December 22, 2008

Don't Buy a Plant Reference Book - Just Google It

Here's a photo of my collection of expensive plant reference books that I rarely use anymore. Like so many other aspects of my life, the internet has completely changed the way I look up information on plants. I remember a college assigment to create plant information sheets on a large group of plants. It was such a chore to dig around in books and old catalogs to find the necessary information and a picture. Now all that knowledge is at my fingertips every time I turn on my computer. Another advantage of looking up plants on the internet is that I can find information about the newest introductions. Many of these cultivars aren't in my reference books, since they were introduced after the books were published.
After learning through sad experience that catalogs don't give much information about a plant's shortcomings and often don't have an accurately colored picture, I usually do some extra research on potential buys before ordering. Google is an excellent start. I search for the cultivar and common name or occasionally the latin name. For example, I might type 'Barbara Mitchell daylily.' The first result to come up for this search is from the Dave's Garden plantfiles. The Dave's Garden website allows users to upload their own photos, comments and ratings about plants. I find it to be an excellent resource. If the plant I'm researching doesn't pull up the DG plantfiles as a result, I'll often go directly to their search page. The drawback to this approach is that I'm not a member, so I can't search more than 10 times a day. Anyway, the plantfile on the Barbara Mitchell daylily lists the height, width, bloom time and other data. It also includes seven reviews of the plant from actual gardeners and thirty-eight photos! Barbara Mitchell is a particularly popular daylily, so not every plantfile will include so much information.
If the DG plantfiles aren't enough, I'll click on some of the other search results. Of course different online catalogs give different bits of information, so I can get to know a plant better by reading several of their descriptions. When I was doing a lot of research about the trees I wanted for my yard, I found some excellent information on university websites that came up on the Google search.
Another plant reference website that I should mention is This wholesale nursery is known for selling well-grown specimens of the best plant cultivars. If a plant I'm considering is grown by Monrovia, that's a point in its favor. Their website is beautifully designed and very informative. In addition to their plant search feature, I love the 'Inspiration' section of the website. It features gorgeous pictures of various styles of gardens, a quiz to help you define your style, and information about public gardens throughout the United States.
I do agree that nothing can replace the comforting feeling of settling into a soft couch with a book in hand, but now I can save my book budget for other types of gardening books. If you absolutely have to have just one plant reference book, I'd recommend the American Horticultural Society's Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, nicknamed the plant bible at one nursery where I used to work. For friends who need help narrowing down the dizzying selection of plants for their yards, I recommend Sunset's Top 10 Plants series. Here's the link for the Northwest version, and Amazon also offers versions for California, the Mid-Atlantic, the Midwest, Florida and the Tri-State region. After reading a nice review of it on another gardener's blog (wish I could remember whose it was), my garden book wish list includes Plant-Driven Design.
Happy researching!


  1. Isn't the computer the best for gardening? I Google everything I plant or hope to plant. I too have all those books and occasionally use them. I don't care too much for the Dirr Manual I see you have too, but it does have accurate info.

    It must be something to move around and have to learn a whole new culture with gardening. When I read blogs in the desert or Alaska or something I just know I could not adapt. I didn't when I lived way down south. Hat's off to you for adapting. I hear Washington is the BEST place in the US to garden. So green! And so many plants come from there.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family. I see it will be a white one.

  2. Great information. I'm trying to cut down on garden book purchases, but it's so hard to do! It's a sickness really :), but I am getting much more selective in my purchases.
    Happy (snow-covered) Holidays!

  3. Hi I read this earlier but am very behind in commenting! An excellent post! May I add one more favorite I love the Missouri Botanical Garden's info site! MoBot + plant will get you there! I do love the ease and immediacy of internet info, but, there are certain boks I must hold in my hand...they are read again and again! Most of them are garden books specific to my growing conditions...Like Wildflowers of the Central South (Hemmerly) an out of print book. I recently misplaced it and was bereft! and I often carry a magazine photo outside to see if I can see the planting in my garden!

    Have a happy holiday, what a joy to have small children this time of year! ! Gail

  4. I agree, it is so quick and easy, and usually current, up-to-date info. on many websites online. I have a few gardening books...and my husband has purchased some I certainly didn't need (!) and they are ok for some things...not to mention just looking at some beautiful plants and flowers...but for current info. I agree, googling things is wonderful!! Take care, and happy holidays VW! Jan

  5. You've made some really good points here, VW. The Internet is my mainstay when I don't know where to start. I have the top 10 for Florida. And since gardening is so very different here I do have some other books that pertain to just Florida which I find very helpful. My favorite website is which nicely narrows down the plants that we mainly use here.

    VW, You are a wealth of knowledge and I appreciate you sharing it with us. Here's wishing you a very Happy New Year. Have fun with those beautiful youngins'!

  6. Thanks for this post, VW,and the links to sites to wander into. I agree the internet is wonderful, especially for the latest cultivars. Of course the information may not be relevant to a different climate and geographic area. One useful book on my shelf is published in Portland, Oregon, but funnily is about plants and garden in the southern hemisphere. It is called The Looking-Glass Garden, by Peter Thompson. And - Happy New Year to you! (I'm getting more used to Blotanical and blogging)


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