CULTURE

Web use takes root among gardeners as the cyber age sprouts plant sites

As the weather gets cooler, many of us start thinking about ways to revive gardens that are looking rather limp after the summer heat and their owners’ absence. Some plants have survived better than others, some have given up completely and will have to be replaced, so now is a good time to take stock. The best season to introduce new plants is autumn, but it is not too soon to start thinking about new ideas for the garden. In the cyber age, the range of available plants is greater than ever. Expensive gardening books are still lovely to look at, but very few are more than a collection of beautiful photographs taken under ideal conditions, when what one really needs is more practical advice on what plants to grow, how to care for them and where to order them if they are not locally available. Among the large number of websites for gardeners, a few are specifically aimed at the Mediterranean gardener, others offer detailed information about plants that helps customers decide which suit their own conditions. Cyberplants The site of the Mediterranean Garden Society (www.mediter raneangardensociety.org), which is based in Greece, provides a wealth of information. An extensive plants section is being added to all the time, grouped in categories such as plants for dry shade, for clay soils and fast-growing trees. A source of inspiration for Greek gardeners is the «Gardens» section, where readers can tour two beautiful gardens, one of them in Greece on the island of Corfu, with color photographs and a commentary and description by the owner, Cali Doxiadis. The site also provides a list of subjects covered in the society’s excellent journal, available to members. Plant finders There’s no need to buy an encyclopedia of plants if one can access sites such as www.floridata.com, where plants are grouped into annuals, grasses, palms, perennials, shrubs, trees, vines and water plants. A fast-search site lets you find plants by their common or botanical names and a Discussion Board is available for personal requests for information and advice. Perhaps one of the most comprehensive gardening sites is that of the Royal Horticultural Society (www.rhs.org.uk), with an excellent plant finder, garden finder (a list of gardens open to members of the RHS in Britain, France and Belgium), and a «Help and Advice» section open to non-members as well. Each month there is information on different topics – in August, for example, there was advice on leaf cuttings, watering vegetables, green manuring, maintaining hanging baskets and tips on how to deal with various pests. Mail-order plants Many of these sites are set up by garden or plant centers that also send comprehensive catalogs for mail-order shopping of plants. For succulents, a good site is the Succulent Plant Page (www.suc culentplant.com), which has advice on how to grow succulents, tips on important details such as how to repot a prickly cactus, photographs of plants, links to associations and a list of seed and plant nurseries. A choice of over 1,000 roses, many of them the «true» old roses, await visitors to the Peter Beales site (www.classicroses.co.uk). Their mail-order catalog is a pleasure to browse through, and is divided into classics, modern shrubs, climbers, ramblers, hybrid teas and floribundas. Descriptions of each include information such as which are hardy, tolerant of poorer soils, suitable for north-facing walls, vigorous, with repeat or continuous flowering. A careful reading will help you find ones suitable for your own area. Bare root rose plants are sent in autumn within a few days, ready for planting. Another British source for old roses is David Austin, whose site is www.davidaustin.com. Closer to home, a more limited range of roses is available from «Triantafyllies Avramis» in Yiannitsa (www.av ramis.gr). When ordering from abroad, note whether plants are sent by mail or courier, as the latter is considerably more expensive. Organic sources The Henry Doubleday Research Association (www.hdra.org.uk) is one of the world’s largest organic gardening institutions. Its catalog is run as a joint venture with Chase Organics in Hersham, Surrey, UK, who have been suppliers to organic gardeners for over 80 years. The products – seeds, fertilizers, composts, pest controls, weed controls, tools and books – are available to members and non-members alike. Members are able to consult its Advice Service, but both members and non-members can refer queries on organic gardening to [email protected] although priority is always given to members. Advice on organic gardening is also available from Organic.uk (www.organic.mcmail.com), which is simply set out and easy to follow, with practical advice for those who know little or nothing about how to go about gardening organically, with sections on «square foot» gardening for those with little space, urban gardens (everything from tiny private spaces to larger group efforts such as growing food in cities) and glimpses of private organic gardens in England, where gardeners impart their particular experience. For Web-less readers Readers who prefer to look at a book rather than a computer screen might like «Plant Life in the World’s Mediterranean Climates: California, Chile, South Africa, and Australia and the Mediterranean Basin,» by Peter R. Dallman. The book is an overview of the landscapes, vegetation types, and plants of the five regions of the world that have a Mediterranean climate. The plants share remarkably similar characteristics that allow them to thrive in these conditions. A good reference for anyone interested in growing drought-resistant plants and as a naturalist’s guide to these beautiful and special bioregions. For the growing number of travelers whose vacations focus on learning about and appreciating natural history, Dallman also includes a chapter on planning trips to each of the five Mediterranean regions.