Grow, you f*cking plant, grow
If there’s anything guaranteed to damage a plant’s self-esteem it’s swearing at it, belittling it and directing all your vilest thoughts at it.
It’s enough to make a plant tremble, curl up its leaves and die.
But if you want a plant to thrive, it’s sweet talking that might do the trick. Ooh, what a pretty flower. Come on my baby, grow for mama. You get the picture.
It’s a scenario that a UK garden centre, Bents, wants its customers to try as part of The Great Plant Experiment (its capitalisation not mine).
Customers are encouraged to direct angry thoughts to one set of plants and happy thoughts to another. Then, after six weeks, it’ll see which plants do best.
I nearly snorted my cup of tea when I read about it.
The words that come to mind aren’t The Great Plant Experiment but The Great Marketing Stunt (my capitalisation).
The details are outlined in a company statement here.
And here is a pic of the experimental set-up.
What I love about this stunt is the attempt at superstar endorsement. Let’s face it. There’s nothing like a stamp of authority to give the experiment some gravitas. So, who did Bents choose?
The smooth talking David Attenborough, the elder statesman of nature documentaries? No, too expensive and let’s face it, he’d never put his name to this.
How about the plant scientist Professor Daniel Chamovitz, author of What a Plant Knows. Nah, he wouldn’t damage his reputation with this either.
The heavyweight that Bents chose to endorse its experiment is, drum roll, Nikki Owen, billed as the UK’s leading expert in charisma.
No, I’d never heard of her either. Her obvious talent in plant science has yet to make it to where I live.
Well, strictly speaking, Owen isn’t endorsing the experiment. But she is billed as ‘inspiring it’ and her name features prominently in the company’s marketing material.
Owen, you see, has done this type of thing before.
Experimenting with apples
Cast your minds back to The Big Apple Experiment (note the capitalisation). No, that one didn’t make it to the scientific literature either. But here’s a link to the YouTube clip if want to find out more.
In this paragon of scientific endeavour, Owen took two apple halves and over the next 7-10 days directed positive thoughts to one half and negative thoughts to the other.
Apparently, the sad half decayed faster than the happy half.
The public was so inspired by this revelation that they repeated the experiment in their own homes, photographed the results and sent them to her.
Here’s a gallery of photographic evidence.
Could there be something in it?
OK, back to Bents’ Great Plant Experiment for a moment. Could there be something in it? Could whispering sweet nothings really help plants grow?
Well, you’d never know by the shonky study design.
At least when the other chronicler of the scientific method, Mythbusters, ran a similar experiment it included a control.
Read details here.
The Mythbusters team took 60 pea plants and split them up into three groups, each in a separate greenhouse. Over two months, one group was subjected to a continual soundtrack of loving praise, another to cruel insults and the third grew in silence.
Pea plants in the nice greenhouse did just as well as the ones in the nasty greenhouse. But both did better than the peas grown in silence.
So, maybe Prince Charles was onto something in his famous 1986 interview when he said:
“I just come and talk to the plants, really. Very important to talk to them; they respond.”
The scientific evidence for the effects of talking nicely to your plants is mixed. No-one has come out and produced robust evidence to support the idea that talking to your plants encourages them to grow. But scientists know that plants respond to vibration. And what’s sound but a series of vibrations? It might turn out that any kind of talk, not just the nice type, has an effect.
Scientist also aren’t sure how loud the talk has to be to have an effect. Then there’s the argument that the carbon dioxide in exhaled breath might affect plant growth.
Back to the Bents experiment, which still has several weeks to run.
I think Bents, Prince Charles and others like them have missed out on something.
Why all the emphasis on talking nicely to help plants to grow? Why not focus on swearing, blaspheming and downright nastiness to stunt plant growth? Think weeds between pavers, down the side of sheds and poking up through the mulch.
Keeping the weeds down would be a fulltime job in my garden. Only people with a rare form of Tourette’s could apply.
To be fair, Bents isn’t encouraging people to swear at their plants, just to channel hateful thoughts.
But swearing is so much more fun. If you’re reading this from the UK, pop down to Bents, try it and let me know the results.