Jill Severn's Gardening Column

Google and the Garden


Come January, I will be longing for a chair by a fire and a stack of seed catalogues. That post-holiday ritual offered assurance that winter would not last forever. It was a time for mulling over important decisions, like whether to grow kohlrabi. It’s an odd vegetable that is at its best harvested young, when it’s weird above-ground bulb is still smaller than a tennis ball. Kohlrabi has a pretty small fan club, but I think that’s because people let it get too big and woody.

But I digress.

My point is that seed catalogues that come in the mail appear may be an endangered species. On the Burpee Seeds website, there was no link for “catalogue.” It asked if I meant “catalog,” but when I said yes to that, still no luck.

I searched garden company websites for the next half hour, but no matter how I spelled catalogue, it was hard going. I came up with two: Gurney’s – which I hope will resemble its old classic version – and the more upscale White Flower Farm. They say they will arrive in my mailbox, but it’s not clear whether they mean email or real mail. And many garden sites, such as Territorial Seeds, tout their “online catalogs.” That’s not the same species or even the same genera.

So here I am, having a futile fit of nostalgia. Sitting by a fire and reading on a laptop or tablet just isn’t the same; you can’t turn down page corners, scribble notes on it or circle garden contestants. And now burning wood is a guilty pleasure because of pollution and climate change.

I do learn a lot online though. In the past hour, I learned where to get red trilliums, which I don’t want, and found multiple sources for species crocus, which I do want. I also saw a lovely blue-violet astilbe, but now I can’t remember which site it was on. And I did sign up to receive email from two or three previous purveyors of catalogues, but I unsubscribed soon after being deluged with them.

The internet delivers an incredible amount of information about every plant under the sun and in the shade, every houseplant, every tool, gadget and accessory, every kind of garden doo-dad, and every possible product and strategy for fighting pests and diseases. There are also a zillion garden blogs; if you Google “best garden blogs” you will be overwhelmed with results ranging from “best 10” to “best 100” of them.

All of these websites or blogs have wildly different opinions and advice. One site praises the charm of pink mounding oxalis, another rails against it as an invasive pest and believes anyone who grows it is public enemy number one.

If you browse very long on these zillion sites, you might think that people are doing an incredible amount of gardening. I asked Google about that, and it delivered 5,750,000,000 results in .71 percent of a second. But they all gave different answers, mostly related to how much money people spend rather than how much time, so I still don’t know.

It would be possible to pass an entire winter browsing gardening sites, but only if you are tolerant of both more screen time than is good for you, and an ocean of contradictions and quarrels.

I’m old school; I plan to read garden books and magazines this winter, but even then I probably won’t be sitting by a fire. These days I only use my fireplace on special holidays and during power outages.

Time marches on.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at  jill@theJOLTnews.com

EDITOR'S NOTE:  Here's another idea, if you're interested in reading a real, live paper catalog that describes trees, vines, and shrubs that produce edible nuts or fruits.  It's available from nearly local Burnt Ridge Nursery in Onalaska, Washington, the same people you might meet at Olympia Farmers Market most weekend days.  


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