The Casual Gardener: Gardening on the web
Over the winter months you can keep your green fingers busy browsing a broad range gardening-related websites. John Manley selects a few of his favourites
In his previous role at the Organic Centre in Rossinver, Klaus Laitenberger featured in the very first Casual Gardener column some 15 years ago, offering advice on compost making. In the intervening years he has created his own garden in Co Leitrim and established a mail order seed company, as well as authoring a number of books on vegetable cultivation. His website is designed primarily to promote the seed business but there's also plenty of useful information, including videos, blogs and a Q&A from this most insightful and enthusiastic of organic gardeners. You'll also find information on Klaus's books and the regular courses her runs.
This forum was created more than a decade ago by James Kilkelly, a graduate of National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin and a garden designer and tutor of some acclaim. The site is very basic in terms of its presentation and graphics, looking like it hasn't been updated since launch, but that rarely matters as its content is perfect for underserved Irish gardeners. More than 1,500 fellow green fingered enthusiasts will be happy to advise, praise and debate about all aspects of plant and garden life on this most amiable of forums.
Run not by the BBC but by the Immediate Media Company, which publishes the monthly Gardeners' World magazine, much of the content here is locked and only available to subscribers. For those who've signed up with a direct debit there are a variety of tutorials to access, dealing with everything from houseplant care to building your own bat box. Magazine content and other special offers are also available to subscribers. However, two free-to-view facilities I'd recommend on gardenersworld.com are the forum and a plant database that allows you to input variables (eg blue; perennial; dappled shade) and receive a list of plant options.
Drawing on a body of knowledge dating back generations, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is effectively ‘the Church of gardening', setting the standards, making the rules and highlighting those plants, people and methods that warrant particular praise. Like the Church, it too is a conservative organisation not prone to trends or whims, so don't expect a website brimming with personality. However, if I had to choose once site only to provide me with the necessary gardening info, then this is it. Every conceivable garden plant gets a mention in an online index numbering in the thousands. There's also features on RHS gardens and shows, accredited qualifications and posts by various working gardeners and enthusiasts.
Launched as a partnership between the RHS and various wildlife trusts, the aim of this site is to promote all things associated with wildlife gardening. Among the many items aimed at attracting small mammals, birds and insects into your space, are lists various tasks you can undertake to encourage biodiversity. All aspects of the garden are attended to, including the pond, lawn, compost heap and containers. It also serves as a useful education tool, explaining to the uninitiated why wildlife matters.
Anchored by octogenarian Jim McColl, the Beechgrove Garden is BBC Scotland's own gardening programme. Broadcast from a garden near Aberdeen, it's fair to say that the conditions – and ambience – endured by the Beechgrove team are somewhat different to those a comparatively snooty Monty Don deals with some 500 miles to the south at Long Meadow – and therefore perhaps more suited gardeners in this part of Ireland, especially those with plots above 500ft. The website has features about the programme's presenters, plenty of useful clips and a virtual tour.