Friday, August 12, 2011

Green Thumb: A Gift or Learned?

Is a 'Green Thumb' a talent, or is it learned?

Groene vingers in the Dutch, the Swedish have gröna fingrar,  the Italian, pollice verde. 拇指. We who speak English say green thumb or green fingers. The literal meaning comes from pinching, pinching. I frequently have a green thumbnail when I've failed to pick up secaturs before going into the garden.
We learned by reading garden books, talking with great gardeners, learning the names of plants. Some of you studied horticulture or landscaping in a formal academic setting. Someone asked me how I know all those plant names. How did you learn the names of your friends? One at a time.

Many of us whose plants thrive were brought up by parents or grandparents who gardened. We acquired mentors like Ms. Billie who yanked up echincea plants past blooming and said, "Plant these and cut them back. They'll live." She broke off pieces of hydrangea and instructed, "Stick this in the ground, it will root." We tried, we failed, we came back and tried again.

Perseverance pays in the garden. A mistake should cause us to come back again to try once, twice more. When my caryopteris so carefully rooted from Miss Billie's plants failed to make it through the winter, it took a while to figure out that it really died of wet feet when the Upper Garden flooded in early fall when 8 inches of rain fell in an hour, a phenomenon repeated only twice since, but my plants are better situated for drainage.

Secrets of a Seedscatterer


  1. A green thumb is all about faith I believe...

  2. I like how you state you learned your plant's names like the names of your friends. I agree that a green thumb takes persistence, determination, and sometimes several tries!

  3. Great post!

    There is a lot to be learned from gardening parents and grandparents. I wished I asked more questions back then. It amazes me when I stick a plant (or bush) cutting in the ground and it grows?!! (I used some trimmed Variegated Regtwig Dogwood branches as an impromptu fence -- and it sprouted and grew??!)

  4. If stubbornness gets one a green thumb I may make it yet. LOL! I agree sometimes it takes trying different ways to get a plant to grow for you.I am always thrilled when I get a cutting or hard to germinate seed to grow. Now if I could only remember all those names Nell. LOL!

  5. I'm glad i read this, as i didn't know or haven't read how that "green thumb" came from! Reasonable theory, hahaha! My mother actually is like that, whatever she put on soil manages to grow, but somehow i dont like it because she does it everywhere, making her garden a showcase of biodiversity without any order at all! But maybe it is just a matter of perspective on my part, as when i can't disagree with it anymore, i just tried to accept it, and now i find it as "order in chaos"!

  6. Thank you all for coming by and commenting. Andrea, my mother used to buy plants from a lady who stuck other cuttings in with a plant, or dropped in a few seeds or maybe they just fell in. When you bought something at her place, you always got bonuses in the pots.
    The need to cause plants to grow is stronger than the need for order in some of us.

  7. This is interesting.

    I do think some people have an innate ability or maybe their love of gardening makes it seem that way.

    I agree it can be learned.

    I too have over the years learned more of the whys and proper names of things. I still don't have that knack of sticking something into the ground and it grows...must be some knowledge involved in that process.

  8. If an acorn falls in the forest, will it sprout without some "Green Thumb" help?
    -a quoter from Jurassic Park: "Nature will find a way."

  9. Learned, most definitely. However, as in many things, some people are more attuned to it than others.

  10. It seemed as though my grandmother could grow anything. I'll bet I just never heard of the plants that didn't work!

  11. I love this post and I too thought my granny had a green thumb but I know that she had a dirty one. We all do, all us gardeners that get out there everyday and nurture our plants. Again loved the post, if you have time sometimes take a look at this if you'd like:

    P.S. when I read some of the things you wrote in this post I imagine my granny saying them to me, teaching me. She did but I was so little back then, I wish she was here now teaching me and gardening with me. Again thanks for your post.


I look forward to comments and questions and lively discussion of gardening and related ideas.

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