Garden[ing] Ethics?

Perkasie, PA(Zone 6b)

I am both a gardener and an academic philosopher, and I think there are any number of 'moral issues' that arise around gardening. I do not want to lecture anyone (!), but to start a thread in which people can raise and discuss the issues they think are important. To get started, I will suggest a somewhat esoteric issue by means of a story.

At the Philly Flower Show, my adult companion pointed out to me and my daughter a number of competition entries by someone I apparently met at some wealthy enclave some summers back (I was a poor-relations guest). I noted that the submitter seemed to be entered into a really wide variety of plant-type competitions. My companion told us that this competitor has a full-time, two-home, gardening staff. In other words, she does not actually garden, herself; she has employees who do it for her. My daughter said, "But that's cheating!" My companion denied this and said that people of means always have taken credit for work done by those they employ.

So here is the question: do people who have private gardeners - their 'own' or on contract - play fair if they compete in garden shows with the products of their employees work?

Chevy Chase, MD(Zone 7a)

That's an interesting question. It seems to me it would be awfully hard to figure out how to draw a line in the sand as to what is permissible and what is over the top.

Perkasie, PA(Zone 6b)

Yes, "lines in the sand" are difficult in most cases. But, might we consider less either/or views/

Dover, PA(Zone 6b)

sissystars, I have often contemplated just that, and have decided, in my opinion, that if it were not for the benefactor, the exhibit would not exist. I do feel that it would be considerate to acknowledge the staffs work. If it were not for the philanthropy of people like the DuPont s, Pierces, Boks, many of the public gardens we enjoy would not exist. Many of these garden lovers founded and supported many of the horticulture and gardening societies we enjoy today. I do feel the judging should be totally impartial if not anonymous till the awards are decided. Holly's Ric Nice to meet you!

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I say no. Seems to me that a garden show with individual entries is meant to be one person's work displayed, not the work one person can hire help to do. Isn't an art show, pieces by the artist? yes. Mr Dupont could sponsor an artist and have Mr Duponts Picasso Exhibition but the artist/ gardener ought to get this/ her name on the piece. How nice if Mrs Richlady let her workers get credit -where credit is due?! VEerybody inbolbed would know she pays for it.

I was never aware this was done.

Chevy Chase, MD(Zone 7a)

Yes, but each of us has varying resources. Some can buy all the plants, soil amendments, pots, etc. our hearts desire; other only grow the plants we can get from swaps. Some of us work while others have our days free to garden and no kids around our knees. Some have help with housework so we can focus on the yard. Some have an employee help with some yard work, but not the particular flower being exhibited. Some have gardens with great soil and sun, and others fight hardpan and shade. Some of us have acres, and some of us have matchboxes. Some of us have disabilities. Again, no bright lines.

(There was a great scene in Downton Abbey this brings to mind, involving a rose exhibit....)

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

That's all true. And I can think of other creative endeavors (All creative endeavors?) where these things apply.

But I'm still siding with Gail the Gardener being able to put her name on the rose, not Mrs Richlady. Or at least, woudn't t be nice of Mrs R?

Dover, PA(Zone 6b)

Sissy, You know dog shows aren't much different. There are wealthy owners who have handlers who train and show their dogs for them and I can think of many other competitions that are similar. When Ric and I go to the Phila Show we always enjoy the exhibits and quite often notice the Dupont name attached to many of the blue ribbon winners and we know that they have staff, conservatories and advantages that we would not have to grow and display some of those plants. We do enjoy seeing some of the huge plants that they can grow. One of the members of our Hobby Greenhouse Assoc has a plant that would rival any that I have seen shown at the Phila Flower Show. He is a retired nursery man certainly not wealthy. I might feel a bit different if I was competing against them. Holly

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Good comparison with the dogshows. Horse racing too- Horse has an owner but also trainers and the place to live, I guess though that every racehorse owner must be 'somewhat' affluent. In any case- the dog show trainer is right there in the rink running with the dog, right? At least, isn't there that much recognition?

What if there was an Elite category with a steeper entry fee?

Warrenton, VA

This is a perfect lesson to learn about souls. All must answer to the "The True Judge." I believe that the best answer would be that we, as mere Humans, are not in the position to judge. This incident is not isolated to only gardening, but across the whole Human Race, and has throughout time!

But, I'll throw in a gardening example of my own: I remember a lady (who had allot of money) picking Daffodils along her lane, and taking them to the Garden Show, where the efforts of those who grew and prayed over their Daffys were in the same competition as hers. Did she win because of her stature in life? Or because she was a very old lady? Or because her daffys were truly superior?

Again, we do not know all the facts, only G__ does. So, go on, find peace, and live!

Perkasie, PA(Zone 6b)

@HollyAnnS and sallyg:

I get the analogies, but trainers and handlers/jockeys are recognized in the process of such shows. In something like the Flower Show, the only name in evidence is that of the 'submitter,' even if that person did nothing to grow or care for the plant.

And, as Holly [sort of] notes, what if you are not a wealthy person - just a good and avid gardener? Is it fair that your entry is judged against that/those of someone who has professional staff?

P.S. I'm very happy to see the responses. If you have other moral/ethical issues you want to discuss, please post!

Dover, PA(Zone 6b)

Well, I have also been thinking about how much time does the wealthier person spend gardening. Just because you have staff doesn't mean that they don't spend a good bit of time working in their GH maybe caring for the plants that they are showing, choosing which plants will be shown. Many of them are hands on gardeners with support staff. There are many beautiful gardens where the homeowner does the gardening with the help of a laborer. They do the planing, and some of the day to day work with a laborer, to help with the heavy digging, mowing and things that they can't. Does that make their gardens any less note worthy? Since we do not know the extent of each contestants commitment to the gardening process it would be hard to determine fairness. Things may not always be as perceived.

Middle of, VA(Zone 7a)

Credit given - where credit due. If it were a village that raised the 'child' then certainly list them by name.

Silver Spring, MD(Zone 6b)

I never knew this practice existed but I agree with Sally.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Kind of reminds me of Science Fair when the projects seemed very adult level LOL.

Perkasie, PA(Zone 6b)

Quote from sallyg :
Kind of reminds me of Science Fair when the projects seemed very adult level LOL.

YES! I recall watching other parents carrying in their obviously kit-made planetary systems while my poor son struggled with the hodgepodge of styrofoam things I had insisted he put together.

Perkasie, PA(Zone 6b)


I just noticed your "nice to meet you," and wish to say the same in return. Are you Holly or 'Holly's Ric'?

Perkasie, PA(Zone 6b)

Quote from Pippi21 :
I never knew this practice existed but I agree with Sally.

Netiher did I until I (a) met these fabulously wealthy folks and (b) noticed their names on submissions to the Flower Show.

annapolis, MD(Zone 7b)

Have any of you all ever entered a flower show or even a county fair? Each show or society has their own set of rules that exhibitors and entries must meet to qualify for entry into 'judging' in multi categories and divisions. The Boston Flower show for instance does not allow any plants not in the possession of the individual exhibitor for at least three months prior to the show.

If the exhibitor follows the rules then they are not 'cheating' whether or not they acknowledge publicly or privately any assistance or assisstants beyond their own two hands. Thomas Jefferson comes to mind as he had lots of unacknowledged help! If I win a blue ribbon with one of the plants I got at the spring swap. would/should the donner be acknowledged?

I'm following with interest the investigations into PHD theses and plagerism as a basis for recall.

Each year or local farmers market has a hot debate on what is considered "grown by the farmer" and each year the vendors who raise and grow some veggies and wholesale buy the rest continue to participate as well as one vendor that digs up "native plants" from her woods raising the ethical question of what happens when demand exceeds sustainable supply.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Well stated coleup.

Dover, PA(Zone 6b)

LOL Sissy, You will get comments from both Ric and I under my HollyAnnS name. Ric usually signs his comments. So you know which of us you are talking to.
Coleup I have never entered anything in a flower show. There is one in York each year and I have on occasion thought of entering some plant that I have. I don't know much about the rules or what they judge on. Really how do they judge branches cut from evergreens?

Chevy Chase, MD(Zone 7a)

Coleup -- I like what you said!

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

All this made me think of all the Local Produce Stands here that sell all kinds of veggies--
"From our own garden". Really? As I see them packaging up stuff from cardboard boxes into
Their "own" bags.
I am sure this produce is FRESH from somewhere! But NOT from their own farms.
OH! It is displayed and packaged in little boxes or sold in bulk from a bushel basket---BUT!!!!

I have an issue with that....

Still--deep down I believe it is fresher than the grocery Store's. That's what is behind all the
ticks of the trade and how you sell and package things....

Houston Heights, TX(Zone 9a)

This is my philosophy. Life is not fair. Life is just life. You will be happier if you accept life the way it is. Then you wont be surprised or pained when circumstances show you that life is not fair. It is our belief that it "should" be fair that causes us the pain. To me there is not a lot of difference between the meaning of "should" and the word "wish".

annapolis, MD(Zone 7b)

Sissy, you ask "Is it fair that your entry is judged against that/those of someone who has professional staff?" My understanding is that each entry is judged on its own merits by a judge accredited by National Garden Clubs, Inc according to previously agreed upon criteria for each category and available to each entrant. So, each entry receives points for each of several or more criteria up to 100. One with highest points wins blue and so on. Before one becomes a judge a high degree of reliability of judging must be demonstrated, ie a plant scoring 77 by one judge would receive a very similar score by any other judge, with little deviation. sallyg will remember that we had to do this "reliability" as part of our training to do food service facility inspections or she would close down a restaurant that I would leave open or vise versa. Back in the day, we never were the inspector of record for establishments we had an interest in or frequented. I suspect this is one of the reasons judges come from as far afield as possible so as to not play favorites! By the time one gets to be the Head Judge at the Westminster Dog Show who selects "Best in Show" your ethics and integrity as a judge has to be substantial and widely acknowledged, ie not a 'celebrity' position! Perhaps the woman exhibitor you use in your opening is on her way to becoming a judge?

How do you become an Accredited Judge?

* Attend four Flower Show School courses and pass an exam at the end of each school with a score of at least 70. Each school studies several Design types and Horticulture families. Flower Show procedure and Judging ethics are also covered.

* Earn five exhibiting credits, two in design and three in horticulture or three in design and two in horticulture. Each credit is earned by winning a blue ribbon or getting a score of 90+ on the exhibit.

* Earn five judging credits.

* Successfully write a Standard Flower Show schedule.

* Pass the Handbook (Handbook for Flower Shows) examination with a score of at least 70.

Thirty plus years ago when I wanted to join one of four localGarden Clubs, they were a pretty exclusive bunch voting on accepting a new member after a garden tour by the club. Many applied, but few were chosen. Of course those not chosen could apply at a later date or, start their own club, and around this 'historic' area it tended to be the more well off extensive gardens that made the cut....

Here is a little article on the history of Garden Clubs, Note that Sandy Springs Maryland is the 'beginning back in 1860! Lots of history and tradition behind your Phiil Flower Show experience.!

This message was edited Jun 30, 2012 9:14 PM

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

steadycam, I like that.

Middle of, VA(Zone 7a)


Perkasie, PA(Zone 6b)

Hey, if we think we've beaten this one to death, how about Coleup's person who digs up native plants to sell? Or, maybe the selling is not crucial? I know someone who has been raiding the local woods for moss for his moss garden. (He has taken a great deal of it.)

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I do not like the digging of native plants to sell. Often the natives will not live long term. If you own wild land and have natives, I guess you can do what you want. It would probably be enough of a challenge keeping invasives from spoiling it. I guess if I 'owned' natives I might try 'harvesting' plants at some level for sale. But I'd sell things IF I could expect them to survive, and NOT if I thought I'd make a quick buck, and it would die on the customer, and they would blame weather, poor skills, etc.

I WOULD fully encourage somehow the rescue of doomed plants about the be bulldozed.

Perkasie, PA(Zone 6b)

P.S. to Coleup on the flower competition thing:

No, this woman is not working on becoming a judge. Also, I did not think she was breaking the rules for the competition. My question was about the ethics of it: in effect, claiming credit for work you did not do, even if you are the owner of the product/item.

What 'recalls' based on plagiarized dissertations are going on? (Of course, if you plagiarized, you lose the Ph.D.; or, if you claimed a Ph.D. as a job qualification and are caught out as a plagiairist, you might lose the job as well as the title.)

Perkasie, PA(Zone 6b)


You know you could enter the 'Philly' Flower Show. (The woman I was discussing originally belongs to the Mount Desert, Maine, Garden Club; location is not an issue.) It's actually run by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society; it just takes place in Philly.

Houston Heights, TX(Zone 9a)

Do horticultural societies have ethics guidelines for their shows? I dont know if their objective is to get as many entries as possible or if they have some other goals they are trying to satisfy with the show. Perhaps you could research this and maybe write an article for their newsletter proposing such guidelines. Same for the wild flowers. There is probably already a state law against it but you could write an article bringing awareness to the illegal practice for an appropriate media.

Warrenton, VA

sissystars - if someone's money, or any influence of theirs (such as having a great idea), caused the product to come into being, then they indeed are due credit. Look at it this way - if withholding of funds prevents the product, then why should someone be "penalized" for paying for it and causing it to happen?

Gita - Caveat Emptor. If people have growing sense, they know when something is in season, realistically, in their area. If they do not know about veggie gardens, and don't ask the sellers where the produce is from, then let them have that "plastic produce." Everyone is responsible for their own ignorance. (I use "ignorance" in the classical sense, not as it is seen today, as a slander.)

In today's world, it seems that money often drives the car...see steadycam's comment about determining the objective. And about people desiring wildflowers at whatever cost.

With this week being the annual celebration of the 236th year of our nationís birth, and in conjunction with this thread, it might be good to remind everyone what the Signers of the Declaration of Independence went through for their stand (objective).

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or the hardships of the Revolutionary War.

I hope that all who read this will pause and think about these signers (and all of them!), how they were penalized, what they sacrificed, so that we can be here today.

Middle of, VA(Zone 7a)

Very well put Gracye and not to take away but to add...let us continue to remember the men, women, and their families present and past that continue to show that selfless sacrifice so we can continue to be the Land of the Free.

Perkasie, PA(Zone 6b)


-" if someone's money, or any influence of theirs (such as having a great idea), caused the product to come into being, then they indeed are due credit. Look at it this way - if withholding of funds prevents the product, then why should someone be "penalized" for paying for it and causing it to happen?"

2 last thoughts (as I think we might have other interesting issues to turn to): I would distinguish between a great (new) idea and asking someone to plant something. And, yes, the particular palnt/display would not exist without X's paying someone to create it. However, (a) plant entries are not all that uniqe that a similar one would not exist, and (b) I think some credit should go to those who do the work.

My LAST (promise!) comment on this first topic: the people I have in mind do NOT plan their own gardens - although they might select certain cultivars for their gardeners to grow and enter into competitions.

Perkasie, PA(Zone 6b)

@steadycam3 (great handle):

Competitions have rules rather than ethical guidelines. I think that makes sense, as the moral issues might be quite difficult to adjudicate - as we see here in this thread. The idea of a set of ethical guidelines for competitors in such things is an interesting ones. I doubt I am sufficiently informed to develop such a set.

I have not checked, but I would guess that there are some articles on the native-plants question. It's an interesting problem. (I cannot imagine what my colleagues would say if I suddenly announced a new article along those lines: I do legal and political philosophy for the most part.) Thanks for the suggestion; I think I will look into it!

Perkasie, PA(Zone 6b)


Your concerns about what the 'buyers' are getting is interesting; I really had not thought of it from that angle. Maybe my moss-harvesting neighbor will find his stolen mosses do not thrive (wishful thinking).

I was thinking more about the stripping of a habitat and, as Coleup suggested, a kind of fraudulent selling of something one has not grown.

annapolis, MD(Zone 7b)

Special Request

Haven't heard from a number of folks that the major storm that blew through on Friday night may have impacted like ruby, aspenhill, greenthumb and pat, ssgardener, donnerville, Bec, hart, speedy and catbird to name a few...Hope they will check in soon and that they are all ok.

If any of you reading this have a way of checking in with any of the above or other DG neighbors, knowing that they may be out of power and cell phone service, please do so and convey our prayers and wishes for their well being.

You can report any weather and well being reports on our ongoing Chat thread (Your Neck of the Woods) here:



Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Just to clarify, though it may not be needed
; ^)
I am concerned with the stripping of a habitat, made even more onerous BY the demise of the stripped plants. If I conveyed concern first for the buyers, I didn't mean to.

However, if I had legal rights to a plot of land, and on that plot had plants that, after research, I could expect to be able to dig and sell, at a sustainable level, I might do so. Example, sensitive fern Onoclea, is a very tough plant . It's native, but very common here and I would think suitable to gather and sell.

Dover, PA(Zone 6b)

I have dug Va Blue Bells from the creek beds around my home. May apples, too. I always harvest from an area with plenty to spare and only a few pots each year.

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