“Garden’s looking a bit past it now. Do I just cut everything down? And what do I do with a hydrangea? Gardening people, answers please!”
This was a Facebook post by a former colleague of mine just before Christmas which made me think about how we gather information and expertise these days about what to do in our gardens. I have a core set of gardening books that I always used to rely on but increasingly I’m aware of how rarely I actually take them off the shelf. If I want to know what something is, when or how to prune, when best to sow or whether something will survive in an obscure corner of the garden, I tend to turn to the internet and ‘google’ it. And when I do, I am overwhelmed by the extensive range of information and advice from recognised experts, such as the specialists at the RHS and all the main plant and seed companies, but I can also find individual’s experiences of growing particular plants, what worked for them and what they’d suggest avoiding.
The range of online gardening information is growing on a daily basis. Exploring a different aspect of this I recently signed up to follow some gardening blogs – online diaries where people share their experiences. Ironically one of the first blog posts I read focused on gardening books and which people still found useful! Another is called ‘The Middle Sized Garden‘ which I thought was a great title and, as far as I can tell, the writer really does garden in a ‘middle sized garden’, unlike the author of a book entitled ‘Small Gardens’ that I bought some years ago when we lived in our previous house. Clearly he and I had a different idea of what a ‘small’ garden is. He wrote about landscaping and creating vistas whereas we didn’t even have room for a rotary dryer to turn without skimming the walls or hedge!
Technology is even transforming my most regular form of gardening inspiration – Gardeners’ World Magazine. As well as a weekly email newsletter that I receive in addition to my printed magazine subscription (of course it’s also available as an e-magazine), I’m encouraged to follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
However, what I found interesting about my friend’s Facebook post was that, as a relative newcomer to gardening, she didn’t want to trawl pages of information in the hopes of finding the right answer, so instead she decided to appeal for pointers in the right direction from her friends who have already done stuff outside their own backdoors. Gathering information in this way is a form of what is known as ‘crowd-sourcing’ (crowd-funding being when you ask lots of people to chip in to pay for something). As a newbie gardener her approach worked well as she had a range of friends reply within minutes with a quick summary of what she should or shouldn’t do. Mostly the advice was leave it all until February – and leave that hydrangea even longer!
Interestingly she wasn’t the first of my friends to use Facebook to assist with gardening conundrums. On a number of occasions now I’ve seen photographs posted of mystery plants seeking identification. It’s surprisingly difficult to identify something from a photo. Last year I became embroiled in an online debate between colleagues as to whether a tall pink flower was a delphinium or a stock! Believe you me, they can look surprisingly alike out of context!
Gardening is, of course, a very visual pastime as well as being a physical thing, which means it lends itself to all sorts of print and electronic options to engage you in preparing, sowing, planting, pruning and, sadly the one that never goes away, weeding. So despite the wealth of websites, blogs and emails seeking to inspire me on this very cold evening, I’m going to dig out the colourful print seed catalogues that arrived over Christmas and start planning some summer colour because if I don’t get my act together soon, it’s going to be very dull and unproductive outside our backdoor in 2017!