Plantophile? I just can’t help touching plants...

Posted on Friday, August 12th, 2011

I have a confession to make…I like to touch plants. In fact, I like to touch them all over. I don’t just do this in the privacy of my own back garden, I’m ashamed to admit I also do it in public. When visiting gardens I will take any opportunity for a furtive leaf stroke or stem fondle. I’ve tried to stop, but I just can’t help myself.

I know I’m not alone. I have seen other plantophiles, reaching out without thinking to run their fingers through furry Pennisetum villosum or to cup a dahlia flower in their hands, then suddenly realising what they’re doing and withdrawing before looking around to make sure they weren’t caught in the act.

In popular gardens I’m sure that this can become a real problem, with delicate leaves, flowers and stems being bruised by curious hands. But what is it that makes us do it?

My theory is simple, we have an innate desire to appreciate things with as many senses as possible, so we can form a full and enduring understanding of the item. We want to smell the roses, touch the grasses, look at explosions of floral colours, hear the rustling of bamboo and taste the autumnal fruits. Food’s no different. Our anticipation is piqued by the sound of sausages sizzling in a pan, we smell the delicious vapours as they near readiness, we see the brown sheen of the finished dish, then we have the feeling of biting through the crispy skins before sinking our teeth into the wonderfully textured flesh before the taste explosion of meat and herbs races through our mouths.

So perhaps being a plantophile isn’t such as deviant a proclivity as I first thought? Maybe it’s just my desire to appreciate each plant as fully as possible? In fact, should I even be encouraging a more tactile understanding of plants?! Well, if you haven’t yet felt the thrill of plants, here are some of my personal favourite touchy-feeling plants:

  • Stachys byzantina – the common name ‘lambs ear’ says it all, I love stroking these soft leaves and have been known to pick one just to brush it against my cheek.
  • Junipers – I love the fact that you can run your hand upwards and it’s perfectly smooth, run it downwards and it’s aggravatingly spiky.
  • Grass – let’s face it, nothing feels as good underfoot as grass. It’s all I can do to stop myself running around bare foot in well-mown formal gardens!
  • Pennisetum villosum – one of the fluffiest grasses I know, I have a cultivar next to my arbour so I can caress the feathery flowerheads!
  • Box hedging – neat, compact box hedging (Buxus sempervirens) is just screaming to have a hand run over the top of it, feeling the almost ‘bounciness’ of the tiny stems under your palm.
  • Antirrhinum (snapdragons) – nothing in the world can deter me from making those dragons’ mouths open wide then snap shut!
  • Cryptomeria japonica – looks like your normal, needly conifer, but get up close and personal and you’ll find that the foliage is wonderfully soft.

Next time you’re out in a garden why not pause and have a feel? Just make sure the head gardener doesn’t see you!