Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I hate irises

(Just look at this cheap, gaudy flower.  Disgusting.)

I am an avid gardener.  The action of putting a seed in the ground and watching what it becomes is truly amazing, and you don't have to pay for college when it grows up.  In fact, if it is a vegetable, you rip it out of the soil when it matures and you eat it.  Pretty cool.  If it is a non-edible flowering plant, you watch it grow until the day it begins to flower, and you admire it, or smell it, or brag about it.  But there are some flowering plants that are common in human gardens that I don't like at all.  I hate irises, for example, and peonies and gladiolas.

I have long known which flowering plants were on my hate-list; this list is many years old.  But what the heck is this aversion to certain plant varieties or species all about?  After all, I find all living organisms truly interesting and biologically beautiful, including the tick that causes Lyme disease and the mosquito that carries malaria.  So what is it about an iris that would prevent me from ever planting one on my property or buying them in a flower arrangement?

I think these plant dislikes must be an aversion based on childhood experiences or associations with these plants.  My mother had irises in her garden around the edge of our yard as a kid.  I always remember them not doing all that well.  They were often buried in weeds, falling over, and they just looked cheap to me--like inexpensive costume jewelry.  I think I hate glads because they remind me of irises.  And peonies, let me count the ways.  I grew up near Van Wert, Ohio, which at one time was known as The Peony Capital of the World, because of all the commercial peony farms in the area.  They used to have an annual Peony Festival with a huge parade; when I was in high school, the marching band that I was in used to march in this thing every year.  I remember it being hot and humid and exhausting on that day--all in the name of peonies.  My mother also had this plant in our yard and all I ever remember about this plant is the sticky flower buds and all the ants climbing up and down the stems all day.  Heat, humidity, ants, stickiness, and an uncomfortable marching band uniform.  I guess that would do it.

But the flower I choose not to grow or even consider growing is the rose, and this one is complicated.  During the last 20 years of his life, my grandfather became a rose grower par excellence; he had been an auto mechanic all his adult life.  He had a rose garden with over 300 varieties in it, all neatly arranged in raised beds, all labeled with their proper name on a tag that stuck in the soil in front of each plant, and complete with a large water fountain in the middle of the garden.  It was absolutely beautiful, and the Gavin Rose Garden was locally famous.  He gave talks at the local rose society, was written up in the local newspaper nearly every year, tested new varieties of roses sent to him by the big rose companies, and supposedly had a new rose variety named after him (although I have never been able to confirm this).  To this day, my two younger brothers, who are also avid horticulturalists, will not grow roses and have no desire to do so whatsoever, even though we have great memories of playing in that garden as young boys and admiring it as we got older.  (Actually, my youngest brother just told me that he has gotten into growing heritage rose varieties.  Traitor!)

I am interested enough in this question about plant aversions that I wonder if others have experienced the same.  Let me know.  Will an unpleasant interaction with some plant as a child cause you to dislike that plant for the rest of your life?  Do you outgrow such a thing?  Is an interaction even necessary to dislike the species? 

You know, one approach in gardening is to create thematic gardens: a herb garden, a garden containing only blue-flowering plants, a rock garden, etc.  Maybe I should have a garden that contains only plants I hate--call it the God-awful Garden.  I would plant irises, gladiolas, peonies, and a few rose bushes together in one bed and then I would treat it as badly as I could.  I would never weed it, or water it, or fertilize it.  I would walk on it regularly, let the dog urinate on it, and encourage deer to browse there.  Maybe, if the poor plants survived all of that, my aversion would change to admiration, and I would want to grow these varieties all over the property.  Ummmmmmm....nah!


  1. When I was really young I ate a whole bunch of Atropa belladonna and got really sick. I don't think I could ever plant a flower bed of it now. Which is probably for the best.

  2. Exactly Mark. We all know about food aversions, and I wonder if plant aversions aren't similar. When we were kids, my brothers and I were given a medicine that was meant to look and taste like vanilla pudding. But it was really awful. To this day, more than 50 years later, my one brother can not tolerate vanilla pudding.

    But in the case of plant aversions, I don't think yo have to actually eat one to develop an aversion, as my blog was meant to show. In your case, I guess I was lucky to have ever met you. Another helping of belladonna and I would have had an opening in my 210 class.

  3. You need to read The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan!