Blogger and myth buster extraordinaire
The mists will fall from the eyes of many gardeners when they read about 120 gardening misconceptions in Robert’s new book. With razor sharp focus he exposes lies, misunderstandings, wrong explanations, erroneous assumptions and stuff that’s just plain wrong. He finds myths I never knew existed!
He is a trained chemist and lifelong gardener. His diverse horticultural interests are illuminated by his other two fine books on orchids and ponds. (I personally learned from his blog the significance of an orchid’s velamin root cover to its watering and was delighted to read someone else saying ponds do not have to have filters and pumps and other paraphernalia)
He is totally fearless in condemning hyped up useless products and snake oil selling. Just like his blog the book references and links all his sources. He shows great ingenuity in devising simple experiments that expose common fallacies. It’s all done with a wry sense of humour.
He attempts to distil sound gardening advice from his myths and recommends good garden practice in rounded discussion. He mostly succeeds but it is awfully difficult when giving advice not to create myths of your own!
It is not surprising that I admire Robert Pavlis. He shares much of my own gardening philosophy and stubborn foibles. It is music to my ears to read support for almost all my own thoughts on the benefits of minimum cultivation. It would seem that his naturalistic approach is sometimes even more extreme than my own and I wonder if his six acre garden is as scruffy as mine. (Like me he directly recycles most of his organic matter). Like me he has no fundamental objection to gardening chemicals but in most cases finds no need to use them. He never talks about glyphosate. Now there is a difference!
(Since writing this post he has mounted a stern defence on his blog for the safety and utility of glyphosate. To me popular fears about this chemical that has been used safely for more than fifty years is the greatest myth of all)
It is an almost impossible task to write a perfect book about gardening myths. Their is such a difference between the gardening knowledge of readers. They range between weekend - or even bank holiday - gardeners with little plant knowledge or scientific interest and those who like me are complete gardening nerds. I think to provide adequate rebuttal of those myths that are merely simple delusions or misconceptions is so very different to discussing more sophisticated and widespread beliefs. Mr Pavlis bridges the gap rather well.
I know (hope) that Robert would like me to discuss some of the myths he has raised. I cannot resist the opportunity.
You will find we have differences of styles, opinions and gardening philosophies but complete agreement on actual facts
We disagree on definition as I discussed here. Language between North America and ourselves can be a barrier as well as a union. We do seem to agree that there are many gardening circumstances where fertilisers are not needed at all. We are both suspicious of do-it-yourself soil analysis and are both keen to advice gardeners to bring local observation to the fore when making decisions on plant nutrition.
We disagree whether professional soil analysis is ever worthwhile to the amateur. Robert wants to correct any nutrient deficiency precisely. I prefer a generalist approach and use my general yaramila fertiliser - er generally - and let the plant take up the nutrients it needs. I would find it impossible to translate a complete professional soil analysis for the very diverse needs of the plants that I grow.
Robert publishes a very interesting list of plant nutrient deficiency symptoms. We both agree that in the real gardening world they are of limited value.
The mystery of the sinking soil
Apparently our friends over the water have garden soil that sinks! I do not recognise this as a problem over here. It is explained in terms of added organic matter decaying - as it certainly does! (And we both agree why - not least as a result of excessive soil stirring).
I do hate sunken borders where the innocent new gardener excavates out his weedy soil and bins it! (Any one dumping good soil in a wheelie bin ought to be horse whipped - but perhaps that is a myth).
My own experience is that borders rise - perhaps in my own case casting worms remove soil from my lawn. I remember at horticultural college the student plots after several years needed to be lowered. They were of course very heavily manured and new planting had attached soil and all end of season debris was dug in.
I remember years ago a former student gave us a lecture about his landscaping experience in America. We were horrified how a new site was completely stripped of all vegetation and soil! Surely they still do not do that now?
It does seem that American gardeners frequently cover their soil with a substance called triple mix. It is a mixture of third parts peat, soil and garden compost. Do they throw all their old soil and organic matter away? We know that organic matter is lost to decay but not soil’s sand, silt and clay.
I know that Robert is very hot on recycling his own organic matter. I bet he personally does not need to import topsoil.
In my view it is a myth that organic matter needs to be imported to maintain soil fertility. You can grow it yourself.
|Robert Pavlis would approve that these bulbs have been reappearing for more than ten years|
I initially thought that Robert was scraping the barrel about some gardener’s false belief that Spring bulbs such as daffodils, hyacinths and tulips are better lifted after flowering and should only be planted after first frost. The latter being both particularly stupid and unlikely! The earlier Spring bulbs are planted in late Summer/Autumn the better!
On further thinking one can understand how the first myth might have developed. In traditional Spring bedding, borders are replanted for Summer. It is convenient (but bad practice?) to get the bulbs out of the way. Lifting bulbs before they die down is particularly damaging and their quality is hugely diminished.
Last year we visited the famous Dutch garden at Keukenhof. where they plant fifteen million bulbs every year. After flowering they are lifted and thrown away. No wonder some gardeners think that bulbs should be lifted! Robert and I prefer to leave them in the ground for ever.
|I expect some of these were even upside down|
When I planted 8000 bulbs for Lyndi last Autumn I was glad I already knew that It did not matter a jot whether they were upright or at what depth they were planted. You will see from his book that Pavlis agrees.
Myths or just lack of knowledge?
Robert observes that many gardeners think that fungus diseases - take powdery mildew as an example - are all the same. It is important to realise that they are not and that for example apple powdery mildew is not the same powdery mildew that spoils michaelmas daisies. This is important but does it count as a myth?
Language divides us
|A very strange herb. Our guide gave us several ‘facts’ about its life cycle - mainly wrong|
I remember when Monty Don confused the nation when he declared bananas were herbs. I was amused that our recent tour guide in Maderia said the same thing when we visited a banana farm. Fellow punters listened with wide eyed innocence and filed the ‘fact’ away in their minds.
This nonsense stems from the word having two meanings. In as much as a banana is a herbaceous plant it is a herb. However to most of us herbs are such as mint (a herbaceous perennial), sage (a shrub), thyme (a sub shrub) and parsley (a biennial).
I may be pedantic but Robert’s #myth 64 ‘Lavender and Russian sage are perennials’ is wrong! I hope you can get your head round the double negative - the statement is true and it is not a myth - they are perennials - at least on this side of the pond!
To make me happy it only makes sense if the word ‘herbaceous’ precedes ‘perennial’. Then I agree that the sub shrubs - the woody perennials that Robert writes about makes a very valuable point.
I was intrigued with his suggestion that you can regenerate gnarled old lavender by earthing up and new rooted plants can be later detached and planted.
I thought this practice was one of my own foibles! I call a modified version ‘piggy back planting’. I dig out the old sub shrub and immediately replant it very deeply with only the tips showing. The old root eventually dies but the rooted tops carry on to make a new plant. It works with some other plants too.
|Rejuvenating Dianthus 'Doris’|
|I know my soil is acid and that carnations like lime. I have no idea if this dolomitic limestone will do any good!|
Under the cover of myths Robert has written a very fine book on to how to successfully grow plants and cut out the nonsense. You need to read carefully his rounded discussion. Not all myths are as clear-cut wrong as they seem and there are sometimes exceptions.
Robert’s defence of glyphosate