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Politicizing Plants?

I’m a total garden geek, so you know I love to try new plants. It’s fun to discover newly introduced varieties that might be the next gold standards and my listeners and readers enjoy hearing about the latest introductions as well. So when a box of sample plants arrives on my doorstep my reaction is usually jubilation. Until today.

“New daylily plants!” I thought when the box arrived. But when I opened the package and read the literature that was enclosed, my pleasure turned to incredulity. My shipment of new plants were included with a brochure announcing “Tea Party Daylilies” that proclaimed that this brand is “For American Patriots.” The plants pictured have names such as Tea Party Passion and Tea Party Power leading me to wonder if I’d stumbled out of the garden and into a Saturday Night Live skit.

“Did someone really think that this is a good way to market plants?” I asked my husband.

Maybe they figure that a portion of those who agree with that segment of the American right will rush to buy these perennials. Possible, although as the brochure states they are honoring “real American values in your garden” such as “Personal Freedom” and “Free Enterprise”…so why wouldn’t those who resonate with this approach propagate the hell out of these plants and spread them to friends and neighbors freely? And don’t they know that people like myself will go out of their way to distance themselves from these daylilies and the brand? Perhaps they subscribe to the “even bad publicity is good publicity” school of marketing. I”m thinking that this is a 20th century approach that doesn’t have as much traction in our 21st century, instant communications world.

Beyond being appalled that a group of neutral plants are being saddled with a philosophy that I find abhorrent, I have to ask myself if this is good for horticulture. In times when people are bonding more with their smart phones than with the natural world in their own backyards, don’t we plant people hear a call to gather folks together and lead them back into the garden?

I believe that the politicizing of plants isn’t a good way to attract individuals to the joys of horticulture. It’s a gimmick that further polarizes our country, separating one person from another and distancing people further from the joys of the natural world.

American Daylilies and Perennials, you make Stella de Oro daylilies look good to me, and that’s saying a lot.

**POST UPDATE** After a few days of comments and reflections, I’ve come to the conclusion that this brand of plants could actually be good for horticulture. The people who, like myself, are appalled talk about these daylilies calling the attention of those who are Tea Party sympathetic to the plants. Several people who have seen this post and my link on Facebook and Twitter are now clamoring for these daylilies. I’m sighing all the way, but if it’s good for the promotion of gardening I guess it’s OK with me.

"Is this a joke?" I thought when I opened the package of daylilies.

Not a joke, and NOT good for the overall love of gardening.

19 Responses to “Politicizing Plants?”

  1. 1
    Julie @ Growing Days:

    C.L., thank you! I’m beyond appalled. I had lunch today with my friend who is a park ranger and passionate gardener, and just seeing these daylilies makes my blood boil. Why do we need to politicize plants? Our country is in enough turmoil, and we should insist that gardens are like Switzerland–neutral territory. No politics allowed. I love your post.

  2. 2
    CL Fornari:

    Love this thought that gardens should be Switzerland, Julie. We need more places where we can all come together around life-affirming experiences.

  3. 3
    Claire Splan:

    I’ve never been a fan of daylilies, and am even less so now. I find it ironic that they want to attach the concept of patriotism to a flower that fades and dies after just one day.

  4. 4
    CL Fornari:

    True, Claire. One would think that they’d look for a plant with more staying power.

  5. 5
    Donna Lane @ Lane Interiors & Gardens:

    C.L.,
    My first reaction was “you’ve gotta be kidding me!” As a former marketing communications professional, I cannot believe any company would tie their revenues to making a political statement. It is, in a word, misguided (OK, I was going to say stupid, but I’m trying to be kind).

    Thanks for the post. I also like Julie’s Swiss-neutral idea.

  6. 6
    Graham Rice:

    Whenever I showed a picture of Leucanthemum ‘Barbara Bush’ at lectures people were always incredulous that by giving it such a name, half the possible buyers were put off buying it! There’s also a lovely dwarf sweet pea called ‘Mrs T’ which works the same way for anti-Thatcher Brits. However, there are also the Communist Lilacs, including one with the unbeatable name of ‘40th Anniversary of the Communist Youth League’ http://www.transatlanticplantsman.com/transatlantic_plantsman/2011/03/the-communist-lilacs.html

  7. 7
    Joyce Jenks:

    Yikes!!! Disgusting! Feel bad for those POOR DAYLILIES being saddled with any names associated with any political agenda! Yes, unfortunately bad publicity does generate discussion, even if it becomes notoriety. Gardens need to remain privileged sanctuaries we create and nurture for the good of all…not to promote any political faction, for sure!!! Arrrrggghhhhhh!!!! If anything, Tea Party should more accurately represent themselves with strangling, invasive, weed seeds.

  8. 8
    Amy Bowles:

    I love the idea, sorry, but I do. People used to plant victory gardens and be patriotic people. Where has that gone to. At least it’s plants being used to target groups of people and not groups people being used to make a political point, and that happens all the time.

  9. 9
    Dam Heims:

    Apparently Barbara Bush’s staff had an objection to the botanic name: Leucanthemum superBUM…

  10. 10
    CL Fornari:

    You don’t think, Amy, that this group of plants is making a political point? I think it’s intention was to do so, and that the grower is hoping that the segment of the population that agrees with this philosophy will buy the plants because of that point. The daylilies aren’t anything special otherwise. (Right Dan?) Frankly, breeders and branders can name their plants anything they want…my problem with this particular brand at this particular time is that I think it adds to the polarization that is, to my mind, an unfortunate trend in this country, and I’m not sure that this is good for the industry as a whole right now. I do appreciate that this topic has opened up a lively conversation, however, and I thank everyone who’s commented.

  11. 11
    Claire:

    This is beyond belief!! It makes me see that there are no boundaries when it comes to the “Tea Party” tactics. Is nothing sacred?

  12. 12
    CL Fornari:

    Claire – I’m not sure this is a tactic as much as it is a branding decision. As I pointed out in a Facebook group I belong to, daylilies are the perfect plant to try something like this with because you can breed them faster than rabbits. So I’m thinking that this company decided to brand a bunch of their unnamed Hemerocallis under this banner and see what happens. It’s funny, but all the talk this has generated has me thinking that maybe it is a good thing for horticulture. Maybe we should brand a line of daylilies for every single special interest group…

  13. 13
    c:

    I agree, no politics in the garden, yet you denounced one political opinion loud and clear and announced your own . So what you are really saying is no Republicans and /or anyone who disagrees with you in the garden? Way to alienate and divide!

  14. 14
    CL Fornari:

    C-
    I didn’t do that at all. I did express that I was appalled at the concept of branding plants with a philosophy that I strongly disagree with, but I then asked questions about whether this is good for horticulture in general. Personally I think that bringing such polarizing energy into the garden doesn’t serve any of us well. Yet if you read my last comment here you’ll see that the passionate discussion that this topic has created has me thinking that maybe this branding group knew what they were doing. Maybe they are betting that people will get riled up in a way that no other plant introductions would accomplish. I don’t know. If you have read this blog over time, you’d know that nothing about my work is alienating or dividing. But this is Whole Life Gardening, after all, and life contains time when we discuss and disagree. Thanks for weighing in, and keep planting.

  15. 15
    Susan:

    Interesting marketing. I’m thinking the current demographics for gardeners tends to be on the old side. Older people are thought to be more conservative. However, as men grow older they tend to be more conservative (holding on to the wealth and power they’ve accumulated) and there are quite a few men in daylily societies. Women on the other hand tend to grow more liberal as they age (served our time and moving out ). Older women are probably the largest gardening group and marketers should not want to piss us off. Now I suppose that this idea was conceived a couple years ago when it was thought that the tea party philosophy (whatever that is) was popular. After this week they can count in their daylilies being tossed in the compost heap. In other words like their congressional compatriots they should be thrown out. Agreed the garden is a sanctuary for me and would never be a political statement!

  16. 16
    CL Fornari:

    Thanks for this thoughtful response, Susan. Gardening aside, it is interesting that male and female brains age differently isn’t it? There has been some compelling (and sometimes scary) research on this. I would be interested in knowing if this branding plan was made by people who totally agree with the Tea Party philosophy or if it was a more calculated marketing decision that was betting on dollars raised from a targeted segment of Americans. I’ll have to ask them!

  17. 17
    LIZA AND JOHN'S GARDEN:

    Hi C.L.: No comment on this one. If I get going you most likely would not allow the comment. So I will say I agree with all the above.

    Have a wonderful day,
    John

  18. 18
    Vicki:

    I was looking through your site for some other info and came across this posting. Aren’t you, in fact, doing the same thing; posting personal viewpoints on social/political subjects on a website where I expect to find information about plants, gardens and so-forth. And are you saying that all viewpoints related to “The Tea Party” are revolting? What’s that supposed to mean? Do you prefer that “conservatives” not read your site or listen to your radion show (which I’m doing right now)? I feel used.

  19. 19
    CL Fornari:

    Vicki,
    I’m sorry that you “feel used.” I’m happy that people with conservative points of view listen to my program – as you well know a good portion of WXTK’s audience leans toward the right so why would I not want them to listen? Yes, much of what the Tea Party stands for is abhorrent to me but that doesn’t mean that I necessarily feel the same way about the people who have those viewpoints. I can like a person without approving of their political views – just as many conservatives like me without agreeing with my liberal leanings. This is the only chance for peace in the world, don’t you agree?

    This blog is titled “Whole Life Gardening” for a reason. I believe that everything is connected to everything else. My work with gardens and plants seeps (grows?) into everything else I do and vice versa. You’ll find just about everything here: my thoughts on spirituality, plant information, jokes, recipes, notes of appreciation and sadness, and yes, political opinions. I am a whole person and this is my place to express all the aspects of who I am, starting in the garden.

    If you read to the end and saw my update, I commented that after seeing all the discussion both on the blog and elsewhere, I’ve concluded that this might have been a brilliant marketing principle after all. The other thing that’s been so interesting is that most people who’ve responded haven’t spoken to that issue at all. The pro-Tea Party people are mainly mad at me for badmouthing these daylilies and those that agree with my political viewpoints are just in agreement. Only Susan got into my questioning of the wisdom of this brand and if it’s good for horticulture in general.

    Most of my posts here aren’t so strident, which if you spend any more time on past entries you will see. But the response to this one proves my friend Doug Green’s viewpoint that the blog posts that get the most attention are the “car wrecks” – the ones that are most forceful. I have written hundreds of the most peaceful, thoughtful, gentle posts only to have no one comment or respond. It says something about us humans, and what it says isn’t too flattering.

    I hope you’ll check back in at Whole Life Gardening once in awhile and perhaps comment on one of those gentler posts.