When winter arrives, it's always been the same for gardeners. Put the tools away, say goodbye to the garden, and trudge inside. But since you're reading this on your computer, you know that things have changed—for the better!
Now, while the wind blows outside, we can go right on with our gardening interest—online. Of course, books and paper catalogs used to suffice, and may still be great winter reading material, but today any gardener can be "in the garden" at the click of a mouse. Free. Quickly. And in living color.
I've been looking at gardening resources online for sometime now, and I'd like to share some of my favorites. Since our focus is wildflowers, I'll let you in on some of the best wildflower sites, but we'll begin more generally.
All good gardeners love this site. It's a labor of love created over the last five years or so by a guy named Jack Scheper. He is a computer whiz, but his real passion is plants. For years now, Jack has been building Floridata.com into one of the most complete, easy to use gardening sites on the web. The combination of his excellent photography and great writing makes his site unique.
Floridata is now quite large and well-known, and though it's brimming with all kinds of information and photo galleries, my favorite part are the Plant Profiles. Are you interested in a certain shrub? Would you like to read about your favorite perennial, and browse a good list of all its hybrids? The Plant Profiles on Floridata have it all, beautifully indexed, well-written, and perfectly illustrated.
Of course, some gardening sites are very big and famous, but you shouldn't discount them. bhg.com, the big, beautiful Better Homes & Gardens website, has some of the very best garden writing, and very deep files of photos and articles. Try to ignore the constant offering of a subscription to the magazine, and plow your way into the articles on your favorite gardening subjects. They're there.
Another big one is garden.org, the site of the National Gardening Association. Their article archive is probably the largest on the web of its kind, and they also do a major research trend study about gardeners' activities and buying habits every year. This is a very serious site. Now for our particular recommendations.
In the early, dark days of the internet, there was GardenWeb, and little else. An enterprising guy I know created it, and it grew to be the largest gardening site on the whole world wide web.
From its inception through several years while GardenWeb was clearly the No. 1 gardening site, it was never connected to any large site, famous magazine or TV show, and it didn't sell anything. It modestly called itself "the largest community of gardeners on the Internet," and it was.
The reason GardenWeb is so big is the best part, and what it's famous for: their "Forums". These are message board Q&A systems that let you type in a question, and then have it answered by the others viewing that particular forum. If you like, you can exchange emails with fellow forum participants, too.
You might see "What's this blue wildflower I've found?" or something like "When should I plant my trillium plant?" These would be typical forum questions, and if that's your interest, you'll be into it right away. It's all very organized and well-run. It's fun just reading the questions and answers.
Another one that is somewhat like GardenWeb is a fast-growing site named Dave's Garden. I've gotten to know Dave, and he's a great guy and runs a very organized, pleasant site. DG is also a mass of message boards, but the highlight to me is the very active posting of great gardening photos by hundreds of thousands of Dave's members. For years, now, enthusiastic gardeners all over the country have been uploading their photos until now, you can find a great photo of almost any daylily, hosta, or any other plant you'd like to view or identify. Dave's Garden is growing like crazy, and today is probably the largest "gardening community" on the internet.
Dave's Garden is also the home of the famous Garden Watchdog, a very useful rating service for gardening catalogs and websites. If you're thinking about ordering from any gardening mailorder company, you can click to Garden Watchdog, and read what other gardeners think about the company you're considering. American Meadows members are big users of Garden Watchdog, and they've been very kind to us. We have a high rating. Dave's Garden is very carefully managed, and these ratings are real, unbiased and fair...believe me, I know.
How about a trip to Europe? While GardenWeb and Dave's Garden are very public, this is a website that's quite private. I stumbled across it searching for "French Wildflowers". It's a unique, and quite complete group of pages assembled by one American man living in France. He is Russ Collins, and he resides in Grasse, the famous little city in Southern France where perfume has been made for centuries. Grasse is one of the tourist towns of Provence, everybody's favorite French province, just a little ways inland from the Riviera, over on the Italian side.It seems Mr. Collins just sort of fell in love with the place, and began sharing his photos on the Internet. At this point, he's built his website to include thousands of images well beyond what I was looking for—wildflowers. This site also shows you villages, mountains, wines, food—the whole area and its famous beauty. You'll enjoy the fact that the whole website has a charming French flavor, from typefaces to graphics.
The link above goes to Mr. Collins' Wildflowers index page, where you can begin. But you'll also see that today the site has all kinds of travel info for Southern France, too. You can click around and read all about French wine, villages, whatever, all in English.
A full set of Audubon Guides, free. If you don't have this one bookmarked or stored in your "favorites", you should. This is an incredible site that has ALL the famous Audubon Field Guides online. All the photos and text from all 18 Audubon Guides—Mammals, Butterflies, Wildflowers, Trees, etc. are there, all searchable, all free. The Wildflower Guides (there are two—Eastern and Western editions) alone contain information and great photos on over 1200 wildflowers. If you don't know them, these are the standard naturalist field guides almost everyone uses. Enjoy!