The most important part of a gardener's job is, of course, caring for plants. "How do I divide my iris?"; "When should I prune my lilacs?"; "Why do my tomato plants produce such little fruit?" These are the kinds of questions I am asked when I visit my clients' gardens. People want many things from their plants: beautiful flowers and foliage, fresh fruit and vegetables, perhaps even screening or shade. But how often do we ask what our plants want from us?
Beneath all of the specific questions about dividing, pruning and plant culture, what most gardeners really want to know is: "how do I become a better gardener?" And the short answer is simply: give your plants what they need to grow. But of course, in reality, it's a bit more complicated than that, isn't it? All plants have different needs, and figuring out those needs is the real challenge. This is where a bit of botany—the scientific study of plant life—comes in very handy. Understanding the life cycle of plants—how they grow, develop, thrive and reproduce—is the real key to successful gardening. Everything from knowing when, where, and what to plant, fertilize, divide, prune, and collect, is dictated by the plants themselves, and their needs.
Of course, most backyard gardeners don't have the time to take a botany class. But that doesn't mean everyday plant science is beyond reach. Brian Capon's wonderful introduction to the science of plants Botany for Gardeners is the perfect resource for the average, backyard enthusiast. Accessible, easy-to-use and written in simple language, this book is both a useful introduction to the science of plants for the complete novice, and an excellent refresher for those of us who studied botany long ago.
In many ways, plants are a lot like us. Give them what they want, and they will grow and flourish. Limit or deny a plant's natural ability to fulfill its basic needs, and it will struggle, suffer, and perhaps even die. In the natural world, plants have slowly adapted and evolved to survive in many different environments. As gardeners, we often wish to grow plants from diverse regions—with a wide range of needs—in a small space. Understanding more about your plant's specific requirements will help you to meet its needs, and adapt to its new, human-controlled environment. Learning more about your plants so that you can better care for them is a win-win situation. Happy plants grow and produce healthy foliage, beautiful flowers, and tasty fruit and vegetables, making for very happy gardeners.
Can you recall the name of the molecule that breaks down in the leaves of deciduous trees every autumn, unmasking the other underlying colors?
Michaela grew up gardening, studying plants, and picking organic produce on the family farm. When she isn't spreading compost or pruning shrubs, she can usually be found writing articles or giving seminars on all things gardening. Michaela has worked as a gardening professional for 15 years and is author of the popular blog, The Gardener’s Eden.