Too Much Information – GardenRant

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Years ago I was chastised by my managers for giving nursery customers too much information. In their opinion, although no complaints were ever made, it was inappropriate for an employee to discuss anything beyond the label description with customers: you read the label and if the customer wants to know something specific beyond that information then you answer their question.

I can tell you a lot about bistorts, Bistorta species, if you like…?

If I’m at the nursery and ask about a plant, I really want to know about it. I will have read the label myself and I’ll be wanting more information, not the same information read to me by someone else. Likewise if I want someone to help me with selecting plants I would really like them to use all of their knowledge and experience to help me find the right plants.

Too Much Information

This was my first experience of the idea that consumers should receive only the bare minimum of information to guide their purchases. It’s a strange concept but exists across retailing; if you buy a kitchen appliance you will be given certain information, but finding out anything beyond that becomes a challenge. The answer is known, just you’re not expected to want to know before purchase.

Gardens hold the history of their creators; plants hold the history of those who raised and introduced them

If you bought an oven, for example, that sounded like an aircraft taking off every time you used it you’d be a bit annoyed to say the least: you’d expect ‘low noise’ to be a selling point of most electrical appliances.

So Much To Know

There are things to know about every plant in your garden.

Water requirements, light or heat tolerances and needs, height, width, growth per season, flower colour, flower size…

Your plants have a story. In the case of species plants, plants ‘as nature intended’, there are stories of intrepid explorers bringing back seed, or of nurseries or even private individuals trading and sharing plants from different countries.

Camellia ‘Desire’, raised by David Feathers of Lafayette, California, and first flowered in 1973. What you do with this information is up to you.

In the case of plant varieties, someone is responsible for breeding or selecting the plant that you’re growing. In some cases plants were raised by people and nurseries no longer with us, the plant making its way in the world after its originator and original home have long gone.

History And Heritage

As gardeners we’re part of something special that exists far outside the boundaries of our gardens.

The old favourite plants we grow because we like them when nobody else does, the new plants we grow because they excite us, and everything in between is part of the heritage of horticulture.

Narcissus ‘February Gold’, raised by the de Graaff Brothers in the Netherlands before 1923

Some of our plants are grown by huge nurseries with vast resources, while some are grown by small family nurseries which don’t hold much influence but serve their communities well. Some might have been collected as seed from some far-off hillside by modern plant hunters like Dan Hinkley, or by lost icons like E.H. Wilson.

It all matters.


By researching, recording and sharing the history of our favourite plants, we keep their heritage alive.

Few people know who Samuel Arnott was, but many gardeners know his snowdrop (Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’)

I live less than an hour from the Devon city of Exeter here in the UK, a place that was home to the Veitch Nurseries. At their height the Veitch family were iconic in British horticulture, and their work influenced gardening around Europe and beyond. The Veitch nurseries are now long gone, and yet their plant introductions live on in gardens.

Helleborus ‘Brunello’ is the result of hybridising two species that were said to be impossible to hybridise. Surely that’s just a bit interesting?

Learning the backgrounds of our plants can give enormous meaning to them. We can end up fascinated by the story of a plant breeder whose plants we treasure, or even just recognising names that pay testament to the existence of nurseries and gardens now buried under housing and shopping centres.

Too Much?

I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much information when it comes to plants.

I know that this is something that interests me greatly and I know that others have a less intense relationship with their gardens and plants. I really get that.

The common primrose, Primula vulgaris, has featured in British folklore and traditions for centuries; you could spend endless days researching the cultural impact of this plant

But why shouldn’t gardeners be encouraged to dig deep into the origins of their plants?

I’m an obsessive and will go to my books to research things, but the internet gives us all access to a wealth of information at great convenience. A little idle internet searching keeps the stories of great gardeners from times gone by alive, and by sharing that information with others we can keep a living history of gardening going for future gardeners.

Not everyone will want to know everything about their plants. This is perfectly fine. However there’s a world of information out there for anyone with the interest to look into it, but gardeners must first know that this information exists, and that plants have histories.

Some Free Resources For Curious Gardeners

Daffseek – daffodil season is coming up, and this formidable resource will allow you to search for information about the daffodils you grow.

Camellia Register  – the online version of the International Camellia Register lets you double check that your plant has the correct name (usually with pictures), but also gives you dates of publication etc

Rhododendron Database – this is fairly new and still being worked on, but useful and interesting histories about Rhododendrons. If you’re really keen you can look at the Rhododendron Register, but we warned that the main ‘book’ is over 700 pages long and takes a while to get around!

Pacific Bulb Society – I often end up here if I’m researching a bulb online.

Alpine Garden Society – an encyclopaedia of alpine plants, including some from the US.

Also check out your local Botanical Gardens too as their websites and social media content will hopefully have interesting information. If you know any other online resources that focus on particular plants or that you think might be of interest to other people, please add them as a reply (links can sometimes cause problems so if in doubt just name the resource in a way that can be searched, such as “Pacific Bulb Society website”).

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