Gardening’s Underlying Science

 


We appreciate our gardens for their beauty and natural vigor, even as we know, deep down, that each plant is a wonder of science.

Well, perhaps that thought hasn’t entered your thoughts, recently, but it’s still true.

You might think we don’t need to dig into the science behind plant growth, as long as we keep them fertilized and watered and they keep growing. That’s not necessarily true!

I’ve been gaining interesting information about the science that underlies garden plants. One of the very good sources of that information is horticulturist Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D. She has published fine research reports, taught a lot of university courses, and has communicated a lot of plant science to home gardeners through Master Gardener programs in the State of Washington and her writing.

Her writing for lay readers has been published in several books and periodicals, and on The Garden Professors, a blog on which she and several colleagues share their expertise and opinions. This website (http://gardenprofessors.com/) includes fascinating reports of gardening myths.

Misconceptions abound in the gardening community.

I first became aware of Chalker-Scott’s contributions through two of her books, The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010).

Her newest book is How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do (Timber press, 2015).

The Informed Gardener

In How Plants Work, she presents basic concepts of plant biology: cells, roots, nutrition, photosynthesis, leaves, seasonal cycles, growth patterns, pruning and propagation. (This very brief list of the book’s topics doesn’t convey the depth of her presentations. See the book for the full information.)

Dr. Chalker-Scott has written these chapters with her well-established commitment to communicating her scientific knowledge to non-scientific readers. She has managed to present the science effectively without “dumbing it down.” Gardeners with limited backgrounds in biological science can understand and appreciate this information, but will have to stay focused and perhaps read some passages more than once. I certainly did!

The book addresses some gardening myths, which I find always interesting, but emphasizes the positive message: knowing “how plants work” is the foundation of successful gardening.

To encourage you to read this book, I will share one of the book’s gardening myths, and an example of its garden science nuggets about which gardeners should know.

Myth: Landscape fabric blocks weeds while letting water and oxygen to pass through.

Reality: These fabrics soon become clogged with soil particles, and block the movement of water and oxygen. Meanwhile, weeds become established on top of the fabric, and some aggressive varieties manage to poke through.

Science Nugget: All plants have primary compounds that are required for growth and development: sugars, DNA, fats and proteins. They also produce secondary compounds that defend against pests and diseases, or that attract pollinators, or have other properties that are currently unknown. Chalker-Scott describes several kinds of secondary compounds and reports that every plant produces one or more unique compounds, and that scientists know about less than ten percent of the compounds that plants make.

We think we know a lot about the plants in our gardens, but we have a long way to go.

***

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *