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The Fear of Gardening and Returning Plants

Would you hesitate to buy a puppy or kitten because sometime in the future your pet might die? And if that dog or cat got sick should you be allowed to return it to the breeder and get your money back?

I think that most people would answer “no” to both those questions, don’t you? Yet a speaker I heard yesterday was proposing something similar when it comes to plants. He said that people are afraid to buy plants because they might die, and that independent garden centers should help take that fear away by giving unconditional guarantees. If your plant dies, for any reason, you can bring it back even without a receipt.

As a gardener and human being, not to mention garden center employee, I think that this is a slippery slope.  This response to a feeling of uncertainty continues to undermine all appreciation of personal responsibility. It’s an extension and perpetuation of the “Everyone is a winner and gets a gold metal!” philosophy, to use an Olympics-inspired analogy.

I’m sorry, but this is a lie. Some athletes are better than others. Some people are smarter than others. Sometimes plants do better than other times. With plants, gardeners learn that they can plant three or more of the same variety in the same location and one of those might shrivel while the rest grow well. Plants are living things, and are therefore uncertain and quirky.

And I wonder if unconditional returns on plants would really remove the fear of taking chances? If every performer gets a prize does that take away the fear of getting up on stage and singing in front of an audience?

There are inspirational posters that say, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” I don’t think that this is saying that we should strive for a world where there are no failures. I believe that it’s encouraging us to proceed without guarantees because it’s only in the process that we find out what might or might not happen. And the process it self leads to discoveries, whether our original goal is met or not.

There is risk involved in life itself. To embrace life we also must embrace death, like it or not. One thing I love about gardening is that it encourages people to take chances. For every plant that dies there are others that succeed against all odds and being in the garden opens our eyes to the many possibilities.

Let’s think about other ways to encourage people to enjoy and connect with plants. Let’s encourage people to view risk as a dare not a deterrent. Let’s remember the satisfaction that comes from trying something new and going through a process where the outcome is uncertain.

Oops...this plant died. Not only that, but the weed in the center of it lived! Should I return this plant to the garden center and ask for a refund?


9 comments to The Fear of Gardening and Returning Plants

  • TC

    When writin and talkin to my audience about gardening successes and failures I most always quote Felder Rushing and say: “If you lose a plant, it ain’t like you’re married to it, just get another one.” Whether or not that makes them more or less inclined to do so is something I can’t control. I agree with your premise though, we need to let folks know that there will be times when a plant just dies no matter what we do, and that they shouldn’t necessarily expect a refund or replacement. However, there are exceptions, such as a plant being diseased or in poor health at the time of purchase.

  • Absolutely, TC. It’s not that I don’t think that garden centers should accept returns. They should, of course, because their ultimate goal should be to encourage people to feel happy and successful about gardening. Love the quote from Felder. 🙂

  • A well written and thought-provoking post, CL! I’m not a garden center owner or employee – just a guy that likes to garden – but from my perspective, I wouldn’t want my garden center to take back my dead plants because I want them to stay in business. What I want instead is for them to carry plants that have the best chance of thriving in our area. And if they can give us some tips to help that plant along the way so much the better. But planting that shrub or flower is my responsibility. Making sure it gets watered and fed is my responsibility. I would feel terrible about getting $10 back from a garden center because I was too lazy to water a plant.

  • Great thought-provoking post, C.L. For me, gardening has been a life-time learning process, and part of that learning involves killing plants. Sometimes we don’t know why–ah, mysteries of life. But other times, it’s my mistake and I learn from the process. I add to my gardening knowledge–like which plants will tolerate heavy clay, or little sun, or little water. You give people dignity to fail and learn. Garden Centers can empower by offering knowledgeable advice, not fail-safe guarantees. But I won’t really have that knowledge in my bones until I personally experience both failures and successes.

  • The notion that plants should be guaranteed has so many stupid and some downright dangerous philosophical underpinnings that I don’t know where to start!!!

    1) Imagine two years ago when the entire northeast, and many other parts of the country were beset with the tomato blight, which originated in a grower’s stock of tomatoes and found its way into just about every yard and nursery. Under the type of entitlement thinking your speaker advocates, literally tens of thousands of infected plants would be traveling back to nurseries, further infecting soil, compost bins and trash heaps, and all the refund money involved would very likely put some of those nurseries out of business.

    2) I know many folks buy plants as accessories, kind of like pretty throw pillows for their yards, with no thought as to how or even whether they need to be maintained as living things. This consumer-based mentality is anathema to good gardening, which is about engagement with the garden and requires some, even a small, level of involvement in the process.

    3) We are all going to die. I would suggest to your speaker that he go volunteer in a nursing home or assisted living facility to gain some appreciation for the finer aspects of life, then go out into a garden & see how much vinegar he has left in him to criticize the idea of plants dying.

  • Mary-Kate;
    I love how you put it: “You give people dignity to fail and learn.” Yes!

  • Joyce

    Having dignity to fail (or succeed) and learn is a great thought. Sometimes, though we inadvertantly purchase not-so-healthy, expensive shrubs. If we deal with the same local nurseries and even the same salespersons and their advice, retailers should welcome the feedback (to monitor other plants from that particular wholesaler) and be willing to exchange a plant for another. It must be difficult for retailers, however, dealing with seasonal residents who expect plants to survive and thrive with no care at all, or expected “money back”. That just isn’t fair.

  • I agree that retailers need to be willing to work with the customer when a plant fails – I have found that most are accommodating about at least giving a hefty discount on replacements if not replacing what died. I know from experience that some customers don’t have any scruples, however, about returning ignored plants or even plants purchased at another nursery! I’ve helped several customers at my garden center who have tried to return hanging baskets to us that had another garden center’s price tag on them!

  • […] Do you think garden centres and nurseries should offer guarantees on the plants they sell?  Consider the perspectives at Whole Life Gardening. […]