If you're a gardener in southern California you may have read the following articles in one of America's most popular gardening magazines: The Ten Best Flowering Evergreens, Ten Plants to Fall For, Spectacular Spillers, Conifers for Shade or Set the Mood with Grasses.
During 2009, other features in the same publication included such titles as No-Fuss Container Combos; Big Bloomers; Make Your Shade Really Shine, Alliums All Season Long, The Season's First Flowers and my favorite, The Only Shrubs You Need to Grow.
I wish I would have read that last article a long time ago; it would have saved me a lot of money and effort, and years of wasted time.
I have a gardening wish for 2010. My wish is that during the new year, local gardeners stop reading national gardening magazines.
But, I suspect that's not going to happen; and as a garden writer myself I guess I'm being hypocritical even making the suggestion. I want gardeners to succeed. With success, I know they will try again. With a second, bigger success, they'll garden even more. Another effort - another success; that's what we should work toward as garden writers. As with most learned skills, success builds confidence and confidence builds self-esteem. If a writer wants to encourage gardening, then they must teach gardening success.
But what would happen if a southern California gardener followed the advice of The Only Shrubs You Need to Grow? Say they cleared the trunk and headed off to the local garden center for a load of Oakleaf Hydrangeas, Spiraeas, Purple Smoke Trees, ‘Knock Out' Roses, ‘Emerald Gaiety' Euonymus, Redtwig Dogwoods, Japanese Skimmias and ‘Blue Star' Junipers? I'm afraid the results will be far less than a success.
I'm sure the editors and writers of these gardening publications have good intentions, but what is the result of their articles? Is it encouraging or discouraging gardening?
Occasionally, I am asked to speak at a garden club, plant society or similar group. One of the programs I like to present is "Gardening Myths and Misnomers". I elaborate about such myths as Vitamin B1, compost starters, gravels in the bottoms of pots, grass in the shade and lots more. But if I ever run out of material for this program, all I will need to do is bring along the latest copy of one of these gardening magazines and begin reading aloud.
At the very foundation of garden success is an understanding and appreciation that almost all garden advice must be regional and local. Certainly, a few broad garden concepts and techniques apply will from coast to coast, but a local requisite is always needed for plant selections. Since a plants' suitability is always ruled by climate, soil, weather and so much more, articles like Ten Plants to Fall For, Spectacular Spillers or Alliums All Season Long become almost laughable in their ignorance and in their arrogance.
Having worked at Southern California garden centers for over thirty years I see firsthand the damage that these articles cause. Not a day goes by that there is not a well-intentioned homeowner, with magazine in hand, asking for the pretty plants in the picture.
I worry about aspiring gardeners who read these articles. With enough searching and a tank full of gas, they may eventually find a Spiraea, an ‘Emerald Gaiety' Euonymus, a Redtwig Dogwoods or a Japanese Skimmia somewhere. These are the homeowners who say that gardening is too much work or that believe they have a brown thumb.
Gardeners want to succeed, not fail. So during 2010, put down the glossy national gardening magazines, with their fairytale articles, and encourage others to do the same. Instead, join a local garden club, attend a nearby home garden tour or find a local mentor who will coach you to gardening success.
Mostly, during the coming year, appreciate where we live – in coastal Southern California. Have a successful 2010 gardening year!
Questions from Readers December 26th, 2009
I added several bromeliads to a small tropical area of my garden. When I bought the plant I was told to keep water in the center cup of the plant, but someone else told me not to do this. What should I do?
Many bromeliads, especially Neoregelias and Aechmeas, can hold water in their central leaf cups, also called tanks. But in cultivation it is not necessary to keep these cups filled with water. Water in the cup, especially in cool weather or low light conditions, encourages bacteria and fungal problems. However, if the cup is filled with water, it should be flushed out periodically to prevent stagnation. In warm summer conditions a little water in the cup probably won’t cause any problems. During the winter I use a meat baster to remove any rainwater that collects in these cups, so as not to rot the plant.