Join us on Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter.

Plantgasm - I love plants too much. By Derek Powazek.


Photo of me by Heather ChampReaders of this blog may not know that the day-to-day version of me is not a fulltime plantsman. In reality, I sit behind a computer for a living and have for the better part of two decades. And while the geeks I run with are generally good and kind folks, it’d be fair to say that we don’t usually share the same passion for plants. Which is probably why I started this site in the first place – to reach out to people with a similar passion.

Yesterday I was in a business meeting when the subject of my many plants came up. I was bringing up my gardening as an example of a person using the web to self-publish, find community, and all that good stuff. But the guy I was speaking with derailed me completely with one simple question: “Why?”

He didn’t mean it to be challenging or anything. I was just revealing a little bit of a non-work passion, but he was really curious why I did what I do. The question hovered in the air for a long time. “Why?”

My mind went blank. It was so weird. My love of plants is so close to my core, so much a part of me, and yet I couldn’t answer his simple question. It was like asking me why I breathe – it’s an activity so central to my life, I never really saw it as optional.

passifloraHere’s where some people might talk about beauty. And I get that. Seriously, how could you look into the center of a Passiflora flower and not marvel at the intricate beauty of the thing, just for a moment, without any deference to the science or its biological function. It’s just a pure expression of beauty.

But beauty is not why I garden. It’s a nice side-effect, sure, but it’s not the draw. I like plenty of plants that are ugly but please me in some way. And half my orchid collection looks like sad ass most of the time. So it must not be about beauty for me.

Some people talk about feeling a connectedness to nature when gardening, and I guess I feel that. I love learning about the relationships between plants, the environments they come from, and how they evolved to be what they are. Putting my hands in the soil makes me feel like just one piece of a living puzzle too giant to comprehend. I like that.

But that’s not really why for me, either. It’s a nice grandiose rationale, but it doesn’t feel like the right fit for me. Sometimes I feel that connectedness, sometimes I feel like my back hurts and I just want to be done.

There are lots of other reasons that almost fit for me: the desire to create a natural environment around myself, the joy of nurturing a living thing (which is nourishing in return), the surprise and delight that comes from plants that zig when you expect them to zag … all things I love about gardening, but still not the right answer to the “Why?” question for me.

I think it’s important to do things for no discernible reason. I could’t function without being excited about something. And it helps when that something isn’t work-related, it doesn’t really feed my ego, I’m not doing it to win awards or prove how great I am, and it’s something basically uncool. It’s just a thing that brings me joy for a reason I can’t really explain. Maybe not being able to explain it is how you know it’s a lifelong passion.

So, why? I go back to the first metaphor: It’s like asking someone why they breathe. And I give the same answer: Because if I didn’t, it’d die.

See Also

17 Responses

Gardening helps me connect with my parents’ interest which they passed on to me as a child. It reminds me my teenage years when I would cultivate my vegetable garden while others hung out. It reminds me of the good old days when we had time to balance our life and pursue other interests. It reminds me that it is OK and is also essential to do something different from what others do.

Posted by SD on 1 September 2011 @ 3am

This is a lovely post. Thanks, Derek! First, I agree that there don’t have to be answers for everything. It’s kind of like “god”: in our age of scientific discovery and technological imperialism, isn’t it cool NOT to know some things, and more honorable to leave them mysterious and precious than torn asunder endlessly and “understood”? Second, though I don’t consider myself a gardener, I will offer instead why I care about plants enough to constantly be talking and writing about them. Beyond the connection, the beauty, the nurturing, the core drive, but related to all of these — the simple fact of needing to daily touch base with the reality that it’s not all about us humans! We’re bombarded with advertising and images and wars, etc. and it’s refreshing, ESSENTIAL, to remember that the human maelstrom is only one small (though influential, to say the least) construct in a much, much greater scheme of things. So am I trying to say I talk about plants to get away from people? Not so much, more to help get us all away from ourselves and our stupid drama for a while, and onward to bigger, better, and more vital realms!

Posted by phyte club katie on 1 September 2011 @ 5am

I agree that it is hard to know Why we garden. I was inspired by the back to the land movement back in the 60’s and my own romantic visions – all those English novels – but the reason I have continued for the past 40+ years is that there is always something weird and wonderful in the garden, to learn about, to share with wonderful caring people. The garden is beautiful, and it is my way of protecting a part of our environment, and by working with other gardeners on things like our Bridge of flowers or Garden Club educational projects I get to build community.

Posted by commonweeder on 1 September 2011 @ 5am

One reason you didn’t mention for loving gardening is the thrill of watching a seedling pop out of the ground especially when it’s from a plant you helped to fertilize or crossed specifically from another with another plant to create and interesting hybrid. I can’t quite call it playing God because we just don’t have that much control but the idea that we can do things to cause a seed to sprout and we can be the ones to help that plant grown to maturity is one reason why I’m so passionate about plants and gardening. I also love the incredible magic at work that helps plants to grow. The internal workings that go on are amazing to me and I remember them every time I see a new leaf unfurl or a flower bloom. Just the whole process is beautiful and incredible and a wonderful reminder of God.

Posted by Jenetta on 1 September 2011 @ 6am

Hi! Really interesting question, and one I have trouble answering as well. For me, the “why” varies from day to day, and actually minute to minute. It also is affected by whether I am thinking about my garden as a whole or my plant collections, since I am both a gardener and a collector. For example, I have a constantly growing collection of rare cacti and succulents that I love because they are living sculpture to me, and always interesting to look at. Bring a hummingbird into the picture to sip from one of the flowers they produce, and wildlife becomes the reason I collect them. (There’s nothing like watching a hummer lift up the individual blooms of a dwarf agave one at a time to sip.) For me, in the garden it’s a bit easier to answer “why.” All the gardens I have had started as rectangles of mown lawn. I love moving a landscape toward more complexity—more plants and more spaces for all types of wildlife. My garden is also a collection, made up of Tony Avent’s “drifts of one.” I love the challenge of bringing a landscape back into balance—from all lawn to a mix of all kinds of plants—while still creating a design that pleases the eye. I’ve got mixed plantings in sun and shade, shrub borders, and a wildflower meadow, and am always finding more room for new plants because the obsession to grow one of everything is something people who don’t garden may never get the chance to understand.

Posted by Barbara W. Ellis on 1 September 2011 @ 6am

My obsession draws from a number of reasons. I do enjoy the nature aspect quite a bit. Not so much feeling one with nature as just being in awe of it and trying to understand it better. Plants are amazing in that you can take a dead little piece of dust (aka seed) and produce a huge tree. It’s simply amazing. I enjoy witnessing and aiding the creation and maturation processes. And I really love the diversity in the plant world. From tiny to huge and simply to incredibly complex. I try to collect and grow a wide variety as a testament to the diversity and ability for plants to fill all of nature’s niches. This results in me looking for more and more “weird” plants all the time. There are very few easy-to-find, run-of-the-mill plants that I enjoy, mainly because they aren’t challenging to my eyes. I like plants that make me say “Wow! I’ve never seen anything like that before!”

Posted by Zach on 1 September 2011 @ 7am

The concise, precise and pointed question of the work colleague warranted an equally short but to-the-point answer such as “it’s my passion”.

In that instance, a lengthy paragraph validating what you do, would have missed the point. He asked you a searing one vowel question that might have generated volumes of explanation. He merited an equally short but powerful answer that also spoke volumes.

Those who don’t garden, don’t get it. They need metaphors and hyperbole just to scratch the surface of what we do and who we are.

Great post!!

Posted by allanbecker.gardenguru on 1 September 2011 @ 10am

Nice post Derek… I may have to steal this and do something similar… I always find it interesting to talk with other people about their plant passions.
I think you are innately interested in natural science or you are not. Beauty of flowers, intrigue of seeds sprouting and accomplishment of a harvest are wrapped up in all of it, but not the whole of my garden obsession. Maybe it’s endless possibility of finding a new species, and learning something new… I’ll add my version and link back to you from my post. I’ve been getting over a flu and strep throat, so this could be a post-antibiotic delirium rant. :)

Posted by dirty girl gardening on 1 September 2011 @ 10am

For me, I think it is the utter simplicity of it. After a day of people questioning product design decisions, it’s nice to come home to something that doesn’t ask for so much. Water. Sun. Soil. Nutrients. It asks so little and provides so much.

Posted by Lance Nishihira on 1 September 2011 @ 11am

1. It helps me shut off my stress related issues
2. It reminds me of the natural order and beauty of the universe
3. It makes me feel happy to produce life and confront death
4. It provides meaning in life and pleasure
5. It keeps me grounded

Posted by morris powazek on 1 September 2011 @ 11am

A few reasons. Part of it is that I just feel a connection to certain growing things. Not everything–the knockout roses out front were put there for curb appeal as I put my house on the market. But my ferns and my citrus trees, I almost feel like they have achieved pet status. (and yes, I actually do “pet” them) I feel…friendly with them.

And part of it is that watching some things grow and change over time is pretty amazing. The prayer plant in my bedroom is a good example…every morning I marvel that it’s in a completely different position than it was when I went to sleep. Watching things like that change, even if it’s just over several months, makes them feel more alive than ever. And I love being surrounded by life.

(which is what makes this horrid Texas drought so incredibly difficult.)

Posted by melissa on 1 September 2011 @ 2pm

I’m moved by something that was not made by me, or any person. It was made by light, changing weather patterns, the movements of continents, countless interactions with countless other forms of life over ~a million years. It might have come from a desert that gets rain three months a year, grew a hundred feet up in the forest canopy, on the side of a cliff, or a rainforest floor that looks like twilight at noon. And if it I can provide conditions close to those, it will grow just fine in a plastic pot under a fluorescent light or on a window sill in my apartment. And when I see it’s put out a new bud, everything else fades, and I’m lost in that moment.

Posted by Thomas on 1 September 2011 @ 8pm

I just have to do it. I pity those people who ask what the meaning of life is, for me it has been obvious since I was nine. Learning about plants and their uses and growing them is my Way.

Any conversation I have will get turned to plants, no matter what the subject was at the start.

Posted by Pat on 2 September 2011 @ 2am

I’m sure our answer to why will always be the opposite of their answers to why not. It may be boring to them and exciting for us. It may be uncool to them, among us gardeners it becomes cool especially when you score that rare plant, or you get a bloom from a plant that rarely does, etc. It may be unsatisfying to them, it is fulfilling for us. I like the fact that even before I leave for work, I’ve already accomplished so much. Watered, weeded, trimmed, etc. It may be tiresome for them but for me especially, there is something calming in the routine. My wife calls gardening my natural anti-hypertensive and anxiolytic. There is something different that each of us derives from gardening. So when asked “Why?”, “Why not?”.

Posted by Bom on 2 September 2011 @ 3am

I really don’t have much to add to your response, Derek. I can go on and on about how it’s my sanctuary and the place I belong. I know that one day this mortal flesh will return to whence it came, and perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to working with the earth. I can rattle off links and parallels with gardens all throughout history – (ex: man’s first mandate – Genesis 2:15) but when all is said and done — simply put: it’s life.

Posted by Rob on 7 September 2011 @ 8pm

To answer his question, I’d have to say, “Because.” Because until you’ve had the gratification of watching a plant double and triple or, in some cases, even quadruple in size; until you’ve gone to water a plant one day and found that it made all kinds of babies on the other side of the plant when you turned the pot around; or when you find unexpected flower(s); when a magnificent, brand new leaf unfolds overnight so that in the morning you are greeted with this bright green symbol of life; plants are incredibly life affirming. The gifts you get back from tending to your garden or your house plants are without measure. Plants are amazing creatures.

Posted by myla kent on 10 September 2011 @ 5pm

I started gardening years ago to grow items to eat (tomatoes, herbs, etc.). Late last year, I moved to my new place in Oakland and had a new space and large patio to play with. Starting with two houseplants (Schefflera and a Draceana), I started adding more and more plants to the house and patio and continue to add whenever possible.

What got me hooked enough to start a web-diary of my garden was the fact that the success or failure of these little lives depended on my care. My actions directly affect these plants, which I agreed to care for through the act of purchasing them. Each plant needs something different from the other – each have their own process of growing & each provides beauty in their own way – they compliment each other and in turn enrich me. I found myself researching my plants, where they come from, what they need, and then being able to take that knowledge and help friends and co-workers with their plants. I even adopted my office plants and brought them back from the brink of demise – making our office entry again beautiful.

At the end of the day; why do I garden? Because it teaches me that my caring for and nurturing these living organisms – beauty and goodness are born – what a great reward!

Posted by Noah Froio on 24 September 2011 @ 11am


Plantgasm is where Derek Powazek chronicles his botanical antics and misadventures. More.