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Wake Up and Smell the Science!


I’m not always the sharpest trowel in the garden bucket, but even I have noticed a recent trend in horticulture. Suddenly, gardening experts are getting all “sciencey” and stuff about growing things, and they’re debunking conventional wisdom left and right. If you do a search on the Intertubes for “garden myths,” you will see that there are more debunked myths about gardening than there are actual facts. And, as we all know, the Intertubes are the place you go for Science! and The Truth. And cat videos.

So, while I was sitting here waiting for spring to arrive – which should happen any decade now – I went on the Intertubes and did some research on the Science! of some of the most conventional wisdom in the gardening playbook to determine its veracity … and you’re going to be ASTOUNDED at what I discovered! (I borrowed that line directly from a headline below a very interesting story about how to make cat videos.)

The grass is always greener on the other side.

TRUE. We all knew this in our hearts but it wasn’t until satellite imagery revealed lawn hues from space that researchers were able to quantify this effect. They note that from our vantage point on the ground, the phenomenon is more difficult to assess, hence, the erroneous belief that the grass can’t possibly always be greener on the other side.
But, as Science! now shows us, it is. Incidentally, scientists fear that should this technology fall into the wrong
hands – particularly realtors – we will all pay dearly. Literally.

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

TRUE. A noted and somewhat reputable university strapped microscopic-sized cameras to an army of biting midges (no-see-ums) that were trained to cling to smooth stones. These stones were then rolled across a bed of moss in an enclosed area. When researchers stopped scratching, they were able to check the videos. Sure enough, while the surviving and extremely annoyed midges were covered in moss, none of that stuff attached itself to the stones. Researchers are still seeking a practical application for this knowledge.

Everything’s coming up roses.

FALSE. Scientists planted seeds, bulbs and fibrous root systems of hundreds of different genuses and species in test plots all over the United States, Canada and Luxembourg (really, I have no idea). Unremarkably, the only planted material that came up roses was from the Rosa genus. It should be noted that researchers were able to cultivate some rosemary, rose campion, rose of Sharon and several other anomalies, but even with the inclusion of these plants, roses were far from everything that came up. The estate of Ethel Merman issued a statement in which it expressed its disappointment in the findings and noted that “it makes no sense to sing ‘Roses are coming up roses.’’’ I concur, but Science! is Science!, folks.

A weed is no more than a flower in disguise.

FALSE. Was American poet James Russell Lowell onto something when he penned the phrase, “A weed is no more than a flower in disguise, Which is seen through at once, if love give a man eyes”? Or, as scientists now suspect, was he simply under the spell of a powerful drug, produced by the “weed” of which he seemed so enamored? Describing his time at Harvard College, he wrote, “During Freshman year, I did nothing, during Sophomore year I did nothing, during Junior year I did nothing, and during Senior year I have thus far done nothing in the way of college studies.” Today, he would be called “a stoner.” I rest my scientific case.

Cool as a cucumber.

FALSE. Who died and made cucumbers cool, huh? Now, an artichoke, that’s a cool vegetable. Or kohlrabi. Or fiddleheads. Or dinosaur kale. Or a pumpkin. Heck, you can make a jack-o’-lantern out of that! Do you want to get really cool? How about the Okinawan Purple Sweet Potato? Or Romanescu broccoli? Huh??
Wait … wait a minute … I just got a text from the Science! Police. Seems I’ve strayed out of the scientific realm and into Intertubes Opinionland. Sorry. Just one more cat video and I’ll get back to my research. Really. I promise. Okay, maybe two more.

Mike Nowak is an author, speaker, humorist, environmentalist, show host and entertainer. You can follow his exploits at mikenowak.net

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questions

What does it take to make a climbing hydrangea flower? Ours was planted 3 years ago and is growing energetically. It’s in a protected nook near the patio and gets very little direct sunlight, but doesn’t act sun starved. We gave it a shot of slow release fertilizer on planting, and once since. Somewhat inadvertently it gets plenty of water, since the hose spigot is nearby and leaks, but drainage does not seem to be the problem. It now fully occupies an 8-foot trellis but shows no interest in flowering. Is it youth, lack of sun, too much or too little fertilizer, bugs, lack of pruning or what? When do these plants bloom and what conditions do they like?

Must I mulch my garden and, if so, when is the best time to apply it? What are the best materials to use?

Last summer my neighbor told me the black spots on my peony were a blight, although my peonies bloomed nicely. What can I do about this?

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