June 6, 2019 - Daisy Rosebud
Last week, Time posted a New Yorker cartoon with the photo-essay caption “How a plant grew into a flower.” The context in which the plant is positioned in the cartoon, which is a very old couple hanging out on a stoop and talking to the dog, reads, “Gardeners need to learn that no flower grows very hard unless something is asking it to.” The caption displays a realistic portrayal of a story that we all know. But it’s a retort to the media’s somewhat misguided notion of what growing plants “really” is. Time’s cartoons are a staple of the website.
For many people, they are a magical gateway to the concept of “living things” that are independent of planet Earth. Like the colorful illustration of a starfish making that haunting hooting sound just before its death — or the many illustrations of the plant growing, filled with tendrils and leaves — these cartoons are intended to illustrate how reality isn’t always everything you want it to be.
Interestingly, a recent BBC poll concluded that more than 10 million of respondents in the United Kingdom were “not very confident” that living things can prosper outside their environment. Although that number might seem high, only 5 percent agreed that flowers grow hard, far lower than the 25 percent of those who believed bees can “grow flowers in space.”
As humans, we tend to be seen as using plants to feed our own needs and to provide the most utilitarian of food for animals. By extension, we can easily overlook our impact on plants, as much as we like to believe that all our efforts to grow things are for the people. That’s why we like to say “When you garden, you’re helping people,” when a plant grows up and eventually smothers us in leaf. But we need to take a step back and consider how we use the plants that are already part of our environment. If we want real life to be a lot more fun for our beloved plants, the way it should be, we need to shed our preconceived notions about the how plants are grown.