Grow Write Guild #17: Writing Plants


The last prompt was tough, so I thought I’d switch to something lighter, although perhaps not easier.

Plant descriptions are essential to writing about gardening. A good description functions like a story, drawing the reader in to want to find out more and maybe even try the plant in their own garden. It’s easy to fall into repetitive traps, using the same words and phrases to describe very different plants. Gorgeous, pretty, tasty, lovely… When it comes to over-using certain words, I’m just as guilty as the next. That said, trolling the thesaurus for fancy new words to use can come off a bit phoney and does little to tell an authentic story or capture the reader’s imagination.

Grow Write Guild Prompt #17: Write a Description of a Plant.

For this exercise I’ve included a number of suggestions to help you find an approach that may be different than those you have used before. Some will seem obvious, but I find it helps to come back to lists like this, especially when I’m not feeling especially excited or need to find my way in to a new way to describe a plant I have already written about countless times before.

Any plant will do for this exercise, but I suggest choosing one that challenges you. especially if there is a crutch or block that you want to overcome.

Further Notes and Questions:

  • In the wintertime, choose a potted plant that can be placed in front of you. I find that having the plant nearby to look at helps to jog the brain.
  • In the summertime, head outside where you can look at the plant, or bring a piece indoors. I often place clips of flowers, stems, and leaves on my desk when I am writing about a specific plant so that i can touch and smell it. Photos help, but they only activate one sense.
  • How does the plant look, feel, smell, taste (only relevant in the case of edibles)?
  • When describing colour, try to draw comparisons to other familiar objects or plants that can provide content. Writing that a blossom is red often isn’t accurate enough.
  • When describing shape and form take note about the plant’s overall look and then hone in on specific parts: leaves, flowers, buds, seeds, seed pods, etc.
  • Don’t forget to consider the plant’s evolution from seed to maturity as well as its seasonal cycle. How did it change with time? How does it change from the beginning of the growing season through to the end?
  • Don’t forget movement and sound. Does it shake, dance, or sway when the wind moves through its leaves or rattles its seed heads?
  • Try to recall the first time you came into contact with this plant. How did you feel? Sometimes we become so familiar with a certain plant that we forget how exciting and new it was when we first laid eyes on it. Did it amaze you? Does it have large spines that frightened you? Was the price outrageous?
  • Rather than writing about a first experience, you can also position your description within the here and now. “I am…”
  • Is this a plant with a “difficult” or notorious reputation? This can be a helpful way to provide context, especially if you want to debunk a myth.
  • How have friends and visitors responded to this particular plant in the context of your garden?
  • What does your kid or your partner think of this plant?
  • Draw comparisons with other similar plants.
  • Have you made any observations as to how creatures interact with the plant in your garden? Do the bees love it? What about birds, other insects and pests, butterflies, mammals, your family pet?
  • Don’t forget that it is okay to be funny or make fun of yourself or the plant. Have you had any funny experiences or embarrassing blunders with it?
  • What is your honest opinion of this plant? Perhaps you don’t like its look or taste. If you don’t love it, chances are good that someone else feels the same way.

The Grow Write Guild is a creative writing club for people who love to garden. Everyone is welcome to participate! Click over to the Grow Write Guild FAQ to learn more about it.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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3 thoughts on “Grow Write Guild #17: Writing Plants

  1. Hi,

    This is so much fun. I really appreciate this exercise. I wrote about Maidenhair Ferns. You can read my article in my latest post at
    Looking forward to the next prompt!

  2. I’ve found it helpful to make lists of color words. I have a page for each major color: “green,” “yellow,” “brown,” etc. If I don’t feel like writing I can always work on my color lists… in my head while driving, at the supermarket, wherever and whenever. Then when I sit down to write about a plant, I scan my list, and instead of “yellow,” I can say saffron, squash blossom, traffic-light yellow, creamed corn, pineapple, dandelion, mustard, legal pad, etc.

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