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A beautiful garden for the right price

Marketplace Staff Apr 6, 2007
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A beautiful garden for the right price

Marketplace Staff Apr 6, 2007
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TESS VIGELAND: It’s finally springtime, though you wouldn’t know it in the Eastern half of the country. So for those of you suffering through April snow showers, a little audio relief today. We’re talking gardens with Amy Stewart. She’s the author of a new book called Flower Confidential. Amy recently visited my garden in Pasadena and gave me the dirt on how to grow a bounty of blooms without breaking the bank. Welcome to my house and my garden, Amy.

AMY STEWART: Thank you.

VIGELAND:
What do you think?

STEWART:
It’s beautiful. It is.

VIGELAND:
My tulips finally came up, and my daffodils have some tulips over there in the corner. Bulbs aren’t that expensive, but when you plant 500 of them, it starts to add up.

STEWART:
Yeah. Well, they are kind of a long-term investment, though. I mean, at least with daffodils, they keep multiplying every year, and you can go out and buy a few dozen at a time every fall. And over time, it really fills in.

VIGELAND:
You know, one thing that I’ve found is that, you know, I have my favorite flowers, and one of them is the gerbera daisy. I tried to grow them in my garden, and I couldn’t do it. And there’s not much that doesn’t grow in my garden. We’re here in Southern California. We’ve got a great weather. Most things grow here.

STEWART:
Right. That is such a good point. And I, I often mentioned the gerbera daisy, as well, as an example of a flower that is entirely about the cut flower industry and not at all about our gardens. You know, this is a flower that was discovered in just over 100 years ago, and immediately, they started working on breeding it for the cut flower industry and creating these long, long stems and these real vivid colors. But it is a hothouse flower.

VIGELAND:
So that was a massive waste of money on my part.

STEWART:
Well, you know, you can – you see, those little gerbera daisies in pots, and they’re already in bloom. But it’s, it’s unlikely, unless you’re a much better gardener than I am…

VIGELAND:
Doubtful.

STEWART:
…that, that you’re just gonna get tons of them coming up in your garden.

VIGELAND:
Well, let’s go ahead and go in the backyard, because I have a couple of questions about things back there, all right?

STEWART:
Sounds good.

VIGELAND:
All right. Are you OK with dogs?

STEWART:
Dangerous. Yeah, sure.

VIGELAND:
OK. I’m gonna – Kiara, Kiara, Kiara, come. Come on, in. Still very rambunctious. All right. Well, here we are. This is your typical Southern California backyard. I’ve got a, a fig tree. I’ve got a pecan tree, a couple of orange trees. But one question, I wanna get some new soil for my roses, and I’ve been wondering whether I should be going organic. I got to tell you, it is so much more expensive.

STEWART:
Bags of compost, uh-huh.

VIGELAND:
Compost, yeah.

STEWART:
Well, you know, it really is the best investment in your garden that you can make. You know, there’s this old saying among gardeners that if you have a dollar to spend, you should spend 90 cents on the soil and 10 cents on plants. So having healthy soil will actually make everything else that you’re spending money on worth more and go farther.

VIGELAND:
What about where I actually buy my plants? Does that make a difference? I’ve got a garden center, literally, across the street from my house, which I have to tell you, is very, very dangerous. But, you know, I wonder, should I be buying it there. I have bought some things at my local farmer’s market, which definitely, price-wise, is a deal. Or, or should I be going to, like a big box store, like in Costco, or something?

STEWART:
Well, let me tell you about one interesting thing that’s changed in the nursery industry lately, is that most of the big box stores have moved to a system called pay by scan, which means that the grower who grew that plant is not gonna get paid until it’s scanned at the check register and goes home with someone. What that means is that very often, the growers have to send people into the stores to take care of the plants. And what it has done is restricted the number of growers that can sell to the big box stores as opposed to a small local independent nursery or even the farmer’s market, where smaller growers who might, for example, have a better idea of what grows right here in your backyard and will be selling you those plants. And it’s not always just what works for the climate. It’s also what’s most disease resistance.

VIGELAND:
So what kind of garden do you have?

STEWART:
Well, I have a garden, I have ripped out my lawn entirely.

VIGELAND:
Well, if you look around at mine, you see I might wanna do that myself actually. It’s taking a long time to come back this year.

STEWART:
Well, when you have dogs, it’s hard.

VIGELAND:
That’s true.

STEWART:
But I have chickens. And chickens are very happy to scratch around under the shrubs.

VIGELAND:
You have chickens in your garden.

STEWART:
I do.

VIGELAND:
So you ripped out your lawn?

STEWART:
I ripped out the lawn and its mostly flowering perennials. And I also grow a lot of Salvias and other plants that attract a lot of bees and butterflies and hummingbirds. So I’m really interested in the garden as a habitat, you know.

VIGELAND:
I’ve struggled in my garden with how much annual planting to do. That gets very, very expensive when you’re planting and digging up every year or every six months or so to go with the seasons.

STEWART:
Yeah, it does. And, you know, I think this is what happens to us when we walk into a nursery, I think we get sucked in by whatever is just really bright and in bloom.

VIGELAND:
Yeah, I’ve been there, especially when it’s across the street.

STEWART:
Right. But the thing is that’s all they’re really gonna do. I mean, what you see, that’s pretty much their whole life right there. And so I tend to sneak around to the backward where you can find perennials that are, you know, in a little pot and all that’s left are a few little twigs sticking out, but I know that next year, there’s gonna be a giant shrub out of that little thing so. But it is true, when you walk into a nursery, if you see a little plant with giant blooms on it, it has probably been overfed so that it will bloom prematurely and lure you. I mean, this is a plant whose goal is not to lure bees, it is to lure customers like us. And it’s a good idea to ask, do you have one that’s not in flower right now because that, that is a probably a healthier plant to put in your garden over the long term.

VIGELAND:
Well, Amy Stewart, thank you so much for visiting me in my backyard.

STEWART:
Thank you.

VIGELAND:
And you can find the link to Amy’s book on our website, Marketplace.org. This is Marketplace Money from American Public Media.

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