In light of the upcoming release of Dr. Allan Armitage’s memoir, “It’s Not Just About the Hat — The Unlikely Journey of a Plantsman,” Greenhouse Grower caught up with him for an in-depth Q & A about his newest work and what he’s planning next.
Pre-order your copy of the book at AllanArmitage.net/shop. You will receive free shipping if you order by April 15, 2015 and use the promo code: Green2354. The paperback list price is $19.95.
GG: What inspired you to write this book?
Armitage: It is something I would normally have never done — ever! However, when I speak to groups, I do a lot of storytelling. The stories relate horticulture back to people like my family and colleagues. I wrote the book because people encouraged me to share my stories about how I arrived at where I am today.
GG: How did you come up with the title?
Armitage: This silly hat has taken a life of its own. It is like a disguise in reverse. If I take it off, nobody knows who I am. Put it on, and I am greeted by total strangers. The hat may be my icon, but there is a little more to my journey than just the hat.
GG: Tell us a little bit about the book.
Armitage: The book is essentially the story of my life. I knew nothing about horticulture growing up, but things happen in life — in all our lives. When I started thinking about how I learned things and then writing them down, the book took the shape of a memoir, mine. My horticulture education started when my brother threw me into a barberry hedge, and I realized that barberry had thorns.
The book tells about a little of what I have experienced and where I have been. I am fortunate to have traveled through Europe. I painted buildings in London, tended bar in Switzerland and had all kinds of crazy summer jobs in Canada, none of which involved horticulture. I didn’t get into that until well after college. My life took a lot of loops and turns
There are 12 chapters in the book and each has several subheads. It includes stories of what I like to call forks in the road, how they appeared and what the outcome was. It is basically stories within a story — a little bit of Dr. Suess, a bit of Erma Bombeck and a bit of everything else.
GG: Is there a message in this book that you would like readers to grasp?
Armitage: The easy answer is no. The book isn’t meant to be philosophical.
When I look back, I have often repeated a Yogi Berra quote at graduations and in the classroom that says “When the path forks, take it.” The fact is that everyone has forks in their path. My story is that this is the fork I took. Everyone has those same opportunities. You can continue what you are doing and ignore them, or you can take a chance and see where the dice rolls.
GG: Did you learn anything while writing your book?
Armitage: I learned that I am very fortunate, and life has been very good to me. I was thinking that I wouldn’t be a good songwriter because not enough bad things have happened to me. I haven’t been hit by a truck nor had Cindy Lou leave me and so forth. When you write something like this, you come to realize how fortunate you are.
GG: What was the hardest part of writing the book?
Armitage: The hardest part was starting, and talking myself into it, along with deciding what to include and what not to include. I kept thinking, “Who is going to read this book?” It was also hard to remember back that far. I had to think about it a lot.
GG: If you had to do it all over again, is there anything you would change about the book?
Armitage: Ask me that in about a year. Right now, it is great, but the book is not out yet. We’ll see if I even sell a copy. But, I don’t see any downside in the big picture. My kids and grandkids will read it someday. That is enough for me.
GG: Do you have current projects that you are working on? What’s next for you?
Armitage: This book has taken some time. I decided to publish it myself, so I obviously have a big job ahead of me promoting it. Ingram Press is the publisher, and it will be published on-demand.
I want to do another couple of plant books, but they are hard to publish these days. Most publishers are doing how-to books, for example, how to dig a hole. I am past that stage. I want them to be readable enough for my neighbors to experience, lots of pictures so my daughters will enjoy them and sufficient detail so plant-lovers will appreciate them.
I am currently working on upgrading my app. When the new version comes out in a couple of weeks, it will have more plants and far more interaction with garden centers. The centers listed in the app will be geotracked, so anyone can find them.
I also plan to do the big perennials book (“Herbaceous Perennial Plants”) one more time, which will be a time-consuming project.
GG: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Armitage: Just to have fun. To professionals, I would say the same to them that I say to you, never forget why you came to be here in the first place. Most every greenhouse grower, independent garden retailer or horticulturist you talk to — they might sound serious, fed up, tired, frustrated or whatever — but they all got in this business because they really liked plants or growing and whatnot. We tend to forget that, because we are busy or tired or not making money this month.
Every now and then you have to say to yourself, “Look at what I have accomplished to get this far.” Looking back now and then kind of balances looking forward, which is sometimes scary.