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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at  gardengurumontreal.ca

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Entries in gardening myths (1)

Monday
Feb012010

The Informed Gardener Blooms Again: Book Review for Bookpleasures.com

The Informed Gardener Blooms Again,                     Linda Chalker-Scott,  University of Washington Press 

Those of us who have learned to garden from the experience of others, have also been the recipients of gardening advice delivered in an oral tradition. If that guidance came from a university-educated horticulturalist, probably the knowledge transmitted is accurate. However, a lot of information, handed down from one gardening generation to another, is folklore that does not stand up to empirical scrutiny.

As a counterbalance to misinformation, we can rely upon the dedication to truth demonstrated by an author who dismisses out rightly the myths that influence our gardening behavior. Linda Chalker-Scott is an Extension Urban Horticulturalist and associate professor at Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University. She is the editor and co-author of Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens, Washington State editor of MasterGardener Magazine, author of the online column Horticultural Myths and has a blog, gardenprofessors.com.

The author began her plant science career as a theoretical, laboratory-based plant physiologist and evolved into a practical, landscape-oriented urban horticulturalist. Her goal has been to transform relevant scientific information into readily understandable and applicable garden practices. This is her second book in making the science of gardening and landscaping accessible to the non-academic gardening community. The first book, similarly titled The Informed Gardener, was published in 2008.

Readers will be shocked to discover that some of what we hold to be true is either inaccurate or false. Hence, the titles of the chapters in this book begin with the phrase “The Myth of…”.  Each chapter contains an exposition of the myth the author has undertaken to crush, followed by the scientific information available to contradict the myth. This is, in turn, is followed by an exquisitely concise summary of the argument, i.e. what we need to know. Finally, the author includes a reference to scientific papers that support the facts.

One example of a defeated myth hits home. A respectable TV home improvement series, featured an episode on foundation landscaping with rose bushes. The renovator informed the viewing audience of the importance of using Epsom salts to create healthy roses. Not only did I follow that advice but I also passed along that information to all of my clients. The author reports that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that Epsom salts make roses grow bushier or more floriferous. Epsom salts, another name for magnesium sulphate, is as good as any other source of magnesium in treating a plant that suffers from leaf chlorosis. Such plants, because they are stressed, are unable to uptake other beneficial nutrients. Relieving the magnesium deficiency will improve chlorophyll production as well as nutrient uptake. However, feeding Epsom salts to plants that do not need magnesium will not make them healthier because plants only uptake the amount of magnesium that they need.

Some of the other topics covered in this book include the danger to humans who brew and apply compost tea because it may contain e-coli bacteria. Other myths dispelled cover garden-related issues such as companion planting, foliar feeding, and the myth of predicted growth that appears on plant labels. Another myth deals with drought tolerant plants used to create xeriscapes. The well-intentioned gardener will plant such perennials with the expectation that they will survive with little rainfall. However, during rainfall, drought tolerant plants absorb more precious water than other plants.

There are more widely held myths dispelled in this publication. I urge the serious gardener to read The Informed Gardener Blooms Again, and its companion The Informed Gardener. At best, we will become better-informed gardeners. At least, we will save a few hundred dollars a season, otherwise spent on nutrients that our gardens do not need. Special mention goes to Ashley Saleeba for the gem-like design of this publication and for the ingenious adaptation of artwork by Sarah Dixon on the book’s cover.