Here’s help for Piedmont gardeners

nbrachey@charlotteobserver.comMarch 8, 2013 

At this time of year, spring seems here one day, gone the next. One week, it seems like tomato time; another week, the weather kicks us back indoors to contemplate houseplants. Yet it is certain that soon the Piedmont will settle into that long, flower-filled time called spring.

Will you be ready?

Fortunately, here in the 21st century, there is a lot of help for beginning and experienced gardeners. These resources include a wealth of seed and plant catalogs, websites that both sell and instruct, and a legion books on every aspect of gardening.

A huge number are out there, but I’ve narrowed it down to some of my reliable favorites.

Catalogs/websites for seeds and plants

•  Burpee: This famous seed company offers a catalog – a new tomato named Super Sauce glows on the cover – with a huge range of choices for flowers, vegetable and herb seeds, as well as a smaller range of plants. The website,, has the seeds and plants as well as advice, how-to videos and a growing calendar.

•  The Cook’s Garden: The catalog and website,, emphasize seeds and plants that are more unusual and may appeal to gourmet cooks. Instead of the common chive, it offers Cha-Cha chive. To color up your green bean collection, there is a red-podded asparagus bean, the pods 12 inches long. The website neatly divides its offerings into helpful categories of heirlooms, organics, flowers, vegetables and herbs.

•  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: Specializing in nonhybrid heirloom flowers, herbs and vegetables that have been grown for generations, Baker Creek presents a just-folks image, but its catalog contains excellent close-up photography along with descriptions that are specific and to-the-point. And if you think you have tried everything, consider the purple artichoke called Violetta Precoce, newly arrived from Italy, where they say it has been grown for hundreds of years. The website is It features a magazine, blog and forums as well as the seed listings.

Websites for learning

•  Clemson University: The website,, comprises the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service’s Home and Garden Information Service. Listings offer guidance on many topics, including landscape plants, lawns, vegetables, fruits, nuts, insects and diseases. Got a problem with something eating your tomato? Click on “Insects, diseases & Other Problems.” Then click your way through to the tomato fruit worm, which was photographed feeding on someone else’s tomato.

•  N.C State University: The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service and N.C. State produce an Urban Horticulture site,, aimed at home gardeners. It contains enormous listings of plant profiles on many popular ornamental plants, listed by both scientific and common name. The best guide to home vegetable gardening is a long and detailed one on a different site: It includes diagrams, calendars, problems, recommended varieties and even the distinctive differences between three kinds of hoes.

•  National Gardening Association: A nonprofit that has promoted gardening for four decades, the association’s website,, covers many topics with a modern flair. The site excels in staying current. For example, there is a regional report with reminders of tasks for the Piedmont Carolinas, how-to videos on sowing seeds, and directions on pruning grape vines. The site also emphasizes gardening for children, with good ideas and activities for them.

Help from the plant societies

•  Daffodils: The American Daffodil Society,, offers the complete course on one of America’s favorite flowers. This includes identification, planting and tending. A good list of FAQs offers guidance on such problem areas as growing in the shade, the effect of ground covers on bulb growth, how they multiply and the always-asked “What is the difference between daffodils and narcissus?”

•  Daylilies: The American Hemerocallis Society’s site,, offers almost an encyclopedia of information about this popular perennial. It includes a regional guide to activities, a database with descriptions of many, many varieties and a video filled with daylilies so lush you may want to dig up everything else and just plant them.

•  Irises: The American Iris Society,, will inspire gardeners to try more than the popular tall bearded types. This site should expand your horizons, with an enormous database of descriptions, good planting and growing instructions and clear distinctions for the many types of irises, such as Siberians, Japanese and Louisiana.

Three helpful books

•  “Starting Seeds,” by Barbara Ellis (Storey Publishing, 121 pages; $8.95): A nice little guide for the beginner who yearns to grow flowers and vegetables from seeds. A step-by-step guide with simple but descriptive drawings, “Starting Seeds” should help the gardener from the moment the seed envelope is ripped open to setting out the young plants.

•  “Grow Your Own in Pots,” by Kay Maguire (Octopus Publishing, 176 pages; $14.99): Many people find it easy to grow flowers in pots, but vegetables? This book covers the technique of growing such crops as peppers, eggplants, strawberries, tomatoes and more in a container such as a large pot, window box or even a hanging basket. Special challenges, such as watering, are addressed with good guidance. A bit of attention is also given to flowers and herbs.

•  “Home Grown Harvest,” edited by Rita Pelczar and the American Horticultural Society (Octopus Publishing, 304 pages; $19.99): This book emphasizes the need and importance of growing your own fruits and vegetables using organic methods. It covers all topics from taking a soil sample for evaluation to a season-by-season plan for planting and tending. Many popular vegetables get individual treatment addressing their growth, care and special problems.

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