As our local gardening Facebook group advances into actual gardening weather, we are getting flooded with member requests and ID questions. For the former, we have some simple procedures in place to keep out the bots, and, for the latter, we have pointed members toward ID-only groups, just to keep our group from becoming too ID-oriented. We’ve also come up with an album of known offenders in WNY—stuff like bishop’s weed, creeping Charlie, plantain, Japanese knotweed, lesser celandine, and so on. Next is a database of vendors and services recommended by members. I’d also like to see a native plant reference. (When I say “we” it is mainly my co-admin who does all this.)
You see, we want this group to offer verifiable information that actually helps gardeners, because, as I look around and read comments from members, it seems like gardeners just starting out really don’t know where to turn. And I am not sure why. For me, it was simple. Books had always been my go-to for almost everything else in life—my education, my how-to, my recreation, my refuge—so I used books to figure out what to plant, where to plant it, and how to take care of it. After that, experience taught the rest. I was lucky in that my space was well-defined; if I had been presented with a blank slate of weedy back yard, it would have been another story.
I don’t think books are so popular with starting-out gardeners these days, though I’d love to be proven wrong. In the past, we have lamented the disappearance of regular gardening coverage from newspapers big and small—even the New York Times discarded its gardening columnist long ago; I suppose if there ever are any gardening articles, one would find them in the generic “Living” section. I looked today and could find nothing. Our Buffalo paper still has a weekly gardening column that’s very well done. But then, what does it matter? A recent Pew study determined that only about 13% of the public rely on print newspapers these days (and I’d have to assume that would include the online behind-a paywall versions of same), while the remainder are split between “online” and TV. Gardening is not exactly news but it falls into areas like community activities and culture. Interestingly high percentages of people want that kind of coverage, but, according to Pew, much lower percentages say they are actually getting it.
Can online instructional videos, like the ones Susan’s website curates, do the job? Partially. But I also think people want locally based knowledge, hence our group. Do people seek out the extensions? Garden centers can offer necessarily limited help, though some do offer classes. Our botanical gardens also offers a series every year.
It disturbs me that books are too often overlooked as a knowledge base. I am planning to urge our group members to consider Damrosch’s A Garden Primer, DiSabato-Aust’s Well-Tended Perennial Garden, Rodales big encyclopedia, or other well-rated titles. In between discouraging people from using bishop’s weed as a ground cover.