The Green Thumb Myth

Has anyone told you that you have (or don’t have) a green thumb? I don’t think there is such a thing, at least not in the sense that you’re born with the destiny to either grow or kill plants.

I used to kill plants and just figured I didn’t have a “green thumb.” I kept my hands out of the soil and my body out of the garden, even though I collected and pored through gardening books. I’d pick up these books, bookmark inspirational pictures and then put the books back on the shelf and read something else.

Well now look at me. I have dirt under my nails every day. I talk to every praying mantis I see. I stop and marvel at butterflies and hummingbirds almost daily. I geek out over composting. And I grow things.

My point is: There’s no such thing as a person born with a green thumb. But you can get one. It just takes four things:

  • education
  • spending time (ideally working) in the garden
  • experience
  • observation

Stages of Competence

Abraham Maslow (who penned the hierarchy of needs model so often used today) defined four stages of competence:

  • Unconscious incompetence: You don’t know how to do something and don’t grasp the extent of your deficit in knowledge.
  • Conscious incompetence: You grasp that you’re not very good at what you’re doing.
  • Conscious competence: You understand or know how to do something, but it takes some concentration and focus.
  • Unconscious competence: The skill becomes pretty much second nature.

We’re in all of these stages in various areas of our lives. I bet most of us are unconsciously competent in brushing our teeth and tying shoelaces, for example. Maybe also riding a bike.

Here’s the benefit of the time I’ve spent learning, practicing, working in the garden and observing the needs of my plants.

How do we move through the incompetent stages to one of competence?

  • We educate ourselves. We take classes, workshops, etc. We read and we make sure our education comes from good sources.
  • We gain experience. There’s nothing quite like experience to help us learn.
  • We work in the garden. Good gardens take work. Hopefully, you enjoy that work. The more time you spend caring for a plant (or for anything, say a career), the more you help it grow.
  • We observe. Part of spending time in the garden is just taking a look around and noticing: How are the plants doing? What do they need? The earlier you catch issues, the better.
In growing cut flowers, a lot of reading and education have helped me crossover from conscious incompetence to conscious competence.

That’s it. I used to be a plant killer and now look at me, I’m blogging about gardening and cultivating some gorgeous gardens. I’m growing and so can you! So take a moment and ask yourself what you need most right now: education, experience, time in the garden or time observing?