With love for houseplants on the rise, perhaps it is time to revive a 1970s cult classic, Mort Garson’s Plantasia. Whether it is his best work or not, it is definitely his most whimsical – the mischievous serenity of this album was originally designed for plants to listen to.
At a time when America was seeing a wave of alternative spiritual practices, yoga, and vegetarian restaurants, the since-debunked book, The Secret Life of Plants, written by Christopher Bird and Peter Tompkins, came out in 1973. The book, which professed that plants communicate telepathically, carry ancient wisdom, and love to listen to music, cannot be ignored in the context of this album.
While Bird and Tompkins’s charming, albeit pseudo-scientific, claims were inspiring people to invest in houseplants, Plantasia was being coupled with purchases at the Mother Earth Plant Boutique as a promotion. The boutique itself was one of a kind, and is also named on the album cover.
“There were nurseries where you could buy plants for your garden, but there was nothing else like Mother Earth at the time,” Joel Rapp, the founder of Mother Earth told Dazed, describing it as “a never-ending line of people all day, all coming in to enjoy the atmosphere and the plants that were for sale. It was a phenomenon.”
The album never got a proper release and was available only at the boutique, complete with a plant care booklet. As a result, its impact at the time was quiet. Much speculation still surrounds the inspiration behind the album, the context it inhabited, and the novel purpose of making music “for plants.” It was reissued for the first time, under the Sacred Bones record label, in June, 2019.
Garson began his career in pop music, with the likes of Brenda Lee and Cliff Richards. However, his work took a dramatic turn when he came face to face with the Moog modular synthesiser. After a demonstration by the famous inventor, Robert Moog, something inside Garson seems to have run free – and he became a pioneer in electronic synth sound. The rest of his career gave us no more pop, only album-length electronic compositions that revealed him to be a connoisseur of mood and variation.
From the same instrument with which he concocted occult ritual tones like Black Mass (under the name “Lucifer”) and erotic harmonies like Music for Sensuous Lovers (under the name “Z”), Garson created Plantasia. An effervescent, twinkling journey that feels like home, and inspires a childlike wonder.
The album conjures up a kind of peace not unlike the feeling that comes from sitting in a conservatory, surrounded by green as far as the eye can see. Its whistling and trotting asks you to explore – surprising you carefully with a nudging sense of mystery and perhaps an occasional whisk up into the clouds – while enveloping you in a familiar warmth all the while. As musician James Singleton puts it, “There is a certain vibe on Plantasia that I have been perennially chasing my entire life.”
We may never know if its charming songs, like “Symphony for a Spider Plant” or “Baby’s Tears Blues” actually help our plants, but they have definitely become home to many a human. In an age seething with impending ecological doom, perhaps we could do with a composition that is peacefully convinced (and is a compelling reminder) of our intimate relationship with plants. The wide-eyed, yet self-assured Plantasia is back in the popular imagination for this very reason.