Editorial Musings of a Botanical Nature

st john's wort

I was gifted a large flower planter two weeks ago. Absolutely gorgeous. Undoubtedly expensive. Elegant clusters of tiny white blooms cascading down the sides, an abundance of vibrant purple blooms adding pops of colour, handsome two-toned foliage to fill in the gaps, and a proud spray of spiky grass to add interest and movement to the top. It immediately took pride of place on my front porch, so that all who walked by could marvel at the care and attention that went into designing and nurturing it.

But reader, I think I’ve killed it.

My horticultural expertise lies more in the direction of less delicate pursuits, like cutting the grass, pruning and occasionally, when have time and when it’s not too hot and I’m in the mood, weed pulling. But despite my lack of experience in keeping flowerpots healthy and in bloom, how could it all have gone so wrong between the nursery and my porch?

It all made me think about other situations in which handing over a project—like, say, a writing project—might cause unintended blight.

Any time a plant—or a manuscript—changes hands, there is always potential for miscommunication, lack of knowledge or accidental neglect to cause a once beautiful piece to wither. Like a new plant owner introduces a plant to a new environment, an editor might accidentally impose his or her own biases and beliefs, foibles and fancies, tone and temperament, on a work. A plant parent might not know enough about how much sunlight or water to give a plant, resulting in care inappropriate to its needs. Similarly, a well-intentioned editor has differing knowledge and life experiences compared to his or her author, and might suggest deletions or revisions that are inappropriate to the author’s style, sensibility or even culture.

Though my ailing plant might not be telling me (in a way I understand) how to nurse it back to health, I’ve called in a more experienced gardener to advise me. It reminds me that, as an editor, I can do the same. I can call on experts to increase my knowledge, and I can seek advice from other, more experienced editors to gain insight into best practices and strategies to improve my suggestions.

I’m recognizing in myself an ability to prune manuscripts and to weed them. Now I just have to practice nurturing, not to mention knowing when and how often to sprinkle my suggestions!


Thank you for stop by to listen to my botanical tragedy—and the life lesson to be gleaned from it. Here’s hoping your own precious plants are luckier than mine!



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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.