Advice from others

If you have full sun, these are easy—though even these can be problematic.
If you have full sun, these are easy—though even these can be problematic.

Here’s more news from the gardening tips for newbies front. Huffington Post published a piece from Hometalk yesterday that offers the “9 best gardening tips for beginners.” I liked it OK—particularly the emphasis on good soil and organics—but couldn’t go along with some of the directives, which seemed chosen at random, including some rather dubious and incomplete seed starting instructions (I don’t think beginners should mess much with seeds.) and a bizarre list of “easy-to-grow” plants, as follows:

 Some plants are just known to be easier to grow than others- plant these! For easy-to-grow produce, Hometalk’s gardening experts recommend tomatoes, peppers, onions, chard, basil, and bush beans. Easy to grow and maintain flowers include clematis(a vine), sunflowers, dahlia’s, foxglove, roses, petunia & black eyed susan’s. Just ask your local plant nursery employee to direct you to the “hardy” plants.

Forgetting the misplaced apostrophes and the fact that this list appears under a picture of mums, and ignoring the vegetables, with which I have no expertise, I take exception to many of the ornamentals on this list. Roses can be very disappointing for beginners, unless you go with landscape types (all roses are the same according to this). Dahlias? Really? Most must be started from tubers, need full sun, must be staked, and in many cases need to be wintered over. Foxglove? I suppose, but the newbie will be very disappointed when she finds this needs two years to bloom and is not really a perennial.  As for clematis, these have somewhat complex classifications and pruning needs and can be very prone to wilt. At least mine are, which is why I’m ready to rip them out en masse. Petunias are easy. Though I see they make no distinction whatsoever between perennials and annuals.

This is always the way with gardening generic advice. You have to stay away from the micro—like which plants to grow—and keep to the macro—soil care, hardscaping, exposure. Otherwise, it’s really best to listen to your local experts and—to a lesser  extent—your gardening neighbors.

I know—it’s so easy to make fun of stuff like this. The problem is, though, that there’s so much just like it online, and that’s where people look now.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. What are the odds that whoever compiled (I hesitate to use the word “write”) this has never gardened at all?

  2. It would seem likely the person who wrote the article was directed to do so and had little personal experience with those plants. I have had minimal luck with foxglove. And I am still trying to find a place where I think clematis will be most successful given the blasting summer heat we have. Cheers!

  3. I will admit to creating these kind of list guides, and I don’t think this one is the worst, but it does seem cobbled together from other lists and such.

    I don’t doubt that the writer isn’t an actual gardener, which is pretty sad. With all the garden writers out there, that HomeTalk couldn’t find one to do some freelancing is depressing.

  4. Maybe they did a google search for ‘easy to grow’ and picked names they recognized (rose) or that had pretty pictures to it 😉

  5. That is depressing (and you are quite right about each of your reservations, of course.)
    Is it true that there is a lot of this silly stuff online? In which case how do beginners discover who to trust? There didn’t used to be so much information pre internet but it was reliable in books by trusted authors.

    • Yes, a lot of online advice is bad, though I do find good plant information on individual plants via wikipedia and extension sites.

      This one seemed at first like low-hanging fruit, but it was on Huffington Post, which people seem to take seriously (more or less). That bothered me.

      I think people should buy or borrow well-reviewed books. Or ebooks.

  6. Terrible plant advice. Thanks for bringing this to light. Really, the only “easy” plants for a beginner are going to be those that most would classify as weeds – and I’m okay with that. It’s the building up of confidence that matters at first. There’s plenty of time later to unwittingly kill dozens and dozens of plants you’ve purchased (I write from experience).

  7. Sunflowers, arrgghh..I cannot grow these to save my life! I always fume silently when I see them on a list of ‘easy stuff even a child can grow”!

  8. The internet is really a mixed blessing here. I got seriously interested in gardening long before the web existed, and I have many books to thank for saving me time and heartache. I would specifically recommend Allen Lacy (Home Ground) and Eleanor Perenyi (Green Thoughts) to beginners, but I garden in the Northeast. Amy Stewart’s From the Ground Up might be a similar inspirational/cautionary tale for beginners in CA. And she has nothing kind to say about growing your own roses!

  9. Sadly, these type of articles…the ones that start with “9 Best… 10 Steps… 5 Ways…” seem to be proliferating on the internet these days. For some reason we seem to be a people of lists. I was amused that the first tip was to start a garden! Seems obvious enough. And then the tip of putting wheels on your containers so you can move the plants to the correct lighting was even more amusing! (Why didn’t I think of that?) Unfortunately I think that I would be super nervous about starting a garden after reading this article…what happens if the rain wets the leaves on my plants? Eeeeck!

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