Do I Have a Green Thumb?

Over the weekend, I was presenting a paper. Surprising no one, that paper was on creation care and the importance of growing our own food. I think it was fairly well received and the group that was assembled had a robust conversation abut it as we did with all the papers that were shared. I didn’t get much push back on the content of my paper, but one of the places I did get some resistance caught me off guard. I made the assertion that everyone can grow something. Some of us tend to overwater; maybe start with tomatoes. Some of us tend to under-water. Try oregano. Everyone can grow something, I said somewhat confidently.


At least that’s what I was told. A lot of people take a murdered a houseplant or an unproductive zucchini as a sign that we just can’t grow anything. The accompanying assumption, then, is that those of us who can and do maintain gardens have a magical ability, colloquially referred to as a “green thumb”. For some reason, this idea really rubs me the wrong way.

The assertion that I have a green thumb has been made by several of my friends who have seen pictures of my garden on social media. I think I can safely say that it is always meant as a compliment. Accompanying that compliment to me though is an unspoken admission that they can’t do what I do. Actually, it’s not always unspoken. Some people explicitly state their inability to grow things. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “I kill everything” by people around me.

Besides generally wanting to avoid people who “kill everything”, I take issue with the idea that there is some special ability that some of us have to make things grow. I’ll admit, I’ve fallen prey to this line of thinking. When I think of “green thumbs”, I think of my grandmother. She had this E.T.-like quality to resurrect seemingly dead flowers. She also had a special batch of side-eye ready for you when she returned the revived plant to health. But what my Granny had wasn’t magic. It was knowledge.

Part of why I hate the idea of having a green thumb is that I hate the idea that being able to grow things makes me special. There was a time in human history where the inability to grow things was a death sentence. We’ve accepted, as a matter of progress in fact, that that knowledge is no longer a thing we need to possess. I think that is incredibly tragic!

I’ve likely killed as many plants as I’ve grown. I’ve also grown plenty of things that haven’t produced fruit. The thing is that with every attempt to grow something, I learn something. As kids we’re taught that plants need water and sunlight. What we’re not told is that certain plants need more water than others and certain need more sun than others. Some need lots of fertilizer. Some grow well together and some don’t. This isn’t stuff I know intuitively by virtue of my noble bloodline. It’s knowledge I gained through study, trial and error, and luck.

Yeah, luck is a part of it. As a gardener, some things are out of our control. Two years ago, I couldn’t keep up with all the zucchini that was growing in my garden. Last year, I couldn’t grow a zucchini to save my life, but I had tons of tomatoes. Turns out the heavy rainfall that was making my tomato plants so happy was likely rotting the roots of the summer squash. Things I don’t control include rainfall.

As I write this, the merger of Monsanto and Bayer continues to move forward. It’s been approved by the European Union and was recently approved by the U.S. justice department. I think it is incredibly dangerous that one company will have so much power over both our food supply and the drugs that care for numerous ailments, many of which are diet-based. I believe that democratization of our food system is a major way that we can counter industrial agriculture dictating what goes into our bodies. By giving up on our ability to grow things, we are giving up a bit of control concerning our own health. Restoring democratization in our food system might help us to restore democratization in other things… like our democracy.

I don’t expect everyone to be into gardening as much as I am. Some people simply don’t enjoy it. I get that. But I reject the notion that not everyone can do it. Because of that I reject the notion that lack of a green thumb is a legitimate excuse for not getting your hands in the dirt. Everyone can grow things.  In fact, I think it is our birthright. We’re meant to grow things. As I write this, I’m looking forward to this weekend, the first weekend of this spring where I’ll be able to spend a significant amount of time working in my garden bed. This will my fourth summer growing in this spot and I’ll take everything I’ve learned from the previous years and apply it the best I can to this year. Plus, I’ll try out a few new thing! That’s how I learn. Trust me, there’s nothing I would love more than to say that I have some sort of magic touch, but it just ain’t so. So put away your excuses and go get your hands dirty!


One thought on “Do I Have a Green Thumb?

  1. Maybe it’s more desire then magic ability, because I will admit my lack of ability to grow plants is completely connected to my lack of desire to grow plants. Blasphemy I know….

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