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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Flowers and Masculinity: Gender in Gardening

Where did it come from, the assignment of gender to behavior? How did it happen that the expression of most emotions were once considered feminine and very few masculine? Didn’t the feminist movement put an end to this arbitrary classification, years ago? Well, if it did, why is it still awkward for some male gardeners to wear their heart on their sleeves, to admit how much they are moved by a flower’s beauty and fragrance? Why, in some circles, is it not wise for a heterosexual male to declare his passion for flowers for fear that he might be misjudged to be effeminate? A straight man’s sexual orientation is not in danger if he stops to admire the roses. Its aroma is an aphrodisiac. Just observe how some men react when they get a whiff of ladies floral-based perfume. Their eyes widen as all of their senses are aroused. There is nothing effeminate about that.

The social revolution created by the feminist movement resulted in mothers raising boys to do chores that, historically, were considered feminine. My two sons in law, all of my nephews, and I can cook gourmet meals, iron clothes, clean house, and get the tangles out of little girls’ hair. We also know to hug our kids in public. None of us feel that our masculinity is threatened by engaging in these actions. On the contrary, our wives or girlfriends appreciate us more because we share all domestic chores. In some instances, it even enhances our emotional and physical relationship with them.

However, the one act that still requires gender neutralizing is a man’s passionate, public declaration of his love for flowers. In some circles, it is still inappropriate for real men to do so. The women’s liberationists, through the mothers that they influenced, changed traditional societal values about straight men getting in touch with their feelings and the expression of those sentiments in public. Did they forget to include flower gardening?

For another treatment of this subject, please read a blog titled Why Can’t a Dude Like Flowers, posted by my colleague John Markowsi at An Obsessive ´╗┐Neurotic Gardener.

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Reader Comments (8)

I dont think this is the case here in the UK. We have had a series of male garden TV presenter who have spent just as much time extolling the virtues of flowers as they have veg

February 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHelen

I think you are on the right track looking at this from an historical perspective. All gardeners in ancient times (Egypt, Roman, Greek, India etc.) were males. Kings built large gardens, mostly trees, and these were grown and tended by men. It was only in the 1600's that women started prying into men's domains and then it was only a century later that some women grew their own gardens and took care of them themselves. Plus, jobs went from rural to urban centres and brought men's work indoors changing the type of work they do. That said, there are still lots of men in my horticultural society and Master Gardener group. It takes men like you to show the newer generations the joys of gardening.

February 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPatty

Allan, I am not sure that I agree with everything you say, but 95% or more of my nursery customers are female. Here's an interesting thing: this is not true of galanthophiles, snowdrop lovers. At least 50% are men and men may even predominate. Here is a link to the Scottish Rock Garden Club forum on galanthus, which is about 75% male, and they are not afraid to rave about the flowers: Carolyn

I suspected that the situation in the UK would be different. Thanks for illuminating the subject.

It's fascinating how social conventions develop over time. Thanks for providing the historical perspective.

The information you provide about male galanthophiles is like a breath of fresh air. Thanks.

February 11, 2011 | Registered CommenterAllan

A very interesting question, Allan. My local public radio station is running a Valentine's Day fundraiser that involves getting to send roses to someone in exchange for your contribution. The emphasis is definitely on women as the recipients of the flowers.

Since cultural patterns are usually based on earlier cultural patterns, I wonder if this ties back to patterns of gendered responsibility in pre-industrial North America (at least in the northeastern parts, where both you and I are located) where men managed big landscape chores (like felling trees and carving farmland out of the forest) and women were often herbalists who grew flower gardens for making medicines.

February 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJean

I am also a firm believer in the influence of earlier cultural patterns. It is fascinating that, in regards to expressing ones love of flowers, we have an historical pattern that seems to be entrenched. How puzzling.

February 13, 2011 | Registered CommenterAllan

Flower gardening is manly!!!

February 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

I think this topic is controversial. Yes, some men see passion for flowers as a feminine thing and do not take it serious. However, I know lots of men that share passion for flowers and grow their own gardens and indoor plants with pleasure. I think it all depends. Lots of women I know have no idea how to take care of plants and their husbands are in charge of that. Passion for flowers is something we are born with, you can not teach a person to love plants, and it does not matter whether it is a man or a woman.

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

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