We love it. It's why we do this


Our number one wish in life: Keep on growing.

We love learning, and through practice we've become very good at it.

(Right: When a tree fails we want to know "why" so we dig in after the answer. When we find it -- here, girdling roots and a stone both impeded root growth -- we take the time to share it with others. The effort comes back to us a thousand fold.)

We're self taught in gardening, which means having hundreds of teachers -- authors, workshop leaders, Extension agents, professors, and gardeners all over the world. Each has their own style and, if you listen, tips for how to learn.

One of those tips, common to many of our favorite teachers, was that we should put everything to the test. That made sense to us, who learned early on that there is no one right way to garden -- just different motivations and consequences. We must look at the differences to know "what if" you choose to or must do things a different way.

... you take the mystique out of gardening and put it in everyday terms that anyone can understand. 
- Jerome Gross -

There is no right way, just many ways for different reasons and consequences

As an example, Janet always cut our Wisteria vine in March and July, as her Dad had done. Then she took a class at a botanical garden where the instructor said you should never cut a Wisteria in the spring. Asked "why", the instructor said because you lose the flower. Yet our Wisteria bloomed.

We went digging for the "why" behind the no prune rule, and the "what if" we pruned differently. The answer is long (check our article on Wisteria pruning) but boils down to the simple fact that both ways can be right. Janet's Dad learned the European way from older neighbors -- a method based on a need to keep things small. He passed that on to Janet, rather than the American way of alowing everything all the room it wants. (In the New World we have so much space we forget others don't.)

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To choose between rights, look at the "why"

In 20 years of answering questions from readers, audiences, students and website users, we've seen so many right ways and exceptional situations that we automatically look for the "why" behind a rule. As a result, our library and our files are full of well-used botany books and vintage gardening references  that help us explore varying approaches. 

Just tracking the questions is revelatory.

Right from the beginning, we've logged questions we received. It started with newspaper readers' letters -- we answered them all, even those that didn't make the newspaper. We added in radio show questions and those that came to us after giving a talk. We've tracked topics, times and places through 12,000 questions, and counting. The patterns we've found are a treasure in themselves, and we've even found that one person's question can answer another.


Thousands of questions = thousands of reports on "what happens if"

We started with just the questions from a few dozen students a year, and now we're connected across space and through time to many thousands. We feel rich for having so much information, even as it makes us absolutely certain we won't ever master this field, not in a hundred lifetimes. So we share what we hear. Which means we receive even more. Thank goodness for the Internet to make it possible.

Your newsletter... is REALLY helpful. So nice to have a new super knowledgeable gardening friend !
- Mary Ann Speir -


Some of our favorite sources:

  • Internet searches (those who never searched before cannot fathom how wondrous it is to have so many resources on tap via the right key words and a discriminating eye for credible reports)
  • A New Tree Biology, Alex Shigo
  • The American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Gardening, edited by Christopher Brickell
  • Our articles file, full of clippings we've indexed and filed for 30 years; specially helpful, The Garden magazines of the Royal Horticultural Society, American Nurseryman Magazine, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden newsletters and those from HortIdeas -- now an on-line subscription
  • Botany for Gardeners, Brian Capon
  • The Complete Book of Gardening, Michael Wright
  • Diseases and Pests of Ornamental Plants, Pascal Pirone
  • Diseases of Treees and Shrubs, Warren T. Johnson, Howard H. Lyon & Wayne A. Sinclair
  • Extension Service bulletins (many if not most on-line now - hooray! -- identifiable by the .edu in the URL)
  • Fundamentals of Soil Science, H.D. Foth & L.M. Turk
  • Insects that Feed on Trees and Shrubs, Warren T. Johnson & Howard H. Lyon
  • International Society of Arboriculture publications
  • The Landscape Below Ground (2 volumes), edited by Gary Watson & Dan Neely
  • Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Michael Dirr
  • The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening (4 volumes), edited by Anthony Huxley
  • The Ortho Problem Solver
  • Wyman's Gardening Encyclopedia, Donald Wyman