Here’s a new garden game we can all play

When you see this, you will know that I have decided not to attempt to find a relevant image.

Make up plant names and gardening fixes, just for fun. Recently, I became the co-administrator of a Facebook group for local gardeners (i.e., Western New York area). It’s a good, lively group with people sharing lovely images of their gardens, especially around Garden Walk time, as well as plant ID and plant/garden problem questions. There is also valuable information about upcoming swaps, sales, and workshops. We screen for bots and remove irrelevant/overtly commercial posting.

However, this group, like most such groups, is subject to the same fatal flaw of online crowdsourcing. In this arena, all information is, pretty much, created equal. Everything is opinion. In our group, as in most such groups, there is no higher authority that can yea or nay an answer to a question and provide something close to a definitive answer.  (Which is why I usually search the Garden Professors group when I have plant problems.) And I am not saying I want there to be such an authority for our group; I don’t. But it can be kind of crazy sometimes. Recently I’ve been amusing myself by making up bizarre answers to common garden questions, some of which are close to stuff I’ve seen, some not so much. As follows:

This plant just came up/I saw it by a creek/is in an unmarked pot. What is it?

“That’s a weed; get rid of it immediately! It will take over your garden!”
“Oh, that’s sheep whistle.”
“Parson’s bottom.”
“Bottlepenny root.”
“Wild guess just to post a comment.”

My shrub/perennial/annual/houseplant is turning yellow/turning brown/wilting/not flowering; how can I fix it?

“Put coffee grounds around it.”
“Dig 2 cups of Epsom salts into the soil.”
“Throw it out.”
“Cut it down to the ground and it will come back up healthy.”
“Wild guess just to post a comment.”

And then the nuclear solutions to this oft-asked question: How can I get rid of this weed?

“Set it on fire.”
“Mix 5 gallons of equal parts vinegar, salt, and soap; shake well; pour in.”
“Cover it with black plastic/cardboard/layers of newspaper/concrete.”
“Burn it, soak the ground with vinegar, then cover with black plastic. Anything but Roundup!”
(No wild guesses here; everyone knows what to do with weeds.)

I do love our group. Long may we speculate about horticultural issues!

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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. I work in a box store garden center. we are constantly asked for plants that flower all summer AND come back every year. Having grown weary of explaining the difference between perennials and annuals a co-worker just answers “Silk or plastic”.

  2. Crowd-sourcing answers to plant and growing questions makes me crazy! Some of “here’s how it grew in my garden” is helpful but the examples you give are exactly the questions people should ask fact-based, pro-science sources like these:
    On the Web
    Google: Try using the search term to find answers from universities. For example, for compost info you could put compost in the Google box. Or add the school of your choice to find their specific info on the topic. (E.g., compost

    To find actual research papers, use Google Scholar – because that’s what it serves up. Not for anyone looking for a quick answer.

    Search Cooperative Extension Universities: Extension Search allows you to search hundreds of Cooperative Extension sites, which are land-grant universities charged with educating the public about gardening (among other things). Because not all Extension websites will give you the same answer on every topic, it’s best to visit more than one, and look for information that’s been published in the last five years or so.

    More Recommended Websites

    These websites are frequently recommended by one or more members of our Advisory Team.

    Missouri Botanic Garden Plantfinder.
    USDA Plant Database for correct/current scientific names and determining where a plant is native to.
    Purdue Virtual Plant and Pest Lab.
    Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
    Plant trial evaluation info at the Chicago Botanic Garden and Mt. Cuba.
    For up-to-date information about lawns, this site has it. It’s a new joint project by Penn State, University of Maryland, and Virginia Tech that focuses on the most environmentally responsible practices today. It may help turn the American lawn culture away from highly fertilized turfgrass monocultures to a more diverse plant community that requires fewer inputs.

  3. My favorite question on Plant ID groups is:
    “is this a weed or a plant?”
    It always elicits a dozen or so replies similar to: “a weed *is* a plant!”

  4. It *feels* like this post and some comments imply that unless plant information is approved/condoned by a land-grant university or some other public educational entity then it’s invalid. I don’t agree. Do we ONLY buy herbicides and pesticides since that’s what the agriculture bigwigs approve of? Home remedies are always wrong? I’ve used both cardboard (for years) and vinegar in the garden and they both work for me. In fact, I’m using cardboard now. Some of the advice I’ve received from my fellow gardeners, especially those who’ve been gardening for 30-40 years, has been worth far more than anything I’ve ever read on an educational site (and yes, I go to educational sites also). I must not be sophisticated enough to be a gardener. Yep, I’m a little offended.

    • There was no intent to offend. I stated how much I liked the group. But that can’t make me like or agree with practices like creating barriers between the soil ( and its organisms) and oxygen. Horticultural scientists say this is what plastic/fabric/cardboard (unless the cardboard is shredded) does and I believe them because of what we now know about soil life. I do have a bias in favor of science.

  5. Someone recently posted photos of plants on a local neighborhood website (I am in Pittsburgh) asking for help determining if the posted plants were perennials or weeds. Here is one of the comments (which took my breath away!): “If it has a Jagged edged leaf IT IS A WEED. bloom or no bloom.”

  6. I think the biggest problem with home remedies is they haven’t been USDA tested and approved. One has no clue to toxicity or danger to wildlife, pets, children, etc. There are no guidelines to dosage other than what someone guessed at. Long term use can screw up the soil. An example: using epson salts unless your soil test says your soil has a magnesium deficiency.

  7. Being pro-science myself, and growing things for a living, I will just say: we don’t know everything yet scientifically, it’s a constantly evolving set of data (and the subject matter is constantly evolving too). I will always look to science for answers and suggestions about how to manage both my farm and garden, but in the meantime, if/when there are issues, or certain goals, I am quite open to at least considering some anecdotal evidence. A little bit of common sense and past experience goes a long way too.

  8. I realize this FB group is fun and I’m glad it’s fun.–Groups like it are something I support and should be promoted.

    But I stand by my previous comment in support of some solutions that don’t come from scientists.

    I’m not anti-science. I worked directly for a school of natural sciences ( biology, chemistry, mathematics, computer sciences, and bioinformatics) in a small private university for 13 years. Also, my father is a scientist (nuclear physicist). That said, scientists can be wrong, and there are times when research results are heavily influenced by big for-profit companies who pay for the research. Also, there are times when science tells us something is good and/or safe, then 20 years down the road, it’s suddenly not…some plastics, flame-retardants, DDT, certain prescription drugs, etc. Advice from the gardener who has years of experience under his/her belt, in my opinion, is as credible as the scientist with his lab research.

    I know the majority of people do not garden organically–but as an example–for me the use of Glyphosate is far worse than the use of cardboard. All this to say that I’ll stick with my cardboard to smother my weeds, and I’ll continue to listen to gardeners with experience.

  9. I agree with Laura and Anne. I’m a member of some FB gardening groups and I’ve learned a lot from experienced gardeners on those sites. If I’m skeptical, I can Google for research to confirm or refute the recommendation. Yes, some of the answers are pure anecdotal, but I’m willing to give those solutions a try as long as it doesn’t involve using a chemical. The only other thing I have to say about FB gardening groups is BEWARE. I’ve left a couple groups because some of the commenters were downright nasty and mean.


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