Cool Garden Web sites: A Great Way to Beat Summertime Heat
by Tom Spencer / Soul of the Garden
Some of my favorite garden paths are of the virtual variety. I’m not talking about my web site (www.soulofthegarden.com)but the ones I visit during my daily cyber-rounds. Gardening has found fertile ground on the Internet and you can have many fine experiences visiting the web sites of gardeners, gardening organizations, plant vendors, and much more. When I teach landscape design classes I tell my students that the most important thing they can do to develop their own design aesthetic is to visit great gardens and steal the ideas that they fall in love with. If you can’t afford to travel to the great gardens of the world, or buy a library’s worth of books, I recommend checking out cool garden sites on the web—it’s a great way to beat the August heat.
My favorite garden on the web, and in real life, is located in Hempstead, Texas, and has a most unusual name: Peckerwood Garden. (I have always maintained a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about that one!) Peckerwood is the garden of John Fairey, professor of architecture at Texas A&M. Fairey is a passionate plant collector with a very keen eye for both sculpture and the sculptural qualities of plants. His garden qualifies as a “magnificent obsession” and features a wide range of plants including many unusual varieties from Mexico. The Peckerwood Garden web site (www.peckerwoodgarden.com) is beautifully orchestrated and includes many stunning images of the garden with some pages focusing on specific plant families, like the Magnolias. In addition to the visual splendor, you can learn about the garden’s history and find out when it is open to the public. Peckerwood Garden is only one hour or one click away.
The classic Zen gardens of Japan are among the great artistic accomplishments of humanity. These serene spaces are so carefully crafted that they feel as if they have floated down from the heavens, like cherry blossoms caught by the wind. In reality, they are rigorously composed and maintained illusions. Not many of us can afford to travel to Kyoto to take in their splendors, but we can be transported there by The Japanese Garden, a superb web site hosted by Bowdoin College in Maine (http://academic.bowdoin.edu/zen). The site takes you to more than two dozen of the most famous Zen gardens of Japan and guides you through each one, allowing you to view the gardens from multiple angles. You really get a sense of the spaces and the remarkable spiritual discipline that still enlivens them centuries after their creation.
The Spirit of Gardening web site (www.gardendigest.com) is the work of Michael Garofalo, of California. There is a gentle Zen-like quality about this web site as well. It contains a rich collection of garden related quotes, poetry, parables and more. When I first started exploring the Internet, I found Garofalo’s site to be one of my favorite destinations. If you are interested in the spiritual side of gardening, this site is definitely for you.
Garden blogs (web-logs or on-line journals) are all the rage and one of my favorites comes from Austin: Zanthan Gardens (www.zanthan.com/gardens). This site offers visitors a personal tour of a charming Central Austin garden along with helpful plant profiles, nice photographs, and artful presentation. I have found the plant descriptions very useful, and like to check this site when I am thinking about adding a new species to my garden. It is always good to hear a little advice from someone who lives in the same neck of the woods!
Speaking of good advice, the Central Texas Gardener web site (www.klru.org/ctg) comes complete with an month-by-month checklist generated by Travis County Extension Agent Skip Richter. The CTG web site also has a listing of upcoming garden-related events for the Central Texas area and has lots of other great features like John Dromgoole’s organic formulas for disease and insect control and Trisha Shirey’s amazing recipes. Central Texas Gardener is, of course, the television series hosted by yours truly, and can be found on KLRU-TV, Austin’s PBS affiliate.
One of my favorite things about being a gardener is keeping the company of so many different species of birds, in fact just a few minutes ago I was out walking around my garden and I spotted a hummingbird that I could not identify. In cases like that, I always consult the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site (http://birds.cornell.edu). One of the special features of this site is the Nest Box Cam, which allows you to peak into the home of nesting birds. You can also listen to birdsongs, learn how to build a Bluebird house, attract Purple Martins, or shop at their on-line store. (By the way, my unknown visitor was a female Black-chinned Hummingbird, which is actually fairly common to our area, but a little different from the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds I usually see.
Gardening on the web is the ideal summertime activity. Never mind the blast furnace outside you back door, click and point your way through the August heat.
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