Our careful attention to particular plants has existed as long as humans have cultivated and bred them, transplanting them from one corner of the world to another, and crossing them to yield completely new hybrids. In our desire to maintain our orchids, roses, and bamboo in a state of health and proliferation, we extend our efforts to rather extreme lengths. Short of transporting an entire microclimate, we construct greenhouses to let in sunlight, keep away pests, and control the heat and humidity to a specific range that mimics a particular habitat. We carefully measure out sediment, soil, and other organic matter to create custom potting mixes for the healthiest roots. For flora of the outdoor variety, we will wrap them in tarps or burlap that serve as blankets against winter’s biting chill. Some of us even wipe dust from the surface of foliage to keep the leaves shining and unobstructed, all the better to enhance our plants’ abilities to respirate and photosynthesize. We erect scaffolds for the tallest orchids, elaborately prune decades-old bonsai on a daily basis, and tie up vines as they creep upward and across to new territory. If, heaven forbid, a disease or bug begins to infest our plants, throwing them away is a very last resort. We will purchase disinfectants for near-religious schedules of application, quarantine our pots, and curse the spores or insects that are the source of this blight. Knowing that our plants lack feet to evade predators, we take it upon ourselves to serve as their guardians.
In many ways, plants and humans live in a state of symbiosis. They give us oxygen, sometimes food, often shade, while we give them water, occasionally fertilizer, and the best corners of the garden away from invasive flora that would otherwise compete for resources like sunlight or water. As different as plants and humans are, there are certain protections that only each can give to the other.