Ever wonder where the term “green thumb” originated? One of the more plausible answers originated with the Brits, whose version, “green fingers”, actually makes more sense because how many gardeners do you know who use just their thumbs?
What I discovered is that just before and during World War II, one of the most popular programs on BBC radio in Britain was called “In Your Garden,” the host of which was a Mr. C.H. Middleton. A well-known etymologist, Eric Partridge, suggested that this program might have popularized both phrases, and that “green thumb” was actually a reference to the very old English proverb “An honest miller has a golden thumb.” Millers, merchants who grind corn for farmers, used to judge the quality of their product, corn flour, by rubbing a bit between the palm and thumb. But millers were often suspected of cheating their customers, and “golden thumb” was often used sarcastically, including by Chaucer, to mean a talent for duplicity. In any case, the proverb was sufficiently well known in Britain in the mid-20th century to make the “golden thumb” and “green thumb” connection plausible, and would explain why the thumb in particular is found in the most common form of the phrase.
What prompted this interest in green thumbs? My 89-year-old mother — a shining example of green fingers. When she moved from her condo to an apartment in an independent living facility, she gave up a lot — her piano, many antiques, family heirlooms, furniture, etc.
But she insisted on taking along many of her indoor plants (and some outdoor ones). After all, she’d nurtured many of these potted bulbs for years, letting them lie dormant until it was time for them to bloom. In fact, she has so many I worried that she would trip over them. She solved that problem by acquiring a second storage space in her building — this one just for her plants.
Every winter, she babies her amaryllis bulbs (she has three pots) watering and staking them carefully to be sure they are productive. And they are, indeed, productive. So much so that my husband is green with envy. He’s attempted this several years, with limited success.
Last week, one of Mother’s amaryllis plants had produced seven (yep) blooms. By the time I took this photo, it was reduced to four. But no matter. Trust me. On a gloomy day, just take a look at this beauty and you’ll find your spirits quickly lifted.
- Bloom Thyme: Growing Amaryllis (thegardendiary.com)
- How To Pretend Like Spring Is Already Here (proflowers.com)