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Notes from a Plant Nut

Lisa Van CleefLisa Van Cleef's life mission is to spark a passion for plants in people. Like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, Lisa sows the seeds that inspire curiosity and a love for the plant world. A long-time SFBG Nursery volunteer, she wrote the Green Gardener column for the SFGate, has worked with the Conservatory of Flowers and The Nature Conservancy.

The Plant Nut is going dormant for awhile, but like any good wind-dispersed seed will pop back up somewhere soon.  It's been a great year exploring the gardens at the Botanical Garden and I urge all of you to spend time throughout the year exploring this magnificent collection.  Thanks for reading the Plant Nut and thank you to all those who send such kind notes.

Plant the Seeds of a Plant Nut

Arbutus unedo by Joanne Taylor
Arbutus unedo by Joanne Taylor This month, get a plant-blind friend to the Garden. Plant the seed. Zantedeschia aethiopica by Joanne Taylor
Zantedeschia aethiopica by Joanne Taylor

Plants! I am an unabashed cheerleader for plants. That's why one of the saddest sights in the world is bored friends at a botanical garden – their hortiphile friend needs to plant the seeds to create more plant nuts.

The first step? Remind them of our connection to plants.

Plants keep us alive. It's that simple. Plants give us our food, air, homes and clothes. Dollars, candy and soda. Coffee, cocoa, and tires. Bridges, buildings, medicine and gum.

Corn flakes, wheat cakes, rice puffs and oatmeal. Donuts, spaghetti, peanut butter and jam. Popcorn, chips, sugar and tea. Olives and almonds, oranges and cashews?

A table, a chair, a front door. Soap, shampoo and gloves? Cotton dresses and rayon shirts! Homes for animals, birds and bugs. We're talking about plants!!

Plants clean our air and water, and they cool the temperature, too. They produce the oxygen we need to stay alive. Take a deep breath. And now take your budding plant nuts to the San Francisco Botanical Garden to look at plants.

We've got 26 gardens with plants from around the world. New Zealand, Chile, Australia, SE Asia, Meso-American, East Asia, Ancient plants, South Africa – what does this mean? Your new nuts will see incredible similarities and astonishing dissimilarities in plant shapes, leaf shapes and colors. Get them to spend the day just counting the different shades of green.

When they get overwhelmed by that, get them to start noticing all the different flower shapes, then the flower colors, then the smells. Keep them coming back and soon they'll start to recognize bloom times, fruiting periods and taking-a-snooze-til-next-year times.

Get those young plant nuts to watch carefully and they'll see plants fighting to stay alive, making their food in their leaves, eeking out what sunlight they can in the depths of the redwoods. New nuts will notice plants covering themselves with a hairy overcoat to fight off the blistering South African sun or minimizing their leaves as much as possible to hold in precious water during California's long summer drought.

Or putting on a big, bolder, flashy show than humans could ever have the creativity or nerve to do to attract a pollinator.

This month, get a plant-blind friend to the Botanical Garden. Plant the seed.

Back to November 2011 newsletter >>