Any time you start a new job or meet new people, you inevitable get asked what you are interested in outside of work. So you start talking about gardening and someone asks you a question and you come back with a semi-nerdy and probably-too-thorough answer and it comes out that you are a Master Gardener. Then the questions get more specific and require more research to answer. And when you DO answer them, you sometimes get asked how you know so much about gardening.
Let me let you in on a secret: 50% (or more!) of Master Gardener knowledge is knowing where to find the right answers rather than knowing them off the top of your head. Honest!
Here’s what I would tell a new gardener or even a novice/recreational gardener that isn’t as intense about it as those of us who do Master Gardener training.
- Don’t be afraid to fail!
- Research why things failed.
- Use reputable sources for your research.
Now if you are like me, a researcher by heart, you’ll do this in a slightly different order:
- Research (using reputable sources) what it is you are going to do.
- Jump in and do your best, but without fear of failing.
- Figure out what went wrong and try again.
But either way, the best advice I can give to any gardener is to be fearless and unafraid of mistakes, but use those mistakes to learn more and then make different mistakes. Yep, you read that right: Not stop making mistakes, just make different ones. All of us are still learning and if you meet a gardener who says they don’t learn something new every year, I’ll show you a liar.
Now, about those reputable sources for your research. Let me give you a list of the Good and the Not So Good. The general gist of it is that you want sources that have scientific backing- educational institutions that study & research horticulture and botany are always your best bets. Universities and Botanical Gardens close to you will have information that is, obviously, most applicable to your location.
NOT SO GOOD:
- Pinterest (Epsom Salts are NOT the answer to 90% of your gardening ailments. I assure you. And you should not put diapers in your hanging baskets. I could go on, but I won’t. It’s just SO HARD to know if any of these sites or links are reputable so I find it best to look elsewhere.)
- Most of Facebook (unless you are a part of a Master Gardener group or something similar.)
- Old Wive’s Tales (some of these do work, but many of them are based on unique situations and aren’t applicable the world over, also, they’ve not been verified in any scientific way- at the very least take them with a grain of salt.)
- Pesticide/Herbicide/Fertilizer Companies (if you think its because they might have an agenda to sell you their product you’d be right.)
- University or Extension groups (you’ll note that almost every link to educational material I use here on this site goes back to a site like this- these )
- Master Gardener Groups (These folks are getting almost all of their information from Extension information and well researched and validated trials)
- Professional Growers (Especially specialty growers! If you need advice about peonies, don’t hesitate to see what peony growers are saying- they will know best.)
- The Royal Horticultural Society or RHS (they are the UK’s equivalent of Universities and Extensions all rolled into one and have phenomenal advice)
Now, there’s one little caveat that will become more and more important as you research and learn: Trust your gut. You know your site and soil and weather best. You live there every day! Take the knowledge you have gained cultivating your space, pair it with the research, and make calculated decisions based on what you’ve learned. This is why I have 50+ lavender plants growing happily in chilly zone 4, despite every site saying they are only hardy to zone 5. I trusted my gut that they would be happy in my conditions and I was right!
In any event, I just wanted to demystify gardening knowledge and help anyone else out there be fearless in their garden and know how to get the right kind of answers. The only secret to knowing a lot about gardening is doing it and wanting to learn it!