After closing our fiscal year at Burpee, I noticed some intriguing figures in the sales of flower and vegetable seeds to home gardeners that, while displaying great differences, also show affinities that would warm a compost heap.
Politics, in my opinion, is not so much a contest between different states of red and blue as between different shades of green – a comforting reality in today’s frozen political climate.
Let’s first examine garden flowers. Both red-state Republicans and blue-state Dems grow sunflowers, zinnias and marigolds. However, the differences quickly bloom.
Blue states 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.
But wait – in vegetable veritas.
First, the comfort zone consists of a big garden with both Democrats and Republicans happily weeding squashes, cucumbers, peas and basil – everyone grows a lot of them. But blue states grow a surprisingly wide range of tomatoes, along with both sweet and hot peppers and a fair amount of cilantro, basil and dill. Think homemade salsas, poached salmon and heirloom vegetable collections.
Yet red-staters are equally surprising and almost exotic in their preferences for green beans, onions, potatoes, carrots, sweet corn, parsley and oregano. When they do grow tomatoes, they choose only big slicers and paste types – no fancy heirlooms. They like vining in both vegetables and flowers, and easy-to-sow crops, half of them to be dug from the ground. To call red-staters “earthy” and blue-staters “well branched” would be accurate.
Come harvest time, like a gardener with arms full of sweet corn, “green state” preferences run straight into the kitchen. Blue Dems are gourmet and fashion-conscious cooks; they like a few of every kind of tomato and pepper that exists, while their herbs tend to be diverse and savory. Red GOPers favor traditional cuisine, picnic fare, lots of stews and relishes, and enormous crops of green beans.
So, green is good. All gardeners agree on a patch that includes the basic “squash-cuke-pea-tomato” requirement. But they also literally distinguish themselves in the backyard, just as in the voting booth.
The Republican is a brightly-colored, green-bean, elbows on the table, fence-building, vine-loving, sweet-hankering gardener, while the more passionate, basil-snipping Democrat picks and chooses from a wider range of cultivars of spicy and savory flavors, European imports, and pastel flowers that prefer afternoon shade cast by mature trees.
Let’s rejoice that there are 50 states where we make up a mosaic of myriad gardeners and gardens – daring and edgy blue or tried and true, traditional red. In the end, we are all still deep in the green.
George Ball is past president of The American Horticultural Society in Washington, D.C.