Gardening is a visceral — not a virtual — activity, so we need to see, touch and smell as we discover it.
I felt sorry for the speaker at a recent garden forum. He was operating 21st century technology to convey his message about organics, composting, fruit and vegetable growing and all manner of soil and horticultural wisdom with a mouse and a laptop.
But he was standing in front of people with timeless curiosity who didn’t give a tweet for it.
True, he travelled light, and his website and pictures were stylish – but they were at the mercy of the venue’s problematic wireless connection, which kept dropping out, leaving his screen blank and the audience of keen gardeners ditto.
They were firstly nonplussed — eventually bored and disengaged. The speaker had no living specimens with him to fall back on, to wow the people with a dazzling leaf, stunning colour, or a bloom to sniff, or plump produce to admire. He broke the oldest rule in the teaching book: show, don’t tell. Instead he told and didn’t show, and most in the room dozed off.
A pity, really, as he knew his onions, but relied too heavily on the prop of the power point. And when it failed to fire, he went off the boil.
He’d have been better off closing down his Apple Mac and putting out a bowl of real apples to illustrate his points. Then we would have had a better handle on his garden, what it grows and the organic benefits.
More the pity for the old-fashioned eyes and ears waiting, watching and listening.
That’s the thing about gardening. It’s visceral. Not virtual.
We want and need to touch, feel and smell it. You can tell me til you’re blue in the face about a gorgeous lily, rose or shrub foliage, but to really “get’’ it, I need to see it in the flesh, hold it, maybe compare it to similar relatives and observe how the folds are arranged, how light falls on it, whether it’s glossy, velvet, textured, ribbed, solid or feathery, what its perfume is, how the buds form … and a host of other attributes to file away.
Like all greedy gardeners, I am always on the lookout for yet another plant for the plot and everything that takes my eye is a contender.
The most popular gardening speakers are those who bring a selection of their plants for display and the materials they feed them to make them thrive. It is harder and longer work than packing a USB stick, but the listeners are real, not virtual gardeners. They can look up a book or a website any day for information.
It’s inspiration they are after.
And speaking of inspiration in the garden, I only have to go as far as my front entry where the dazzling azaleas are first out of the gates when most else is waiting for the warmer weather to strut their stuff.
Azaleas are one of my favorites for pots. Part of the rhododendron family, there are 10,000 ( yes truly) species, varieties and hybrids available, so you’ll have no trouble finding a color and flower shape for your taste and site size. You can strike from a cutting, too, best taken after flowering has finished. They also look great as a hedge.
Azaleas like part shade or dappled sun, but there are sun-hardy varieties. However, full sun will fade the flowers. I leave this pot in my north facing courtyard and it thrives there. If you only give them shade, azaleas will grow tall and leggy. Morning sun with shade in the afternoon is best. Their flowers last longer in shadier spots. Planting azaleas under high trees to protect them from the sun is a good idea.
They prefer acidic soils, around a 5.5 ph, with high organic content. Water them regularly, but don’t overdo it, because azalea plants are prone to root rot, but don’t let the potting soil dry out (unless the plant is in dormancy). Now is a good time to add a slow-release fertilizer.
Their susceptibility to disease varies with the types. Some that occur include leaf gall (cool, wet weather results in white growths and curled leaves), azalea lacebugs, spider mites, and scale.
Prune in early spring before new growth appears, and prune as the azalea blooms to encourage more flowers. Azaleas also begin to grow the next year’s flower buds after the summer blooms.
And cut and bring them inside to enjoy, too.