Search This Blog

Monday, May 25, 2020

Whose Garden Was This?

From the Computer Vault Dept.: Back in the heady days of late-’90s tech growth, I wrote for a number of computer magazines, among them the nascent Yahoo! Internet Life, which was intended to serve as a guide to the nascent World Wide Web. Here’s one of my pieces, written early in the magazine’s life. (Here’s its cousin.) It seems appropriate, with garden-planting season at hand – but let’s see how many of the sites recommended below still exist!


A POT OF DIRT, a little sunlight, a regular sprinkling of water – you’ve got yourself a garden. Whether you’re doing it for food or simply to admire, a garden puts you in touch with an inspiring cycle of growth and regeneration. Voltaire and Joni Mitchell both emphasized the need to enjoy quality gardening time, which at the very least is a nice diversion from the workaday world. Thanks to the many Internet gardening sites, you can at the very least wander through a virtual Eden, but the photos and how-to pieces should inspire even the most reclusive apartment-dweller to hang another houseplant in the window. The best sites combine good inline images and helpful information, and there’s a growing network of suppliers and fellow gardeners waiting to guide you--or at least sell you some seedlings and gardening gear.

The Best

The New York Botanical Garden (still here). [* * * ½] is about as close as you can get to nature without actually stepping outdoors. The handsome site promotes a garden complex located in a New York City borough, and therefore exhorts you to become a member and participate in Botanical Garden events. But those are only introductory stops on a lengthy ramble that takes you through such famous floriculture sites as the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, where you’ll be reminded of the old history of rose-giving (“a full-blown rose placed over two rose buds meant ‘we must be secret’”). Take a look at Daffodil Hill for some awesome photos and helpful cultivation tips, then continue the tour through collections of daylilies, herbs, and even an arborvitae maze for kids. Most of the pages are illustrated with beautiful photos that look even better in their accompanying larger versions.

Mixing fresh links with a many shovelsful of original material, GardenNet (gone, but with a page of resources lingering here) [ * * * ] is a useful starting place for horticultural information. Featuring its own electronic magazine, The Ardent Gardener, where tips are shared and questions answered, GardenNet also offers up-to-date information on travel and events, a jaunt through selected online catalogs, and an exhaustive list of gardening associations. GardenNet’s Guide to Gardens of the USA is a database searchable by garden type or location to find out about areas open to the public. Best of all, the Garden Home Page feature turns you loose on selected spots of horticultural interest--a recent tour of the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Washington included good photos, a feature otherwise lacking around this site.

The Virtual Garden (gone, but with this memento remaining) [ * * * ] is tucked into a corner of the Time-Warner electronic empire. Although it may seem at first to be just a vehicle for Time-Life to hawk its admirable series of gardening books, there’s also a searchable plant encyclopedia with plenty of easy-to-find information. You can also comb through back issues of Southern Living, Sunset, and noted journalist Allen Lacy’s newsletter Homeground. Not much in the way of flowery illustrations, but the graphics are well designed and the pages are easy to follow. Stop at the House Plant Pavilion for answers to many of the most common gardening questions.

The Rest

The enthusiasm bubbling through GARDENS+GARDENING (gone) [ * * ½ ] is infectious. Laura and Peter, who manage and write a monthly column for the site, obviously spend enough time in the field (in Nova Scotia, in fact) to know what they’re talking about, and they’re eager to share their insights--which they do in a lively question and answer column. Organic gardening is the emphasis, with a worthy sense of community involvement.

The defining characteristic of Garden Gate (gone, but there’s now a magazine with that moniker here)
[ * * ½ ] is selectivity. Links and more links, but they’ve been checked out for you and are helpfully described. After examining What’s Coming Into Bloom, where the newly-added sites are listed, you’ll find other links grouped under headings like the Teaching Garden, the Gardener’s Reading Room, and, for houseplant cultivation, the Sun Room. Garden Gate is also starting to produce some original material; the first project was an easy to use Web navigation guide.

Orchids, far from being the botanical shrinking violets of repute, are hardy enough to belong in every indoor garden--no greenhouse needed. Look at some impressive examples, get good growing advice, and order your orchids from Riverbend Orchids (this may be it). [ * * ½ ]. It’s a simple site with commercial intentions, but by the time you finish reading the enthusiastic advice and hit the photo-illustrated catalog, you’ll be desperate to grow a few of these gorgeous plants.

There are Daylilies Growing Along the Information Highway (legacy site here) [ * * ½ ], and it’s more than just decoration. The site is a well-wrought bid to promote this widely-cultivated flower, and was put together by Friends of the Daylilies, itself a branch of the American Hemerocallis Society. Featured are photos of award-winning lilies, tours of gardens, notable arrangements, and access to other growers on this and related sites – the daylily-related links alone are impressive testimony to the popularity of the genus Hemerocallis.

Another specialty is celebrated in the Cactus & Succulent Plant Mall (still here) [ * * ], where the thorny challenge of raising such plants is addressed with cross-referenced advice and links to online nurseries and other resources. A comprehensive photo gallery displays the incredible variety of these plants, from the magical aloe to the noble and endangered saguaro.

Carnivorous Plants Invade the Net! thanks to Peter Pauls Nurseries (gone) [ * * ]. It’s a commercial nursery with a carnivorous plants specialty. Not a lot of information, but a nice illustrated catalog of Venus flytraps, pitcher plants, cobra lilies, butterworts, and others, with an online ordering facility (but no audio). Get a few and impress and frighten your friends.

Light on illustrations but heavy on info is the Illinois Cooperative Extension Service’s Horticulture Solutions Series (this seems to be its current incarnation). [ * ½ ]. Whether your garden is indoors or out, you’ll find answers to many, many questions in the extensively cross-referenced database. It’s distinguished from other academic sites by an accessible, attractively designed front end.

Yahoo! Internet Life, c. 1996

No comments: