The Green Card

The Wall Street Journal Monday, November 6, 2006.

After closing our fiscal year at Burpee Seeds, I noticed some intriguing figures in the sales of flower and vegetable seeds to home gardeners that, while displaying great differences, also show affinities that would warm a compost heap. Politics, in my opinion, is not so much a contest between different states of red and blue as between different shades of green—a comforting reality in today’s frosty political climate.Lets’ first examine garden flowers. Both red-state Republicans and blue-state Dems grow sunflowers, zinnias and marigolds. However, the differences quickly bloom. Blue states buy many more impatiens, snapdragons and columbines—expensive and sophisticated sun or shade flowers with varied and subtle colors. On the other hand, red states favor overwhelmingly boisterous morning glories traditional nasturtiums and inexpensive four o’clocks. The sunny red states like to keep it plain and simple; the dappled blues like to make it diverse and edgy.But wait—in vegetable veritas. First the comfort zone consists of a big garden with both Democrats and Republicans happily weeding squashes, cucumbers, peas and basil—everyone grows a lot of them. But blue states grow a surprisingly wide range of tomatoes, along with both sweet and hot peppers and a fair amount of cilantro and dill. Think homemade salsas, poached salmon and heirloom vegetable collections. Yet red-staters are equally surprising and almost exotic in their preferences for green beans, onions, potatoes, carrots, sweet corn, parsley and oregano. When they do grow tomatoes, they choose only big slicers and paste types—no fancy heirlooms. Again, they like vining in both vegetables and flowers, and easy-to-sow crops, half of them to be dug from the ground. To call red staters “earthy” and blue-staters “well branched” would be accurate.

Like a gardener with arms full of sweet corn, “green state” preferences run straight into the kitchen. Blue Dems are gourmet and fashion-conscious cooks; they like a few of every kind of tomato and pepper that exists, while their herbs tend to be diverse and savory. Red GOPers favor traditional cuisine, picnic fare, lots of stews and relishes, and enormous crops of green beans.

So, green is good. All gardeners agree on a patch that includes the basic “squash-cuke-pea-basil-tomato” requirement. But they also literally distinguish themselves in the backyard, just as in the voting booth. The Republican is a sun-drenched, green-bean elbows on the table, vine-loving gardener, while the more passionate Democrat picks and chooses from a wider range of cultivars of spicy and savory peppers, European tomatoes, and flowers that prefer afternoon shade cast by mature trees. Let’s rejoice that there are 50 states where we make up a mosaic of gardeners and gardens—daring and avant-garde blue or tried and true, risk—averse red. But in the end, we are all still deep in the green.

The Wall Street Journal Monday, November 6, 2006

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