Tuesday, May 16, 2006

In the information age, not enough information

When we decided to plant a blueberry hedge, we knew we had three unknown variety plants "in inventory," as Dan and I say. We also knew we would get some plants from Hedgehog Hill Farm, using our work exchange certificates, so we were limited to the varieties they offered, Blueray and Patriot. That leaves 5 plants we need to purchase, and since we want a long season of productivity, and we know that blueberries produce best with at least 2 varieties for pollination, we knew we wanted some additional varieties.

In looking around to find varieties, I am frustrated by the lack of varieties available, and by the lack of information about the available varieties. I prefer to shop locally, but even the catalogue of one of my favorite local greenhouses, Skillins, doesn't have that much information (although to give them credit, they do offer 9 varieties, the best selection I've seen yet). Even with all those varieties, however, there is no information on sizing for each plant, just a general "ultimate height 4-6' tall. Well, how wide? Which plants are 4', which are 6'?

Poking around on the web, I did find a helpful web site, Fall Creek Nursery, which in addition to listing 21 varieties of northern highbush blueberries, gives better cultural information about each plant -- for the most part. The plants were listed by order of ripening, and included comments on flavor, special cultural needs, height, and, very usefully, spring summer and fall foliage color.

Bluetta, for example, is a very early variety with medium size tangy berries, is more adaptable to colder climates, and is very compact, reaching 3-4', with scarlet fall foliage. Wonderful! Great and helpful information for someone like me who wants both delicious fruit and an attractive plant. But wait... they only sell wholesale.... Ah well, at least I have the information I need to determine what varieties will work best.

Maybe this is why so many people go with whatever the Home Depot or WalMart garden departments have to offer. It is just too hard to find good information about plants and shrubs, and unless the gardener is as passionate (obsessed?) as I, it is just easier to load up the cart with the dwarf Alberta spruce, burning bush and mugo pine and plop 'em in the ground. Gardening is expensive and hard work and if you pick the same old plants that your neighbor was able to grow it successfully, maybe you can grow them, too, AND you know what they'll look like. Maybe.

Nursery owners take note -- some of us want that cultural information, concisely printed on the plant tag, especially if your staff can't provide it. If it is there, we just might take a chance with an unfamiliar variety.

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