Growing plants inspires everything from a solid appreciation for plants to a lifelong passion. Equally important to inspiration, growing plants can be key to developing citizens literate about our dependence on plants for life.
With this in mind, we share here Daniel Murphy’s firsthand account of his experiences growing plants and becoming–in his words–“a bona fide plant nerd.” Daniel publishes a weekly blog titled, Awkward Botany, sharing his botanical inspirations and musings. Read on for a great story and example of how valuable it can be to let learners know plants by growing them.
Growing plants inspires a botanical path: Guest post by Daniel Murphy (Awkward Botany)
I grew up in a small, Idaho town where my family was fortunate enough to have a house with a sizable backyard, a significant portion of which was a vegetable garden. Our parents allowed my siblings and I to each claim a small section in the garden where we could plant whatever we wanted. I chose, among other things, radishes, carrots, and green beans. I don’t recall how the other plants turned out, but the green beans I deemed county fair worthy.
Among the two other green bean entries in my age group, mine took third. So, last place. Luckily, this didn’t altogether discourage me. While I largely abandoned gardening as a teenager, I would return to it in short order.
Perhaps surprising to some, my return to gardening came in part as a result of listening to punk rock. As a rule, punk rock embraces a do-it-yourself attitude, which extends to all aspects of one’s life. For some, this even means growing your own food. Having enjoyed this as a kid, getting back into it as an adult was a no-brainer.
As my interest in gardening grew, I decided to go to school for it. I was still mostly focused on growing plants you can eat, but as I was exposed to additional aspects of horticulture, my desire to grow other plants increased. I began to see how plants can be used to address a variety of other issues (apart from just feeding ourselves). This lead me to graduate school in Illinois, where I studied how growing plants on rooftops (i.e. green roofs) can help with things like storm water runoff, energy efficiency, and the urban heat island effect.
As an undergraduate, I had gained some experience working in a botanical garden. Upon finishing graduate school, I decided that a career in public gardens was the thing for me. Currently I am the collections curator at Idaho Botanical Garden, where I have been able to explore a number of other ways that plants can improve our lives and the lives of other creatures on this planet. For starters, waterwise gardens help us conserve water, pollinator gardens support pollinators, and habitat gardens provide habitat for beneficial insects and urban wildlife.
All along the way, the act of growing plants has fueled me. It’s one thing to read about plants in a book or to look at them in nature; it’s an entirely different thing to take the seed of a plant, place it in the soil, and watch what it becomes in the weeks, months, and years that follow. Through this process, a connection with plants is cultivated that simply cannot be achieved in any other way.
I know plants better when I get the chance to grow them, to see them at every stage of their lives, and to understand the conditions in which they thrive or fail to survive. Knowing a plant can lead to a desire to protect it and the other plants around it; a conservation ethic blossoms as relationships with plants are built. Plant life is so different from us, yet so essential for our survival. The future of our species depends on us getting to know plants and learning to conserve them and their communities.
I feel fortunate to have been given the opportunity to grow plants as a kid. I might have eventually come to an interest in plants later in life, but I wouldn’t have positive, childhood experiences to draw from. That being said, if there are children in your life, encourage them to grow plants of their own. Let them experience the entire process. Some of their plants will fail, some will succeed. Their green beans may appear county fair worthy, and they may also come in last. But it is through these actions that they will gain experiences with plants that they won’t soon forget.