Gardening know-how at a crossroads

Our weed album (just a screenshot, not the actual album, sorry)

As our local gardening Facebook group advances into actual gardening weather, we are getting flooded with member requests and ID questions. For the former, we have some simple procedures in place to keep out the bots, and, for the latter, we have pointed members toward ID-only groups, just to keep our group from becoming too ID-oriented. We’ve also come up with an album of known offenders in WNY—stuff like bishop’s weed, creeping Charlie, plantain, Japanese knotweed, lesser celandine, and so on. Next is a database of vendors and services recommended by members. I’d also like to see a native plant reference. (When I say “we” it is mainly my co-admin who does all this.)

You see, we want this group to offer verifiable information that actually helps gardeners, because, as I look around and read comments from members, it seems like gardeners just starting out really don’t know where to turn. And I am not sure why. For me, it was simple. Books had always been my go-to for almost everything else in life—my education, my how-to, my recreation, my refuge—so I used books to figure out what to plant, where to plant it, and how to take care of it. After that, experience taught the rest. I was lucky in that my space was well-defined; if I had been presented with a blank slate of weedy back yard, it would have been another story.

I don’t think books are so popular with starting-out gardeners these days, though I’d love to be proven wrong. In the past, we have lamented the disappearance of regular gardening coverage from newspapers big and small—even the New York Times discarded its gardening columnist long ago; I suppose if there ever are any gardening articles, one would find them in the generic “Living” section. I looked today and could find nothing. Our Buffalo paper still has a weekly gardening column that’s very well done. But then, what does it matter? A recent Pew study determined that only about 13% of the public rely on print newspapers these days (and I’d have to assume that would include the online behind-a paywall versions of same), while the remainder are split between “online” and TV. Gardening is not exactly news but it falls into areas like community activities and culture. Interestingly high percentages of people want that kind of coverage, but, according to Pew, much lower percentages say they are actually getting it.

Can online instructional videos, like the ones Susan’s website curates, do the job? Partially. But I also think people want locally based knowledge, hence our group. Do people seek out the extensions? Garden centers can offer necessarily limited help, though some do offer classes. Our botanical gardens also offers a series every year.

It disturbs me that books are too often overlooked as a knowledge base. I am planning to urge our group members to consider Damrosch’s A Garden Primer, DiSabato-Aust’s Well-Tended Perennial Garden, Rodales big encyclopedia, or other well-rated titles. In between discouraging people from using bishop’s weed as a ground cover.

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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. I’d love to click on your weed slideshow but at the top of this article but it isn’t working.

  2. I have the weeds mentioned except japanese knotwood. I also have Garlic mustard weed that I pull easily after rainy days. And I have many, many more. I have been leaving them in grass but weeding from flower beds. But should I pull flowering herbs, to limit them in coming years?

  3. Hear, Hear, on Barbara Damrosch’s The Garden Primer. Beth Botts has a wonderful book Month by Month Gardening in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, for those in the Midwest. It’s loaded with practical advice and features encouragements to go organic all along the way.
    I teach seed starting and vegetable gardening at the local park district conservatory and always reference these two books as well as Rodale titles, and I make sure to encourage visiting our library where all of these and more are available. Don’t devalue gardening books. Finally, one book every gardener should have and keep is a gardening journal. The unexamined gardener is one who forgets what’s important.

  4. I love Gardening Books. One of my favorites is The Well Tended Garden. I miss the gardening shows that were so prevalent on HGTV. The network might as well remove the G in the title.

  5. Much of my gardening knowledge also came from books (natural for a retired public librarian). Also belonged to a Garden Club for many years and our monthly programs and field trips were educational. Encourage new members of your group to check out the collections at their public library. I’ve given up on getting rid of the weeds which are as prevalent as the ever-growing deer population.

  6. Too many people are going the easy way..Instead of doing some research regarding plants or flora/fauna…buying a book of
    reference …they take a picture and voila…What is this? It is sickening.

  7. I’m a huge book person, but with gardening I pretty much just started to do it, and turned to books, articles and asking people questions as the problems and questions came up. Nowadays with the Internet, if I want to see how something is done (propagating, for example), I go to you tube videos, or just do a search. The gardening books I own are mostly for inspiration. Our regional newspaper (the Oregonian) has a gardening column still, by the way!

  8. It’s gardening books for me and mine are regionally-focused because, let’s face it, Texas isn’t Michigan, Oregon, or South Carolina. My local library has many of the same books I already own, and when I’m feeling cheap, I order gardening books through inter-library loan. However, while this may not be a resource everywhere or appealing to everyone, much of my gardening knowledge came from listening on weekends to three call-in gardening radio talk shows in Austin, TX. They were, and still are, a terrific resource. Need info. on a native plant…You called in to Sheryl McLaughlin. Tomatoes not doing so hot? John Dromgoole (now Jeff Ferris) was your go-to person. Want to find out a good source for garden statuary? Tom Spencer from the Wildflower Hour could give you the names of vendors. All of them were/still are fantastic resources for all gardening questions in Central Texas and otherwise. Another positive was that you could be out in your garden doing your thing and listen to the radio at the same time.

  9. For those who can be persuaded to read books, here are some I’d enthusiastically recommend as references for native plants from a garden perspective:
    Landscaping with Native Trees, Jim Wilson and Guy Sternberg (1995). (There’s a 2014 version by Sternberg et al., Native Trees for North America.)
    Living Landscape, Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke (2014).
    Gardening with Native Plants of the South, Sallie and Andy Waskowski (1994).

    The first two are relevant for the entire east and Midwest. In Buffalo, you’d want a reference for native perennials more specific to the northeast.

  10. I have gathered so much information from gardening books and gardeners’ memoirs over the years, and I keep adding more to my personal collection. It saddens me a bit that people nowadays expect easy, quick answers instead.

  11. Literally today a friend of mine posted a picture of a plant on her facebook page and asked if it was a weed or not – it was a Hosta. She grew up in Northern California where the snails eat hosta to the ground so she’d never seen it as a first-year plant before!

  12. Thank you for sharing your opinion on this! There is so much information out there in the world you MUST do your research before trusting any of it. Form your own opinion and practice practice practice. That is what gardening is all about 🙂

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