Observation is one of the key tools I use as a gardener. Watching a plant’s growth or lack thereof, adds to the knowledge and understanding both seasoned and aspiring green-thumbers compile about their surroundings. The saga of my disappearing-reappearing crocus serves as an example. Years ago I planted crocus on either side of my front steps knowing I would enjoy their happy blooms in early spring. The crocus rapidly multiplied to two good sized clumps. Then last summer when the vole population exploded I noted the consistently uplifted, tunneled through soil on one side of the steps. I would firm down the soil and a few days later tunnels reappeared indicating a frequent vole hang-out. I knew my crocus had suffered and, as expected, this spring brought no blooms on one side and few on the other side of the steps. Unexpectedly though, I found single crocus blooms popping up in other locations – a welcome surprise, but not one created by forgetting where I planted since I have not planted crocus bulbs for years. Rather, I suspected voles did some underground re-arranging as they transported their food (my bulbs) from one location to another. Therefore, any crocus replanting in these locations should involve a barrier (such as metal screening) that will prevent underground vole penetration. Had I not paid attention I might have replanted and re-lost the crocus … in essence, spending hard earned cash on crashing stock.
New gardeners can obtain a wealth of information simply by observing neighbors’ or friends’ gardens and by picking their brains. In early spring, those plants first poking out of the ground or leafing out are often the hardiest – they don’t mind the cold or even a light snow. Those that come up later or leaf out later do so because their leaves like warmer weather. New gardeners can also take garden center walk-abouts to observe what plants they offer, when they are available for sale, and where they are placed for sale. Reputable garden centers will not risk losing their stock by placing plants in open areas too early … if caught off guard they will have to cover tender plants to protect them against a late frost. So if a particular garden center plant suits you, yet it is stored under cover when other plants are outside, take this as a hint that this plant might like warmer temperatures. Likewise, when you see garden center plants stored in shade or under sun-protective cover, suspect these plants may not like full sun. Ask the staff questions. A local, established garden center should be experienced with local conditions, have local knowledge, and be more than willing to impart local advice. If they are not, then move on and find one that does.