Gardening Science

Collection Notes

Gardening is an art. But as this Gardening Science Collection points out, it’s also a fun way to explore biology, geology, chemistry, and whether you should play the bassoon or piccolo for your petunias.

I don’t have to tell you that gardening is an art. Any beautifully designed plot rich with red roses, deep blue indigo, and striking yellow sunflowers is enough to convince anyone that flowers, vegetables, fruits, shrubs, and trees can create a museum in your yard. READ MORE

Bill Dugan


Sunflower ang flag

Following the Sun

What do you believe? Individually, most of us know pretty much where we stand on life’s bigger issues—and similarly on life’s smaller, though even on these we may not agree, which is what leads to family ructions over things like toothpaste squeezing and cats on the bed.  READ MORE

The Sweet Smell of Rain

Scientists—who have a tendency to stomp the poetry out of any experience—now know what makes the garden smell so luscious after a rain.  READ MORE

Don’t Bully Your Plants

Plants have feelings, just like people. So what happens when you feed one plant with compliments and another with negative remarks?” asked the Swedish company IKEA.  READ MORE

World Naked Gardening Day

If you happen to be a celebration-prone type of person, as an American you’re in luck: The United States is awash in unexpected holidays. In fact, there’s at least one for every day of the year.  READ MORE

Dear Tree

A recent study, published in 2015 in the journal Nature, calculated that there are three trillion trees on planet Earth. That’s 3,000,000,000,000 trees—a number that’s impossible to wrap one’s mind around unless you’re an astrophysicist or a politician accustomed to dealing with the national deficit.   READ MORE

Patricia Westerford

It’s 1950, and like the boy Cyparissus, whom she’ll soon discover, little Patty Westerford falls in love with her pet deer. Hers is made of twigs, though it’s every bit alive.  READ MORE


Vermont is not a state noted for sun. In fact, sunshine-wise, we’re nearly the gloomiest state in the nation, second only to dank and lightless Washington, where apparently nobody in Seattle ever leaves home without an umbrella.  READ MORE

The Secret Garden

Much though I love the book, as a scientist I’ve always been suspicious of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. For those gardeners who haven’t read it, this is the story of ten-year-old Mary Lennox, possibly the world’s most disagreeable orphan.   READ MORE

Living With the Wind

Here where we live, on the Vermont side of northern Lake Champlain, we get a lot of wind. In the Summer, it whips the lake into whitecaps, rips the laundry off the line, and knocks the lawn furniture over.  READ MORE

Getting By With the Help of Our Friends

There’s no getting around the fact that these days we’re a divided nation. This year, everybody’s Thanksgiving feast and Christmas dinner almost certainly took a hit from who—politically—supports who and why and who, just as passionately, doesn’t and why not.  READ MORE

Good Chemistry

According to Kermit the Frog, it’s not easy being green. His sad point was that—being green—you blend, wallflower-like, into the background and everybody passes you by. Green means ignored, neglected, and invisible.  READ MORE

Confounding Columbines

I am a seed starter. Give me a packet of good seed, and I can always get them to pop within a few days. Most packets say, “Plant 2-3 seeds in each cell” (or an inch apart in the garden row), since they expect that fewer than half will germinate. Every seed grows every time for me.  READ MORE

Here Comes the Sun

In summer the sun sets due west of us over Lake Champlain and spends most of the afternoon shining in our kitchen windows—and, incidentally, spends the lion’s share of the day scattering rays on the garden. In Winter it sets way to the south down past the Alburgh bridge and barely shines on us at all.  READ MORE

Learning to Love Latin

Having arrived in the world of horticulture by a somewhat circuitous route, I’m still thrilled, three years later, to have swapped stifling bureaucracy for the great outdoors—well, for Ardagh Eco-Gardens, a 2.5-acre plot in the Irish Midlands.  READ MORE

Feet, Fathoms, and Flamingos

How much snow? If there’s any measure most prone to exaggeration, inaccuracy, and anecdote, it may be depth of snow—possibly only topped by size of fish, which as anyone who is (or knows) a fisherman is aware, can reach gigantic proportions, especially if said fish got away before being hauled into a boat within reach of a tape measure.  READ MORE

Size Matters

What is it with seeds? Why are lettuce and carrot seeds so ridiculously teeny that the instructions on the package (“plant three to four inches apart in rows”) make no sense unless you’ve got fingers like a leprechaun?  READ MORE

Time in the Garden

I volunteer with children after school, cultivating the love of knitting. One afternoon I asked a 12-year-old, “What time is it?” The young person looked at a watch and said, “It is 3:57.”  READ MORE

“Rabbit, Rabbit!”

In our family, it’s always been the custom on the first day of every month—before speaking a single word, not even “Good morning” or “Coffee, please”—to lean out the window and yell, “Rabbit Rabbit!”  READ MORE

Growing Gardeners

I've worked in the nursery business here in Napa, California for 15 years. During that time I’ve learned that my job is to help grow gardeners just as much as plants. Especially in spring.  READ MORE

If Trees Could Talk

The narrator of Wishtree, a new book by Katherine Applegate, is a tree. The tree’s name is Red—it’s a northern red oak, Quercus rubra—and it’s been a neighborhood tree and home to a thriving community of animals for a long, long time.  READ MORE

Volume E

We have a lot of books. I’ve never actually counted them, but all told, they might just possibly add up to several million, since all the walls in my office are full of them, and most of our furniture seems to consist of bookcases.  READ MORE

The World’s Most Expensive…Crocus

The next potential big crop for Vermont, says the front page of our local newspaper, is saffron. The saffron story shared the headlines with the school lunch program, the Little League scores, and a debate over a new fire engine purchase, which shows the sort of comforting, low-level news we get up here just south of the Canadian border.  READ MORE

My Most-Hated Vegetable

For a lot of us, chances are it’s beets. Just 11% of home gardeners bother to grow beets, and professional farmers don’t do much better.   READ MORE

The Hidden Life Of Trees

Gardeners often ask me if their trees are growing too close together. Won’t they deprive each other of light and water? This concern comes from the forestry industry.  READ MORE

Wish Books

If there’s anything more American than apple pie, it’s probably the Sears Roebuck catalog. The Sears catalog—or at least its primal predecessor—first appeared in 1888, when Richard Sears (ex-railroad employee) started a mail-order business, selling watches.  READ MORE

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