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Plantsman, designer, gardener


Epiphytic orchid plant(Cattleya labiata) growing attached to guava tree.

Epiphytic orchid plant(Cattleya labiata) growing attached to guava tree.

What a time to be a gardener in those famous words of Dickens ‘‘It (is) the best of times, it (is) the worst of times.” The best of times because the variety and knowledge of plants has never been so great; the worst of times because the pressures placed on the environment, inevitable that they are, often take little account of diversity and appeal of plants. For most people, plants are simple commodities to provide color and excitement, perfectly reasonable in itself, but relatively few I suspect study plants’ origins, relationships, and how they can be propagated and shared with others. The overall focus should be the love of growing plants and the desire to share this with others.
Defining word

Plantsman describes a plantsman as “a person with keen interest in and a wide knowledge of plants and their cultivation.”
Collins English Dictionary – describes a plantsman as “an experienced gardener who specializes in collecting rare plants.”
Sandra Raphael in the June 1979 edition of the Plantsman stated that a definition of Plantsman ‘‘ usually intended to mean a connoisseur of plants or an expert gardener.”

In her article, she also quotes British botanist David McClintock on how to distinguish a botanist from a plantsman with the simple definition:

Front entryway landscape design.

Front entryway landscape design.

A Plantsman is one who loves plants for their own sake and knows how to cherish them. This… concept … may include a botanist: it certainly includes a host of admirable amateurs who may not know what a chromosome looks like or what taxonomy means, but they know the growing plant, wild or cultivated, first-hand. To my mind, they are the cream of those in the plants world, a fund of invaluable first-hand information.”

The word is sometimes said to be synonymous with ‘‘horticulturist,” but that would mean a professional involvement, whereas ‘‘Plantsman” is meant to reflect an attitude to (and even an obsession with) plants.

Garden designed  with beds of hot color annuals, Durban, South Africa.Epiphytic orchid plant(Cattleya labiata) growing attached to guava tree.

Garden designed with beds of hot color annuals, Durban, South Africa.Epiphytic orchid plant(Cattleya labiata) growing attached to guava tree.

Plantsman or Woman
Described as plantaholics or serious plant growers and keen gardeners. A horticulturist may be a plantsman, likewise a botanist may be a plantsman, but a plantsman is not necessarily a horticulturist or a botanist. He is a lover and cultivator of plants.

By contrast, avid plant collectors (or adventurous plant-hunters) who spend their lifetime hunting out plants from the wild, or those for whom gardening is the equivalent of building a collection of rare and exotic plants, like vintage wine or rare art pieces, are seldom gardeners and rarely cultivate the plant specimens they have collected. Despite their knowledge and dedication to their relentless pursuit, do not count as plantsmen.

Specialist plant breeders or specialist horticulturist, because of their in-depth knowledge can be considered as authority and plantsmen in their own field (though the term is often taken to imply a more encyclopaedic interest in a wide range of plants).

To be a plantsman or woman at all is a relatively recent phenomenon; it is the result of that combination of artistic and scientific temperament – a fascination with the detail of things and also how they act in concert. In a study of the natural world itself, this would be called ‘‘ecology,” but the gardener uses ecological principles in the way the artist uses a brush and pigments, with the added sense of green-fingers. The plantsman’s garden revels in craft as much as it does in artistry, as well as industry.

Yuyuan Gardens, Shangai, China, (created 1559), shows elements of classical Chinese garden- architecture, water, vegetation and rocks.

Yuyuan Gardens, Shangai, China, (created 1559), shows elements of classical Chinese garden- architecture, water, vegetation and rocks.

Garden Designer (or Landscape Architect)
Garden designer or landscape architect, we suppose are expert gardeners or to be knowledgeable about gardening.But that is a misconception, it isn’t. It’s about design, the manipulation and organization of three-dimensional space. Plants play a part in this of course, but so too does paving, lighting and draining systems. So while pretty flowers may contribute in the creation of something beautiful, design involves spatial awareness, a bit of human psychology and as Steve Jobs once said, ‘‘design is how it works.”

But garden design is more complex, again, it doesn’t just exist in its own space, but needs to make sense of the context of the space; how it relates to buildings and the wider landscape, whether it’s the neigbhour’s dominating Ashokan hedge or a far-distant landscape.
Landscapers often describe a gardener as ‘plantsman’ because a gardener is focused on the health and maintenance of plants, whereas landscapers (garden designers, landscape architects) are typically involved in outdoor building work such as driveways, patios, walls etc ‘hard’ landscaping.

A good gardener will know what to prune, when to prune and how to prune. A gardener will also identify pests and diseases, apply feeds and herbicides, monitor the weather. A seasoned gardener will know which plants thrive locally and where to buy good plants. A gardener is equipped for gardening whereas a garden designer/landscaper is equipped for building.There is this joke that gardeners make places pretty while landscapers make it easy to park your car.

The reality is of course, there is a huge overlap between the two and a landscaper may also offer some garden maintenance. Equally, a gardener will likely offer ‘soft’ landscaping such as fence fixing and repairs, applying decorative gravel and mulch, creating flower borders, planting advice and small landscaping projects. Some gardening partnerships or larger firms will have the skills and equipment to offer both gardening and landscaping services. There is an overlap between both professions that is about the creation of ‘‘better, more useful and prettier places.” While a plantsman may not be a garden designer or a landscaper necessarily a plantsman, a good gardener needs to combine plantsmanship with landscaping.
“Gardens are really a drop of paradise on earth.”

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