The Kindness of (Gardening) Strangers

On Monday I talked about how we were all inexperienced gardeners once.  It’s a theme I often use in my gardening lectures–“We’re not born with this knowledge,” is one of my two favorite gardening sayings (the other being “plants can’t read.”)

And still, some of us may be more experienced than others.  While I write this blog, write for a local glossy magazine, review books for my State horticultural society and speak on numerous different gardening topics, I know that there are a lot of things I can still learn.  I’m delighted when I do learn something new.  I reviewed a book just recently where I was able to learn several new things and I was overjoyed–because, quite frankly, at my level, there’s not a lot gardening books can teach me anymore.

But where and how do we get our gardening information?  These days, it can be as easy as turning on our computers or our smartphones–but as always, with the internet, you need to be very careful about a lot of the information out there.  A lot of it is unsuitable for everyone (wrong zone, out of date information or simply inapplicable answers) and some of it is just plain wrong.

If we’re lucky we have a trusted friend, relative or neighbor we can rely on for help.  In many cases this person is older so we can benefit from years of experience without having to go through the “trial and error” ourselves.

On the other hand, one of the things I was constantly saying to my customers when I was in retail gardening (at least to those who were anywhere near my age) is “You know, all the rules that we learned when we growing up gardening have changed: the names of the plants have changed, the names of the birds have changed, and the way we do certain things have changed.  So what we thought we know–we now have to learn all over again.”

And they’d throw up their hands and then listen to what I had to say about not cutting back certain plants in the autumn, for example (the woody sub-shrubs).

So trusted advice does change.  And the place to go for the “latest and greatest” up to date advice can vary.  It can be a gardening magazine you enjoy, or a web site affiliated with the same, or it can be one of the great extension service web sites (just check the dates on the posting to make sure they’re relatively recent.)  Almost every state has an extension service affiliated with its local University and most of those have web sites now.

These can be invaluable for “breaking news” too like if late blight has been spotted in your state that might affect your tomato or potato crops (and what to do) or, in my state’s case, the fact that the Emerald Ash Borer (an invasive beetle) has just recently been found and that new quarantines are in place for the movement of wood.  They’re also great for lists of invasive plants to avoid.

But all in all, a good gardening friend or neighbor is still one of the best resources you can have.  That–and some compost–will get you far in the garden.

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