honestly was choked up and had to pause a minute before I began. It is something that I will continue to strive to be for as long as I am able to do so.

Speaking as a woman in horticulture, as one that runs with a lot of the boys, there are not many women who are admitted. Many of the men have their fans, they have their own followers even, and ladies have often lifted them up in their writing and through their garden status. How often do women raise other women up though? How often do they congregate and raise up a female geek?

The few plantswomen I know seem to keep to themselves, and there are many other women who work towards being experts at one or two things because it is so hard to fight the tide of the patriarchal nature of the plant world. I grew up in the fishing world, so I was born into this kind of challenge, but I worry about what’s to come and if only the folks who are getting their likes online will matter. But who am I to say? I was one of the naive kids who thought that the Web would be used for good, but all it seems to be is a popularity contest, a money maker, a way to steal information…

And maybe the honorific “plantsperson” will someday be replaced by #plantinfluencer.

Sadly, I think that’s already happening.

“A mob’s always made up of people, no matter what.” To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

9 thoughts on “Plant People Terminology (From My Own Independent Perspective)

  1. Ah, loved this! And I think I know which photo you are talking about because I was also awed by them but also like, dude, that’s a lot of dudes. LOL As for hashtags, I think people slap whatever hashtag on there because it will get views. I know I’ve done it for like ‘urban garden’ and I have a very no urban garden—but you want views…that’s the name of the game. Ah, social media. Love to hate it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pat

    Thanks for your valuable perspective on this uncomfortable topic Ann! We needed this. This industry is no longer run by a group of white dudes… diversity in plants and people makes everything more interesting. Love your writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You make so many good points I don’t even know where to start. I guess here, I love this: “Just being a home gardener is something to aspire to since it means you’ve acquired some space.” It’s something I’ve never thought of in that way. Great post Ann!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Alison

    I enjoyed this post, and I’m really very happy that you’re writing so consistently. I didn’t just go on a social media diet 2 years ago, I basically took such a big step back from it that I dropped out of sight completely. I’m so much happier now that I have time and energy to work in my garden rather than trying to work while simultaneously trying to craft some idiotically bogus story to share either on my blog or on Instagram. I still read a lot of blogs, but I seldom (very seldom) post comments.

    One thing about Instagram that I found annoying was the whole “Plant Chase.” Too many posts that are basically puff pieces touting what a great gardener the person is and how they found this rare and gorgeous plant and isn’t it just doing so well under their expert care — implication being if you don’t also have this plant you are shit. Oh yeah, I have to rush out and buy one of those right fucking now….

    Ah sorry, just writing about it here is making me all twitchy again. I hope you were unfathomably honored to have gotten one of my yearly blog comments.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I like the English term “jobbing gardener” because it’s not grandiose. My grandmother did some gardening for a living in her fifties, and another English term that would apply to her and me is “clogs to clogs in three generations.” I’ve never felt like such an outsider (and more working/lower class) than when I’ve attended study weekends or the “fling”. I might just stick with reading….although the fling in 2023? is temptingly local and I do love many aspects of garden touring. As for Master Gardeners…I wish they call themselves Community Gardeners. I really dislike the MG name.

    Liked by 1 person

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