are no green thumbs or black thumbs. There are only gardeners and non-gardeners.
— Henry Mitchell
are not the only requirement for growing plants. One must be as willing
to study as to dig, for a knowledge of plants is acquired as much from
books as from experience.— Elizabeth Lawrence
Gardening is America's
number-one leisure activity, enjoyed by one in three adults. Why do we
garden? Survey responses suggest we like being active and out of doors,
we garden to relax, and we find creative expression in the "slowest of
the performing arts." While this hobby needn't be expensive, Americans
collectively spend $30 billion a year on their lawns and gardens.
In the Pennsylvania
Horticultural Society's McLean Library, we work with amateur gardeners
who want to learn the art and science of horticulture. Like similar libraries,
we answer thousands of garden-related inquiries each year. As is true of
all libraries, we routinely use and recommend informative Web sites.
Web resource list is not exhaustive. There are too many gardening sites
to note every good one. Instead, I've limited this article to resources
we've used or recommended to gardeners. The sites are mostly in the U.S,
with a nod to Canada and the U.K.
are for gardeners. Related topics, such as botany, plant sciences, and
landscape architecture, deserve separate treatments, so we did not include
Gardening Is Regional
The Web is global
but growing conditions are local, subject to variations of soil, temperature,
light, and water. How do gardeners know which plants will grow in their
back yards? To begin, they must understand "hardiness," a plant's likelihood
of surviving winter's cold or summer's heat. Hardiness zones are "climactic
zones established for the purpose of classifying plant hardiness" (Complete
Gardener's Dictionary, Barron's 2000). Gardeners consult hardiness
zone maps to verify which plants can live in their garden. The most commonly
used U.S. map is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Hardiness Zone map,
which divides North America into 11 zones, with zone 1 in the north and
zone 11 in the most tropical climes. A map sits on the U.S. National Arboretum's
site at http://www.ars-grin.gov/ars/Beltsville/na/hardzone/ushzmap.html.
Agriculture Canada publishes a Canadian zone map at http://map1.agr.ca/scripts/esrimap.dll?name=Plant&Cmd=Map&Lang=En.
The Naming of Plants
Like all living
things, plants have "official" Latin names and common names. Common names
often cause confusion. A Lenten Rose is not a rose by any other name at
all — it's a hellebore (Helleborous orientalis). So if you want
to grow a Lenten Rose, it's futile to consult a rose book or Web site.
Let's say you visit a nursery to buy a Cedar. Do you mean an Atlas Cedar
(Cedrus atlantica)? Or a White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)?
When in doubt, cross-check a common name with its Latin name and read the
plant description carefully. Latin names are harder to spell than colloquial
names, so when you search the Web with Latin names, have a good horticultural
(printed) reference handy if you can, such as D. J. Mabberley's The
Plant-Book (Cambridge University Press, 1997).
can be described two ways: what they grow and where they
garden. Many gardeners have plant passions, such as herbaceous perennials
or native plants. Some specialize in one plant — roses, orchids, or rhododendrons,
for example. Plant societies, whose members are knowledgeable hobbyists,
foster the growing, collecting, swapping, or sale of prized plants. Many
plant societies have informative Web sites. Where gardeners garden
is equally diverse: on city rooftops, in containers, or indoors; on country
estates, deserts, or by the seashore. Some garden alone; others like the
camaraderie of community gardening.
What Do Gardeners Want?
do gardeners seek? Our reference logs reflect their most common concerns:
gardeners seek the same information on the Web.
Diagnostic — something
is wrong with a plant. Need to identify pests, diseases, environmental
situations, and recommend solutions.
— what plant is this?
Right plant, right
place — gardener needs plants appropriate for situation, i.e., shade plants
or seashore plants or plants for slopes, etc.
— how to grow, care for, and propagate the plant.
Where to buy plants
— especially ones not locally or easily available.
Garden travel — which
gardens to visit and best time to visit.
Where to learn more
— where to take classes, attend lectures, join a plant society; book recommendations;
Web site recommendations.
How to research historic
landscapes — user needs period garden designs and plants.
In our Internet
classes on gardening resources we emphasize that most reliable plant
and garden information still exists in print form. Web resources are merely
one part of horticultural information.
Large Gardening Web Sites
One of the oldest
gardening sites and still very handy. In the "locate your zone" link, find
your hardiness zone by keying in your ZIP code. We especially like the
"find a source" link to Barbara Barton's Gardening by Mail database, described
below under "Buying Plants, Seeds, and Supplies."
organization uses gardeners from all over the country to contribute Web
content. We use its regional reports, Frequently Asked Questions, and its
Gardening with Kids sections the most. Other sections include Gardening
Resources (articles, dictionaries, Q. & A.) and Community (events calendar,
message boards, and seed swaps).
Created by Jim
Parra, garden center coordinator at Zilker Botanic Gardens in Austin, Texas,
this is one of the largest collections of gardening Web links — over 4,300.
It updates regularly and its topical organization reflects the way gardeners
Reliable Sources: Where to
Find Expert Advice on the Web
conditions are local, the best advice may be found in your own backyard.
Two local approaches: one — consult experts from nearby botanical gardens
and arboreta; two — consult Web sites of local cooperative extension services.
Many public gardens
and arboreta have plant clinics. To find a nearby public garden, search
the members' list of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and
Arboreta (AABGA) site [http://www.aabga.org].
services dispense trustworthy gardening advice. Many use trained volunteers,
called Master Gardeners, to answer questions at plant clinics, via telephone,
or e-mail. Master Gardeners' Web pages often publish factsheets of common
local pests and diseases.
To find your state's
Master Gardener programs, search Google using these terms: [State Name]
Or, go to MasterGardeners.com
Universities and Government
University WebGarden; Horticulture and Crop Science in Virtual Perspective
If I could limit
my recommendations to a single Web resource, it would be this site's Plantfacts
database. Plantfacts has over 20,000 plant factsheets from 46 universities
and government institutions in the U.S. and Canada. Factsheets usually
include recommended cultivars, cultivation instructions, and lists of common
pests and diseases.
Ask Our Experts
at the Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory, Purdue University
Experts at Purdue's
Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory post answers to questions on animal
pests, insects and mites, and plant diseases. Surely the most intriguing
pest problem is "Lemmings in Our Graveyard," but "Moles in Lawn" and "Cats
in Houseplants" are also worth a look.
University. Extension Toxicology Network. ExToxNet FAQs
This site has
a FAQ section on gardening, pesticides, and health concerns.
People often wonder
if a plant is poisonous to their children or pets. Cornell University has
a Poisonous Plants Home Page at http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/plants.html.
Agriculture Canada's poisonous plants page downloads more quickly than
Created by the
National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council of the USDA Forest
Service, this site carries educational materials, how-to guides, discussion
forums, a quarterly Web-zine, a link list of national and local resources,
late-breaking news, and interactive tools for tree identification and selection.
This site is for the urban forestry community, researchers, arborists,
volunteers, and K-12 environmental education teachers.
and Wildlife Service and USDA
The U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service site lists endangered and threatened plants [http://endangered.fws.gov/wildlife.html].
A gardener's quest
for unusual plants doesn't stop at national borders. U.S. importation regulations
and permits can be found on the USDA's animal and plant health inspection
service, plant protection, and quarantine page [http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ppq/].
The Green Industry: Trade
and Professional Associations
"The Green Industry"
includes growers, importers, sellers, manufacturers, and service providers.
Many Green Industry sites are for practitioners. The Netherlands Flower
Bulb Information Center [http://www.bulb.com]
site, however, serves consumers, with sections on bulb basics, frequently
asked questions, indoor bulb forcing, bulb history, lore, and facts.
Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborists List
Trees can be a
homeowner's most expensive landscape feature. Arborists have expertise,
tools, and machinery for proper tree care. This trade group maintains a
database of certified arborists. A search by ZIP code yields nearby arborists.
See also ISA's page on tree care [http://www2.champaign.isa-arbor.com/consumer/consumer.html].
Plant Societies and Specialties
Lists of plant
society Web sites are easy to find on the Gardening Launch Pad site. Two
outstanding examples of society sites are The American Orchid Society's
Orchid Web [http://orchidweb.org],
with a Beginner's Corner and orchid culture sheets, and the North American
Rock Garden Society [http://www.nargs.org].
Rock gardeners covet rare or unusual plants and are usually highly skilled
Community Gardening Association
Do you want to
learn how to start and maintain a community garden? This site covers group
gardening's joys and challenges.
Databases for Cultivated Plants
This is a weak
area on the Web. While such databases do exist, to date, none are as comprehensive
as books in a basic gardening library. Authority, too, is a problem. When
I consult The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening, I know an army of
botanists and horticulturists oversaw its creation and the world's most
respected horticultural society — the Royal Horticultural Society — produced
it. Who created the records for NeoFlora [http://www.neoflora.com],
which claims to be "the world's largest plant database"? NeoFlora is vague
about this. How does NeoFlora add new entries? By asking gardeners to submit
records to it. While cooperative database-building does work (witness
OCLC's WorldCat), is this the best way to grow a plant database? Who will
solve thorny taxonomic questions? Where is quality control? (Think catalogers
are fussy? Talk to a taxonomist!) That said, The New RHS Dictionary
sells for $312. NeoFlora is free.
Network Plant Encyclopedia
Again, I could
not figure out who created this database, nor could I determine how many
plants it covered. This encyclopedia also appears on the Yahoo! Living
Databases for Plants Found
in the Wild
Resources Conservation Service's National PLANTS Database
On the other hand,
this is an authoritative database. Many gardeners use native plants.
This database includes "vascular plants, lichens, mosses, liverworts, and
hornworts that occur spontaneously within the United States" (quote from
the Web site). The site divides into topics, images, links to related sites,
and tools. PLANTS can generate reports of invasive and noxious plants,
for example, the bane of all gardeners.
What Plant Is That? Plant
Images in Print and on the Web
of Minnesota Libraries produces this resource, edited by Richard T. Isaacson
of the Andersen Horticultural Library and Katherine Allen, Plant Sciences
Bibliographer, Magrath Library of the University of Minnesota. Users pay
a fee for most of this site, but it's a bargain, at $59.95 per year.
Online's Citations to Plant Information and Illustrations database includes
over 150,000 records of plant color illustrations and information on 75,000
For plant images
on the Web, start with Katherine Allen's Plant Images on Web Sites and
CD-ROMs: An Evaluative Review in a "free" section of Plant Information
Buying Plants, Seeds, and
Online. Sources for Plants and Seed
For years, horticultural
librarians have used the printed version of this database — Andersen
Horticultural Library's Source List of Plants and Seeds. Find mail-order
sources for over 70,000 plants cultivated in North America.
The Garden Tourist
The U.K. is to
gardening what France is to cooking. Every year, the National Gardens Scheme
opens thousands of "must see" private gardens to raise funds for charities.
For years, garden mavens relied on the annual guide, The National Gardens
Scheme Gardens of England and Wales Open for Charity to plan when,
where, and which outstanding private gardens to visit.
guide is for sale on the NGS site. Better still, search the site's GardenFinder
database (which also includes Scotland) by garden name, keyword, county,
and a date range.
The Garden Conservancy
is the U.S.' only national nonprofit organization dedicated to garden preservation.
Its site describes current projects and member gardens, such as The James
Rose Center for Landscape Architectural Research and Design in Ridgewood,
New Jersey and The Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield in Hyde Park, New
The Garden Conservancy
produces an annual Open Days Directory (in print form) as a guide
to private U.S. gardens open to the public. The order form appears on the
Calendar of Garden events
Search for all
events, or restrict your searches to flower shows, festivals, plant sales
and swaps, garden tours, lectures, workshops, and seminars. Remember, gardening
groups often publish their events on their Web sites.
Libraries and Book Sources,
Videos, and Software
and Botanical Libraries
Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL)
CBHL is an international
organization of botanical and horticultural librarians, botanists, book
dealers, and collectors. This site describes CBHL's activities and lists
Web addresses of member libraries. Some, like Harvard's Botany libraries
and the New York Botanical Garden library, are large research collections.
Other libraries are smaller, but all share an interest in horticulture
and botany. With in-depth collections reflecting local growing conditions,
CBHL libraries serve as regional horticultural information centers. For
example, Seattle's University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture's
Miller Library has an excellent page of annotated links, "Pacific Northwest
Gardening Gateways" [http://depts.washington.edu/hortlib/links/pnw.gateways.html].
CBHL members are
specialists in their field and generous in sharing their time and expertise.
To find gardening
and landscape architecture books reviewed in The New York Times,
search its Book Archive, a database with over 50,000 reviews and author
interviews back to 1980 [http://search.nytimes.com/books/search].
Of course, most of the reviews cover non-gardening material, so you should
know key bibliographic information on the books you want to check — title,
or March, Publishers Weekly [http://www.publishersweekly.com/]
publishes an article on gardening book publishing trends. I found the 2000
gardening trends article under the "features" link of PW's Web site.
CBHL lists horticulture
and botany book dealers at [http://huntbot.andrew.cmu.edu/CBHL/CBHL-Booksellers.html].
See also BookFinder [http://www.bookfinder.com/],
a gateway to aggregated listings of over 15,000 new and used booksellers
A.C. Burke &
specializes in gardening videos and software. Its catalog uses useful subheadings,
such as "flower arranging," "fruits and vegetables," and "garden history
The Garden Historian: Garden
and Landscape Design History Sites
The summary below
lists U.S., Canadian, and a few U.K. resources.
Good Starting Places
of California, Berkeley Environmental Design Library, History of Landscape
A detailed and
sensibly arranged guide to the literature of this field.
list arranged geographically and by subject, by Edwinnia von Baeyer, author
of Rhetoric and Roses: A History of Canadian Gardening, 1900-1930.
My only quibble is that some links need updating.
Use search terms
"garden history" and "landscape design history" to get recommended Web
sites, links to EB's gardening history articles, and related magazine articles.
Landscape Records in the United States at Wave Hill
project, headquartered at the Wave Hill garden in the Bronx, "gathers information
about the location and content of collections of documents (both written
and graphic) that tell us about the use of our land. These could include
maps, planting plans, nursery catalogs, personal or business archives,
photographs, postcards, aerial photographs, real estate brochures, deeds,
etc. This information is arranged and entered into the CATALOG's database"
(quote from Web site). The database is not on the site, but CATALOG staff
will search it in response to inquiries. There's also an informative newsletter
on the site and in print.
of American Gardens
Horticulture Library houses 60,000 photographic images and records documenting
historic and contemporary American gardens. Its database is deeply buried
in the Smithsonian's vast Web site. To find it, go to the SIRIS (Smithsonian
Institution Research Information System) Archives and Manuscript Catalog
search page [http://www.siris.si.edu/webpac-bin/wgbroker?new+-access+top.siarc].
Click on the pull-down
menu for the field "Repository" and choose "Archives of American Gardens."
Then perform your search.
Memory Project at the Library of Congress. Image Databases. American Landscape
and Architectural Design, 1850-1920
Here you will
find digitized images from 2,800 lantern slides owned by Harvard's Loeb
Library of the Graduate School of Design. This study collection "offers
views of cities, specific buildings, parks, estates and gardens, including
... hundreds of private estates from all over the United States" (quote
from Web site).
The most complete
American reference to biographical information on landscape architects
is the recently published book, Pioneers of American Landscape Design,
A. Birnbaum, Robin Karson, eds., New York, McGraw-Hill, 2000.
For me, a Web surprise
was A&E Television Network's Biography Web site [http://www.biography.com].
Within 5 minutes of searching, I found brief but useful entries for a dozen
historically significant plant people. This site's database combines entries
from the Cambridge Encyclopedia and the Cambridge Dictionary
of American Biography. My only quibble is that search is limited to
name only — no access by subject or date.
Garden History Journals
Review: Garden History and Period Gardens
editor and publisher of Garden Literature, writes a thorough review
of garden history journals, periodicals, and newsletters, with emphasis
on American and British publications.
Forest: A Journal of Horticulture, Landscape Art, and Forestry
Forest (1888-1897) was "the first American journal devoted to horticulture,
botany, landscape design and preservation, national and urban park development,
scientific forestry, and the conservation of forest resources" (quote from
site). This is a digital reproduction of all 10 volumes, comprising 8,400
pages and over 1,000 illustrations.
What are "Heirloom
Plants"? The Complete Gardener's Dictionary (Barron's, 2000) defines
heirlooms as "cultivated forms of plants that originated before 1940; hybrids
only became common after World War II." Heirloom plants, also called "historic"
or "antique" plants, are often used in reconstructions of historic gardens
and landscapes. A Google search with these terms will yield links about
heirlooms and sources for them.
Center for Historic Plants
This program "collects,
preserves, and distributes historic plant varieties and strives to promote
a greater appreciation for the origins of garden plants in America" (quote
from Web site). While the emphasis is on plants grown by Jefferson, the
center documents plants grown throughout the 19th century.
Keeping Up — The Wired Gardener
The McLean Library
staff produces The Wired Gardener, a free, monthly e-mail newsletter
of gardening Web sites and book reviews, search tips, and news of gardening
happenings. We have thousands of subscribers from the world over. To subscribe:
Send an e-mail
message to LISTSERV@HSLC.ORG.
Leave the "subject"
In the body of
the message, type SUBSCRIBE WIREDGARDENER firstname (space) lastname.
Conclusion: Toward a Greener
I hope this article
will guide librarians to accurate gardening information on the Web.
What's in short
supply on the Internet? Good gardening writing. Like travel writing, garden
writing can be a pleasure to read, with well-crafted, often inspired, writing.
On the Web, you won't find much of Henry Mitchell, Vita Sackville-West,
Andrew Jackson Downing, Allen Lacy, Katharine White, or Elizabeth Lawrence.
But you can find the catalogs of garden libraries (like the CBHL libraries)
and seek these authors there — or perhaps dig them up in your own library.
is library manager of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and a past
president of the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries. Her
e-mail address is email@example.com.