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Sites Blossoming on the Web

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
February 2007 Issue
January 17, 2007

Sites Blossoming on the Web

This winter has served as a reminder that Central Valley weather can be tough on our gardens. My wife and I have lost roses to winter freezes and small trees to summer heat. But every valley resident knows that February and March offer the hope of early spring blossoms.

My parents always have their yards, front and back, ringed with flowers. The covered backyard patio features numerous plants and fountains, allowing us to gather and enjoy a Visalia spring barbecue surrounded by flowers.

I’m not my mother — I need help and lots of it to grow a cactus plant. Thankfully, there are places online for people like me to seek help.

The Tulare & Kings County Master Gardeners (http://groups.ucanr.org/tkmg/) is a Web site hosted by the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Master Gardeners are volunteers trained by the UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE). I admire the dedication of these individuals who attend a 17-week training program in order to help brown-thumbs like me. The Web site features a guide to plant selection, tips on fighting pests, and contact information to invite a Master Gardner to speak to your organization.

For farmers, landscapers, and serious gardeners, you can go directly to the UCCE site (http://cetulare.ucdavis.edu/) and read several specialized publications. I found myself reading about blueberries, the water required by different lawn grasses, and low-allergy plants. An hour later, I realized I needed to get back to a search for flower tips.

I believe the best place for gardening questions is iVillage’s Garden Web (http://www.gardenweb.com/). iVillage began as “The Portal for Women” and many of the ads reflect this. What matters to me is that the thousands of members respond quickly to questions and offer lots of friendly, homespun advice. There are 48 pages of postings on the topic of “citrus for the home,” for example, including tips on helping trees recover from a tough winter.

The most active forums are the flower forums, including photo galleries of members’ yards. If you wonder what might grow best in our region, read the discussions in the California forum (http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/calif/). You do not need to register with iVillage to read the forums, but you will not be able to post any questions or help others. Remember that joining is free and you can check a box to avoid “spam” from sponsors.

Reading Garden Web, I was reminded of the connection between Visalia and roses. People have driven from the major cities to Visalia to buy roses.

As a Visalia native, I think there is a gene that makes me try growing miniature roses. In fact, once I was asked in Denver, “Isn’t Visalia where Ralph Moore’s roses were born?” Anyone interested in miniature roses should learn about Moore and his incredible contributions to roses. Search for “Moore” and “roses” locates numerous tributes to this man, from “rosarians” worldwide. I found quotes from Moore explaining how to deal with the heat of our summers. Without the Web, I wouldn’t have realized the “Lady Moss” rose is particular suited to surviving our July and August heat.

Seaching for rose information, I found myself visiting the Rosarian’s Corner (http://www.rosarianscorner.net) where rose lovers meet online. The American Rose Society has a fascinating Web site, too (http://www.ars.org/). We are fortunate enough to live in an area where roses can thrive, if you follow good advice.

Before planting anything, my wife checks the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones online. Zone maps are posted on the National Arboretum site (http://www.usna.usda.gov/). Most of Tulare County is classified as zones 9b to 11, which simply means we’re hot during the summer. Yes, I knew this without checking the Web, but many seed vendors online include “zone fitness” information. Knowing Visalia’s zone means I won’t be buying plants doomed to die (at least not from the heat).

Because seed and implement vendors are motivated by profit, I tend to avoid their sites when seeking advice. Even with free gardening guides, it seems clear they want me to buy something. “Use an Acme aerator for best results (click to buy),” isn’t really advice, it’s a sales pitch.

I suggest the National Gardening Association (http://www.garden.org/) for trustworthy tips and tricks. The NGA site is a bit cluttered with graphics and requests for donations, but the publications are the best I have found on the Internet. The neatest features are an interactive plant zone map and a “seed swap” area. Why would you swap seeds with someone online? Because some seeds are very rare.

For the last few years, my wife has been experimenting with “heritage seeds.” Heritage, or heirloom, seeds are from lines that have not been crossbred for at least 50 years according to the Seed Savers Exchange (http://seedsavers.org). Instead of seeking new varieties, as experts like Moore do, heritage gardeners try to preserve the plants of our past. These “heirlooms” are past from generation to generation, but some are now endangered.

The non-profit Bountiful Gardens project, located in Willits, Calif., has a site (http://www.bountifulgardens.org) with a detailed database of heritage seeds. The database indicates if a plant can grow in our hot, dry climate. Some of the seeds have lines that can be traced to the early 1800s. While none are listed as native to the Central Valley, many are listed as growing in our zone.

I like the idea of preserving history. It’s even more interesting to taste a bit of history. My wife’s previous experiments produced a number of interesting vegetables, the likes of which I hadn’t tasted. It turns out that the heritage plants tend to have more intense flavor than our modern hybrids. Reading the Web articles, I think melons might be better than radishes!

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