‘Geekiness’ might be considered cool now. But what about those of us who took a long time to come to terms with it?
Known as ‘Phytonerd’ on his social media channels, Conrad McCormick is a fellow plant geek. He is a BBC radio contributer, as well as a designer, speaker and writer. He also loves food and going to the gym. Here, he spills the green beans on finding out his plant nerdiness at a young age, and how the internet has opened his eyes to the community of the plant-obsessed.
The life and times of a plant geek
I’ve something I need to get off my chest, a confession I need to make. It’s not something I’ve always been comfortable with. A secret obsession I’ve held for over three thirds of my life, starting in primary school. And it has only grown stronger as the years have advanced: I’m a complete, total, obsessive plant geek.
There, I’ve said it.
I think about little else much of the time, driven by a primal desire to seek out the new, the exciting, something different or the downright weird. Lustfully chasing the next thrilling plant acquisition to add to my already burgeoning bounty.
Plant geek: The beginning
Things started off innocently enough. But I’d had an inkling that I was different when my family started to call me (80s reference alert!) David Bellamy. I was always found looking under stones, searching for interesting insects and the likes. Or taking cuttings from plants to try and add to my parents’ new garden.
I somehow found myself in charge of my primary school’s Pelargonium collection (I’m still awful at looking after houseplants). But by the time I got to secondary school, peer pressure forced that love of plants to be suppressed, publicly at least.
At home it gathered pace with the gift of a large glasshouse from my parents. This opened up a whole world of plants to try.
Now, kids, this was back in the early 90s. There was no internet, no mobile phones. Plants couldn’t be Googled and purchased at the touch of a button.
I’d peruse a paper catalogue, then plants had to be ordered by letter from the nursery and the wait would begin. A couple of weeks after sending off my order, I’d begin to get impatient.
I’d go to an upstairs bedroom where I could get an uninterrupted view of the road that approached our house. I’d wait expectantly for the first sight of that distinctive Royal Mail van half a mile away, hopeful that he would have my plants stashed in the rear.
Sometimes exhilaration would follow, sometimes disappointment – depending on what he was carrying.
The 21st century plant geek
Things have got a little easier. The ability to easily buy plants online has opened up a world of possibilities and has only served to feed my addiction. But I also visit nurseries and garden centres at every opportunity.
Family holidays are often planned around gardens and nurseries. I’ve become adept at packing very large plants into hand luggage as well as stashing them in every crevice in the car when on driving holidays abroad. Cling film is my best friend in this respect. When well deployed, it can reduce the volume of a plant massively, allowing it to then fit into the tightest of spaces.
The internet has also created the opportunity to get to know other plant nerds, many of whom I’ve managed to meet in the real world. And some of them have also become great friends.
Gardening is, by nature, a solitary activity. We no longer have to watch the eyes of friends or family members glaze over as you point out yet again how the leaves on that Monstera deliciosa cast the most stunning shadows on the wall behind.
Share a picture of it on Instagram and you’ll have hundreds of willing voyeurs lustily gazing at those vivid shadow patterns. Or the ferocious teeth on your Agave montana leave an impression on each unfolding leaf. Just add the right hashtags and fellow plant hoarders will come find you.
The web has spawned a bewildering range of communities where like-minded plant geeks can chat and have fun and discuss the plants they love. One only has to glance at Instagram to see the massive and growing interest in plants among younger generations.
The optimal location for a plant geek
Since my teenage years, I’ve been obsessed with growing exotics outdoors. Mostly plants that are hardy, but give that tropical vibe.
Living on the coast of Northern Ireland means I’m blessed with a very mild climate. This allows me to grow a massive range of plants that wouldn’t be possible given colder winter conditions.
So, my plant geekery even dictates where we can live.
When we were recently looking at new houses, I point blank refused to move more than a mile from the coast. Those few degrees of warmth provided by the proximity to the sea brings with it a protective cushion against devastating winter lows.
Getting the word out
Nowadays, I use many platforms to talk about plants. I contribute to radio programmes as well as giving talks in an attempt to share what I’ve learned in order to encourage gardeners to try growing something that little bit different.
Instagram and Twitter are also amazing vehicles for sharing our plant lust with others across the globe.
Having spent years keeping my plant lust a closely guarded secret I’m now more comfortable and open about it. Perhaps that’s something that comes with age, part of accepting who you are.
Being slightly nerdy is now considered sexy. But us plant geeks take it to a whole other level. Long may this upsurge in the love of plants continue!