How does your garden grow? With help from your friends

In a dizzying world of information sources, instant communication and electronic gadgetry, the first place that gardeners go for advice, how-to help and general tips is (drum roll) other gardeners.

In a recently published survey (abstract only) conducted by the University of Minnesota Extension Service, most of the 1,000 green-thumbed respondents said they get their information informally — from friends, neighbors or perhaps the local garden center. The Internet? Not so much.

Convenience appears to be important in the use of real people as sources. Leaning over the back fence is the easiest way to find out the name of the neighbor’s shrub.

The Extension Service has an interest in the issue, of course, because part of its mission is to serve as an information resource. Gardeners viewed the university and its landscape arboretum as more credible than garden centers, but 78 percent said they were most likely to turn to friends and neighbors for advice.

What did the gardeners want to know about? The study, by Mary Hockenberry Meyer and Karl Foord of the Department of Horticultural Science, reported that the highest interest was indicated for annuals, perennials and containers, followed by trees and shrubs.

“People feel that the university’s extension service is a credible source, but at the same time they’ll ask anyone ‘how are you planting that apple tree?’ ” Meyer said.

One place to look for friendly advice is the Master Gardener program. The U has an extensive program that includes more than 2,000 volunteers. It has been in place since 1977.

Nationally, 91 million Americans participate in some form of gardening. Although puttering around in the yard has been associated with older people, anecdotal data shows a shift. “We’ve seen a lot of younger people in the last year interested in growing their own food,” she said. “They want organic products; they are concerned about environmental impacts and local growing.”

Not surprisingly, the age of the gardeners was a factor in their likely sources of information. Younger gardeners used the Internet, while older gardeners were less likely to do so. All ages of gardeners placed a high value on publications with color photographs and illustrations.

As younger gardeners take up hoes, though, Internet use will probably increase. “People will still ask a lot of questions,” Meyer said.

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