As an avid reader, I almost always turn to books when I want to know something.
Even with gardening, when I have a question about a plant or a method, I try to find someone with experience on that topic and seek out as much published material I can find. I suppose there are several reasons for this. First I want to know if others had success - whether it's growing David Austin roses or what plants to grow along a stone wall - and if so, how they did it. But then I want to know more. I want to know what they thought about when they worked on their project, if there were any hitches along the way and how long it took from start to finish.
I can pretty much guarantee that if I find 10 people who grow David Austin roses or have wall gardens, I will read about 10 different experiences. The truth is that plants don't read and people don't garden the same. And another truth is, I tend not to believe anyone until I've done it myself, including the obvious and the inevitable.
Take, for example, an interesting conifer I planted three years ago near a wooden fence. A variegated arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis 'Sherwood Frost'), this plant has dark green leaves sprinkled through with white tips. Someone not knowing the plant's normal growth habit might look at it and think there's something wrong, but that's what makes it special.
When I planted it, I kept in mind the words of a fellow garden writer who said, ''Think about where you want to put your tree, then move it out three more feet.'' And with this particular tree, I did exactly that. A recent inspection of the tree, which by now has learned to love its new home, made me wonder if I should have gone at least a couple more feet away from the fence.
Supposedly a slow-growing, semi-dwarf variety as the description explained, my arborvitae didn't read not only the book but its own nursery tag as well.
Earlier this summer I transplanted another conifer - a white pine in this case - that likely had enough space to grow, but I felt just wasn't in the right spot. This tree, while still surviving, has not looked happy since its relocation. Several needles turned brown and dropped off and I haven't seen any new growth this season, an indication the roots haven't taken hold. I don't feel this tree is circling the drain, however, because of yet another conifer in my collection that looked even worse when it was planted several years ago. This one is a Chamaecyparis, or false cypress, and unlike the others, was a rather large specimen when we bought it with its roots encased in a wire cage wrapped in a burlap cloth. We cut away its bindings and put it in our yard and the first year it lost all of its leaves from its middle to the ground and the sap ran from inside its branches in great sticky globs.
I watched this tree for two years, not seeing any improvement or any more decline, for that matter, but by the third year it began to show signs of recovery. The ''books'' said the plant would never fill in those lost sections, but it has and is now fully engulfed with deep green replacement branches and shows no sign of ever having been stressed.
This is not to say there hasn't been failures. I've lost count over the years how many perennials, shrubs and trees came and left our little patch of earth. But the ones who stick around for our enjoyment are the treasures we remember most.
I'm not planning to move the variegated arborvitae, at least not yet. It is still a respectable distance from the fence and perhaps my fear that I planted it too close is unfounded. Maybe all it had was a growth spurt, like my 11-year-old granddaughter who went through three shoe sizes just this year. Maybe, like her, it will start to show signs of slowing down as it reaches its limit.
I can't help but search the books and my favorite Internet sights, message boards and blogs for information on everything from soup to nuts to the plants I put in my garden. But I'll continue to doubt everything I read until I've done it myself.