January 16, 2011

Hunters and Gatherers

In my garden group, half of us are plant hunters and half are plant gatherers.  Which are you?

There are two very distinct styles of buying for the garden.

The Gatherers:
They are gardeners who visit a nursery, find so many intriguing plants that they must have, and buy them.  No matter that there is no specific place in the garden for their acquisitions.

Their purchases wait in a holding bed, get heeled in, or simply sit in pots all summer while a place opens up in the garden that would be just perfect for that elderberry or those shade loving epimediums.

Gatherers never have enough room in the car on their visits to the garden center. They glean treasures on every visit, they collect specimens they know nothing about and must look up when they get home.  They always have unplanted containers that they must "do something with" some day.

Plants on sale are a narcotic to a gatherer.

The Hunters:
They only go to the nursery to find a specific plant.  They hunt long and hard for that variegated redbud that can only be sited in partial shade, but which is a must to complete the design of the garden.  Hunters research what they want to buy, then spend long hours sourcing the plant, stalking the best price and nicest specimen.  A hole in the garden will sit unfilled until the right plant is found.  Sometimes for years.

Discovering just the right plant is a real high to a hunter.

You would think the gardens of hunters and gatherers would look very different, but they don't.  A garden carefully designed with purchases made only when the right plant is found looks just as exuberant and lush as a garden created with every new find snapped up on sale.  And a garden planted with all the happy items that found their way home in the trunk of the car looks just as thoughtful and planned as one created plant by plant.

A plant gatherer's garden or a plant hunter's?
It's a mystery how we all get along in my group.

I do have to say my nerves go into spasm when my friends excitedly tell me about all the stuff they gathered up at the horticultural society plant swap, and how after filling the trunk they had to put containers on the front seat and sit among leaves and fronds all the way home, and they might plant the new rose they just picked up next spring if they can find a good spot.  And they just found an unusual new flowering quince but have absolutely no place to plant it.  Yet.

And they must twitch uncontrollably when I explain how deliberately I planned the border at the back, and how thrilled I was when I found the perfect clumps of panicums with just the right vertical height, and how they complement the 'Ogon' spirea I was looking for all over and finally found at a nursery downstate.  And now I'm hunting for a specific kind of perennial basil I read about and have looked for everywhere but can't find.  Yet.

Yes, you guessed it.  I am a hunter.  What are you?

18 comments:

  1. Fantastic, I'm definitely a gatherer, although I aspire to be a hunter. I know that's the more practical way of doing things but it's just not my nature. I'm too easily swayed by pretty colours and sales.

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  2. Gatherer - there are pots sitting in my garage right now...I love the spontaneity involved in gardening and the endless possibilities...honestly, I just can't help it...I've learned, over time, to be a bit more of a hunter...like my oakleaf hydrangea...that was a hunt and I was shamelessly proud of myself ;) but I know I'm not cured...I'll gather as soon as spring arrives.

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  3. Gatherer. I think most gardeners I know are. We haven't evolved beyond "I want" or "Make big, put in car".

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  4. Definitely a hunter. Learned long ago. Plus I am always hunting for clients too. I loved the thought that went into this post.

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  5. Marguerite, Cat, Sweetbay, and Donna, thanks for chiming in. It's fun to hear how each gardener approaches plant buying. So far the gatherers outnumber us hunters!

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  6. Interesting post - I think I might be both - I can definitely load up a car if things are on sale, but have searched for years for certain specials, like variegated comfrey and mini hosta 'stiletto'...There are many plants I would have missed if I hadn't been open to them in "gathering mode" I think, like the mountain mint I stumbled across at the Ballek's sale.

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  7. Cyndy, I'd like to be more of a mix of both, like you. There are times I'd like to gather up a bunch of plants and then decide where to put a garden based on what I have on hand in pots. It would definitely make me more open to experimenting!

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  8. I am glad you can tolerate Gatherers for this is what I am. I can plan, draw, research etc but when I step into that Garden Center the Gatherer in me over comes every detailed decision I might have made.

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  9. Laurrie, I'm both. I'll hunt for the exact cultivar at times but then I'll also impulse buy too. I like to grow lots of different plants so I can see how they perform before I recommend them for use in a client's design. I 'preach' the hunter approach when I teach landscape design classes but also admit to being a closet gatherer too. It's a sickness!

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  10. Like Cyndy and Debbie, I'm both. I like the spontaneity of gathering and the accomplishment of hunting. Must be my balanced nature - I'm a Libra, will always be a Libra ... a pox on those who try to change that.

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  11. Lisa, You are in good company being a Gatherer, it seems most commenters here have gathering tendencies!

    Debbie, It's interesting to hear how a professional buys plants for clients versus the personal desire to gather up plants for the garden.

    Joene, I hope in the new zodiac scheme you get to stay a Libra... your balance serves you well in the garden!

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  12. I had never thought about this, but what an interesting idea. I think I'm a little of both. I plan my flowerbeds and go looking for just the right plants, but I've also been known to be an impulse buyer as well--after all, I can't come home from a nursery empty-handed, now can I?:)

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  13. Well, I am definitely both! More hunter, but the gatherer streak breaks through. I usually go hunting for one thing and end up gathering a few others along the way!

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  14. Rose and Deborah, Many gardeners seem to be a mix of both. I must be at the extreme, because I almost never come home with a plant I didn't intend to buy! I need to loosen up a bit more I think and pick up those unanticipated treasures that everyone loves!

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  15. Great post, Laurrie. I had a lovely chuckle at this. I think I teeter. I can sometimes go beserk and just gather up lovely things which then sit in the shadehouse for weeks with nowhere to live. Then at other times I go out hunting for something specific and come home with nothing at all if I can't find it! Just call me a huntherer!

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  16. Bernie, I like your new term 'huntherer'! A mix of both styles : )

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  17. Well, I'd like to think that I am a hunter. Or at least I want to be. What happens to me is this; I'll be on a landscaping job where my client wants to totally change an aspect of his yard. Okay, so since I can't often bring myself to through out perfectly good plant material, I'll dig everything up an bring it home. Then I've got to deal with all of these shrubs and perennials.
    Most of the shrubs in my yard have been "gathered" in this way.

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  18. Forest Keeper, you're lucky to have a source of free material to satisfy your plant gathering tendencies. I like your new blog. Keep the info coming about trees!

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