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Latest garden gimmick: planting by numbers

MARY COLLISTER
Published May 2, 2003

Most people don't think Wall Street Journal when they're looking for gardening information, but periodically the business paper covers a "hot" gardening trend.

A story on March 21 headlined "Gardening by the Numbers" examined preplanned gardens that have been taken to a new (and I might add, more expensive!) level. For years, catalogs have photographed or drawn examples for the less creative or time-crunched gardener to follow. But these plant-by-number schemes take it a step further.

The kits may include garden fabric with numbered circles that match up to the plants on a key, a roll of paper tape with seeds attached (just unfurl and water), simple diagrams with plant names or a diagram with the plants themselves.

If you look at the Web site for Reemay Inc., a manufacturer of spunbonded polyester and polypropylene products, you'll see the following description of their product: Custom garden designs printed on Typar. Professional Landscape Fabric for a low maintenance garden. Garden design is printed directly on fabric. All you do is plant by numbers.

The photos made it look oh so simple: From landscape fabric with numbers to a beautiful flower garden without breaking a sweat. I'm not completely convinced. I didn't see a price but the Journal lists the product at $14.

According to Sarah Robertson, author of the article, sales of preplanned plots have grown 20 percent the last three years to $300-million. If that's the case, they are quite a moneymaker and will be around for a while.

The White Flower Farm Pastel Patio includes two each of three different plant varieties to stick in a container and costs $35. It is supposed to be one of the company's top sellers. The description: We are constantly experimenting with plant combinations, and this one really works for sunny locations. It's composed of lavender-and-purple Heliotropium Fragrant Delight, lilac-pink Verbena tenuisecta Edith, and the variegated Helichrysum petiolare. We offer 2 plants of each, (six plants total), enough to bury a 14-16in pot in foliage and flowers all summer.

Standard delivery for the item would be $7.50, so that's a total of $42.50. That's a little over $7 for each 2-inch pot. Often 4-inch pots of annuals can be purchased for 88-cents at the local garden center. Buy these and you are paying a lot for convenience and a design, although I'm not sure how much thought needs to go into sticking six plants in a 14-inch container.

Also, Florida gardeners need to know that what is prepackaged or preplanned may not be appropriate for our climate. There are so many variables that influence a successful garden that aren't addressed by these products. Soil type, temperature, humidity, pests, moisture, etc., all may influence the outcome. Many plants are definitely not suitable for a one-fits-all mentality, especially in Florida. Plants must be adapted to our area.

The process of planning and seeing your design and ideas through to fruition appeals to many gardeners. These garden-by-number kits, completely remove the creative aspect of the process. Some of my fondest memories are of mistakes or "failures" in the garden. Some areas of the landscape with the least design are my favorite.

This gimmick may not be right for you. Just be aware of what you are purchasing so you're not disappointed.

As so often happens while researching one topic on the Web, I found quite an interesting, albeit vaguely related, site. I came across the ECHO Web site. ECHO, Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization, is a non-profit, organization actively involved in networking global hunger solutions. It sells gardening books and has quite a variety of books just for Florida gardens. If you'd like to take a look go to www.echonet.org If you're ready to do more than garden by numbers now is a good time to add annual color, get your lawn in shape, and get rid of weeds. That rain last weekend was wonderful. It gave everything a deep watering (my lawn was looking a little wilted) and made weeds easy to pull.

My small orchid collection of about 20 plants loved the rain also. They are doing great and I must admit they have taken some neglect, but five or six of them are flowering now and it looks like three or four more will soon have blooms. Volumes have been written about the care and culture of orchids. I stayed away from them for years because they seemed just too complicated, but I have found most of the orchids I have require little special care.

To learn about orchids, purchase a few or to just enjoy their beauty plan on attending the Second Annual Orchid Fantasy May 11 and 12 at the University of South Florida Botanical Garden. I haven't seen the hours posted yet, but you can call 974-2329 or visit www.cas.usf.edu/garden for more information.

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