I’ve come to learn that there is a direct correlation between Judaism and agriculture. There is a link between the spiritual and the natural. The synchronization of the seasons and farming with the Jewish calendar cannot be denied. Finding botanical themes throughout the Torah is not difficult. But what about the idea that plants are anthropomorphized – given human qualities?
In 1986, The Prince of Wales was ridiculed after telling a reporter, “I just come and talk to the plants, really. Very important to talk to them; they respond.” The heir to the British throne has always been a champion of organic and sustainable farming, so one might presume that he converses with the land. Last year when he was asked if this were still part of his gardening routine, Prince Charles countered, “No, now I instruct them instead.”
Both times, his statements were met with cynicism; however, recent research seems to support the talk-growth theories.
In 2004, Discovery Channel’s popular television series “Mythbusters” performed an experiment to verify or debunk the old wives’ tales about talking to plants. According to the team, talking to plants to help them grow is “plausible.”
In 2007, Mi-Jeong Jeong, a South Korean scientist, asserted that playing classical music – in particular, Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” – helped speed the growth of his rice plants. He and his colleagues claimed they identified the plant gene that can “hear” or respond to sound.
Foliage reacts to a variety of stimuli, including wind or vibration, and its ability to respond to changing environments is critical to its survival. So maybe plants are more sensitive to our words than we suspect.
“Hello, Plant!” These were the words that my then four-year-old uttered to the philodendron sitting on our counter more than a decade ago. “Nice to meet you, Plant,” he said as he shook a leaf or two off the neglected houseplant. “Keep talking to it, E.J.,” I instructed. “Maybe that will help bring it back to life.”
I had learned in the third grade that talking to plants was, in fact, beneficial because, in order to grow, they need the carbon dioxide we release into the air, and that process affects the rate of plant photosynthesis. Rich Marini, head of Penn State’s horticulture department, disputes this philosophy. “People would have to speak to their plants for at least several hours a day to enhance photosynthesis enough to influence plant growth.”
The notion that plants benefit from human conversation has its roots (no pun intended) in the work of Gustav Fechner, a German psychologist, who published the book “Nanna” (Soul-life of Plants) in the mid-1800s. Fechner believed that every living thing has a soul and that “natural laws are just the modes of the unfolding of God’s perfection.”
To go even further, a number of studies suggest that plants, like many other living things, feel pain, and there is a whole movement against vegetable cruelty. (I’m not kidding. Check out vegetablecruelty.com.) Some people, of course, take things to extremes.
“Not only does talking to plants help them, plants are excellent therapists,” says author and energy medicine practitioner Phylameana Lila Desy. “They listen without interrupting and will never divulge our secrets. Just make sure your neighbor isn’t on the other side of the fence within earshot when you are pouring your heart out to your geraniums.”
Toby Buckland, lead presenter on BBC’s “Gardeners’ World,” thinks that if a gardener is relaxed, his or her plants will grow better. “Plants do pick up on your stress; that’s something that’s well-known, and if you’re not confident, it’s as if it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy for failure.”
Many rational and lucid gardeners admit talking to their plants, for no apparent reason, while watering them. Other horticulturists believe that plants will certainly notice their caretaker’s good intentions. (Heed your mom’s warning: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”) While there is no evidence to suggest that your begonias will respond to your good vibrations, noone is stopping you from whispering sweet nothings to your tomato plants. Just don’t forget to water them, too!