Human Flower Project
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Partisan Seed, Political Microclimates
Do flower choices announce how you voted?
Snapdragons—too “sophisticated” for Republicans?
Photo: Eisenhower School PTO Plant Sale
We’re supposed to have a secret ballot in the U.S., but the flowers and vegetables in our yards may make of sham of it.
According to George Ball, the president of the giant seed company W. Atlee Burpee, the flowers and vegetables we grow tell on our politics. Ball wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall St. Journal 11/6/06 (“The Green Card”) using geographic records of Burpee’s seed sales to describe the different proclivities of Red State and Blue State planters. U.S. gardeners, Ball wrote, “literally distinguish themselves in the backyard, just as in the voting booth.”
He observes: “Blue states” (voting Democratic) “buy many more impatiens, snapdragons and columbines – expensive and sophisticated sun or shade flowers, with varied and subtle colors. On the other hand, red states favor overwhelmingly boisterous morning glories, traditional nasturtiums and inexpensive four o’clocks, the sunny red states like to keep it plain and simple; the dappled blues like to make it diverse and edgy.”
We’re thrilled that Ball would take upon himself this intriguing look at the political sociology of gardening – even in jest—but his findings are, in our view, completely screwy. Snapdragons have many endearing qualities (very fresh blooms, as we learned from grower Pam Arnosky of Blanco County Texas, “smell like candy”) but whoever considered them “expensive and sophisticated,” much less “edgy”? In our view, nasturtiums are far more exotic, and as George Ball certainly knows, under the Red southern sun they soon resemble a heap of pork rinds, deep fried.
In other words, we believe that Ball has wrongly portrayed nasturtiums as the floral equivalent of NASCAR, snapdragons as highbrow, simply to perpetuate tired stereotypes about regional and partisan differences rather than—as he might have done with such scrumptious sales data—actually providing some potentially intriguing information.
The 2004 Presidential Vote: Blue states/Kerry, Red states/Bush
Image: University of Michigan
George, please pursue this topic further, or disclose your seed sales reports to us here at the Human Flower Project and allow us to do some really interesting (and valid) study. Our hypothesis is that gardening practices do not follow crude Red State/Blue State, Republican/Democrat dichotomies. The views (and we suppose the flowers, too) of inner city Minneapolitans are different from those in the Minneapolis suburbs, and from those in Green Bay and Duluth, though all live in a “Blue State.” That’s because politics, like gardens, thrive in microclimates. Just as camellias can grow at Kim Lehman’s house in East Austin but don’t stand a chance in our limey yard four miles away, the vote on issues like gay marriage and Kinky Friedman for Texas governor varied enormously just among precincts within Austin’s city limits. “Red” Texas includes, depending how you count, eight plant hardiness zones (6A-9b) and countless microclimates. The “zones” of political thinking in Texas may be just as numerous, perhaps more so.
Ball’s article prompted an excellent response from Bill Phillips of Louisville, KY, poking more holes in Ball’s argument than a yard aerator. “Here in Kentucky,” (a “Red state”) impatiens and columbines self-seed, so that we are able to have hundreds of them in our yard for free due to my wife’s value-based, pro-life, transplanting efforts…. As for snapdragons and blue-favorite heirloom tomatoes, Ohio Valley weather and fungi make it essentially impossible to grow them here without diverting agricultural subsidies currently needed by celebrity ranchers. So, as Mr. Ball states, we grow hybrid, disease-resistant tomatoes and the aptly named Kentucky Wonder pole bean (great with pesto).”
To generalize about flowers or votes along state lines is missing the complexity that’s far more interesting, and true. Nature and Culture in combination have given us microclimates to live in and reward the gardener who seeds and waters accordingly. Increasingly, Culture (in some collusion with Nature again) is providing microsocieties, too. More on this topic in the future, since we share a garden bed with the sunny yet sophisticated expert.
Meanwhile, George, we’re serious. Would you send us your sales data broken down by ZIP code?
Culture & Society • Gardening & Landscape • Politics • Permalink