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When we first bought our house, the surrounding property was noticeably under-tended and overgrown—in a neighborhood known for beautiful backyards, no less. As a rule, I like to garden and was definitely up for the challenge. However, my husband, Dan, doesn't know the difference between a wisteria and a potato. In other words, the transformation was going to be up to me.
Like most gardeners, I have favorite tools. But since I'm a tech person, my laptop is one of them. Surfing the Web saves me time and money, because I can easily zero in on plants that will do well where we live. When I hit the nursery, I'm armed with a detailed shopping list and game plan, which reduces the likelihood that I come home with random stuff that looks pretty but will die off quickly. Logging on also helps me, um, persuade Dan to help. If I just point to a patch of turf and ask him to get going, I'm pretty sure he envisions himself in an orange jumpsuit on a chain gang, and his effort reflects his unwillingness to do hard time. However, if I show him a picture of the garden I'm planning, he imagines me being lavished with praise at our next party and having to admit that he refused to help. That usually gets a shovel of some sort in his hand.
Online garden centers are a bountiful source of inspiration, checklists, photos, troubleshooting tips, and video tutorials on everything from starting seedlings to building an arbor. The visuals really help me imagine the end result, a boon for someone as impatient as I am. The Web is also helpful for keeping track of chores. I even use an online garden calendar to help me remember when to feed my roses, prune the blueberry bushes, order vegetable seeds, or bring in the dwarf citrus so it won't freeze.
My yard still has a ways to go. But where there once was a muddy disaster, now exists a stone-floored scent garden. Last year's shabby patch of grass is alive with roses. The dying front lawn is slowly being replaced with an ornamental orchard. My next project involves a stone patio with soft moss and a backdrop of lavender asters and black-eyed Susans. I was awestruck by a picture and the accompanying instructions at Monrovia.com and shared what I'd found with my crew. My husband says he'll pitch in, and even my son, 14, and daughter, 12, say they're willing to contribute some sweat equity in order to enjoy (and claim some credit for) the end result. That's as welcome as spring.
Green Scene: Dig in to my favorite virtual gardens.
Monrovia.com: This grower delivers plants to retailers around the US, while its website offers detailed growing instructions and a zip-code searchable database of nurseries.
Whiteflowerfarm.com: The Connecticut nursery famous for its catalog offers superior how-to videos. It's fun to shop here during the winter for plants to be delivered when they're ready for planting.
Burpee.com: Talk about nostalgia—my mom and I ordered seeds from the Burpee catalog every year when I was little. I still buy seeds here, but mostly turn to these pros for specifics on nurturing seedlings and expanding my vegetable garden.
Plantjotter.com: ($21/year after free trial) What a great idea—an online garden journal to track plantings, chores, and memories. Making notes provides tons of benefits, like preventing you from digging up dormant plants. You can also attach photos, allowing you to admire your plants' progress as the years pass.
Originally published in the April 17, 2011, issue of Family Circle magazine.