A Gardener's Guide to Thanksgiving Day Dinner Conversation

Shlumbergera sp. (Thanksgiving Cactus)
For those of you who find yourself sitting at the Thanksgiving table next to your second cousin’s husband’s mother or your niece’s mother-in-law’s daughter or some other person who is equally welcome, but unknown to you until that very minute you sat down, I offer you…

A Gardener's Guide to Thanksgiving Day Dinner Conversation

also known as

Five Excellent Conversation Starters for Gardeners

1. Ask them if they know that sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes aren’t really all that closely related.

Then you can go on to tell them about how sweet potatoes are tuberous roots from the plant Ipomoea batatas which is in the Convolvulaceae family and regular white potatoes are from the plant Solanum tuberosum which is in the Solanaceae family. Then right when they are putting that big forkful of sweet potatoes in their mouth, you can announce that the morning glory is in the same family as the sweet potato. Ditto when they get ready to eat some mashed potatoes, only shout out “petunias!”

(If someone tries to one up you by saying that sweet potatoes are really yams, you can tell them that yams are really starchy tubers from the species Dioscorea in the Dioscoreaceae family and that none other than the U.S. Department of Agriculture makes people who label sweet potatoes as yams also label them “sweet potatoes”.)

2. Talk about which table scraps can go in the compost bins and which ones should be put in the trash.

If you aren’t sure about this one, study up a bit… basically any meat products go in the trash. Leftover sweet potatoes and their peelings can go in the compost bin. Do not tell them about how you have a worm composter inside because some people are touchy about discussing worms while they eat, as I’ve found out from past experience. Of course, if they are going after another helping of noodles, noodles that you want to eat, go ahead and talk about the worms to see if it ruins their appetite, leaving more noodles for you.

3. Ask them if they have planted all of their spring flower bulbs.

If they have, you can compare notes. If they haven’t, this is your opportunity to let them know that if they hurry, there is just a sliver of time left to plant some. (Adjust “sliver of time” for your region… that’s based on USDA Hardiness Zone 5). If you have planted all your bulbs, you can be a little smug, yes, even self-righteous about it. If you haven’t planted all your bulbs yet, then you might want to skip this topic.

4. Talk about all the Christmas cactus plants, Schlumbergera sp. formerly known as Zygocactus, that are showing up in the stores now.

Then rant a bit about how people seem to want to skip Thanksgiving and rush right into Christmas, even with their blooming plants. If you’d like, share with them the story of the Thanksgiving Thumper. This should be your most controversial subject, so tread lightly!

At this point, show them a picture of your cactus in bloom right now. (You did take a picture with you, right?) You can tell them how it blooms every year around Thanksgiving so therefore it is a Thanksgiving cactus, and you do nothing special to get it to bloom. Do not mention that you have two other Schlumbergera that aren’t blooming. One has white flowers, the other orange flowers, as far as you know. You aren’t sure which is which because, well, they aren’t blooming. If it comes up, just say the plants must be undecided on which holiday to bloom for, so they aren’t blooming at all.

5. Mention that yard work is a great way to burn off calories.

If Thanksgiving is actually at your house, see if you can round up a few guests for a rousing game of “Rake the Leaves”, which is so much better than some silly game of touch football or beach volleyball. After “Rake the Leaves”, if the lawn could use one more cutting before winter, mention you have four mowers in the garage and there will be mower races in the backyard for all who are interested, and then don’t serve dessert until after everyone has raked and mowed played their fair share of your fun lawn games.

Or if it is snowing, mention the big Troy-Bilt Snow Thrower giveaway. Hurry, giveaway ends here at 9:00 pm EST, drawing shortly thereafter.

Then you can end the conversation with everyone giving in to a little gardenalgia, telling stores and recounting memories of old gardens they have known.

Finally, don't forget, somewhere in the conversation work in a little holiday spirit and talk about what you are thankful for in your garden.

I hope this was helpful to all!

Happy Thanksgiving!

(Feel free to print this and take it with you to Thanksgiving Dinner as a reference guide. Keep it hidden under your napkin on your lap... no one will know!)


  1. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! (My husband ate a Thanksgiving lunch today, in honour of some visiting American coworkers.)

  2. Oh Carol you have given me my first guffaw of the day. What a delightful post. I wish you and yours a fun filled thankful day.

  3. All great topics for conversation and not so very controversial either as long as you stay away from 'mine is bigger than yours' which can apply to zucchini or winter squash, pumpkins or potatoes. Happy Thanksgiving, Carol.

  4. Such wise conversation starters,except maybe number 5 in the context of calorie counting. My husband has a family with some very large relatives, so maybe not the best one to bring up at the table. My husband and myself are the smaller, or should I say lightest adult members. They would make us rake the leaves.

  5. Happy Thanksgiving Carol from Italy; the American students here have all been making their first Turkey dinner away from home. I like your ideas for conversation opening lines, most useful, thanks, Christina. Pop over to my post today with a rainbow that circled the house.

  6. Happy Thanksgiving Carol! And thank you for the tips...good for old friends and new!

  7. You are a funny lady and clearly a great Thanksgiving conversationalist. I'd talk worms with you anytime! Hope your Thanksgiving is and continues to be a wonderful day.

  8. Shucks. I didn't get a chance to read this until after I came back from Thanksgiving. It would have been helpful. I think.

  9. Happy Thanksgiving! I'm with Kathy, above, and did not read your hilarious suggestions for Thanksgiving dinner topics until long after dinner. However, I may use some of them at Christmas...specifically the russet potatoes vs. sweet potatoes vs. yams discussion.

  10. But what to do when you bring up anything garden related and you get the eyeball roll from family?

  11. Thanks Carol. We don't have Thanksgiving in Australia but I am going to a pre-Christmas lunch with my very non-gardening in-laws who like to talk endlessly about nothing but football and cricket. I'm printing your post to take with me.

  12. You are too funny! Have you ever noticed that your fellow guests' eyes glaze over at these topics. I asked my niece about Paris, and she said she wanted to return with me. I said, great! We can go to the famous rose gardens in Paris, and then to the palace gardens, and don't forget Monet's Giverny. Then, I noticed she was looking frightened and wanted to get away from me. Alas.~~Dee

  13. too funny.... only because I know that you would indeed bring each and everyone of these topics up!

  14. I love this! I think I covered three of those five topics today... hope they all come back next year!

  15. Happy Thanksgiving Carol! Great dinner conversation advice...a branch in a different direction! Enjoy your day!


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