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A Possible Cure for Black Thumb
by John Harmon
October 5, 2003

I have to admit I didn't expect such beautiful sunny, warm days as those we had this week until at least next June. It was a real treat and allowed me to see just what has survived into the fall around the yard. Even after being buried under the snow for a few days the violas that I have planted in an old tractor tire are still growing and blooming. You just can't beat them for surviving the rigors of the Yukon weather. Even the California Poppy patch can boast a few survivors bravely opening their blossoms to these short days of sunlight.

Not surprisingly I still have some pansies blooming. Pansies have to be considered for anyplace in the north as a good value. They are usually inexpensive to buy and almost without exception will bloom throughout a Yukon summer until the snow buries them. There are few varieties of annuals or perennials that can compare with the sheer number of colors and patterns available with pansies.

Speaking of annuals or perennials: Be sure that any geraniums you are trying to keep growing over the winter are perennials. I talked with a lady last week that complained that the geraniums she tried to keep over last winter didn't survive and was looking for more information to help her keep them over this winter. Unfortunately she was trying to keep an annual variety of geranium growing all winter. That just doesn't work. You can keep that annual geranium growing but only by taking cuttings and re-growing them. Varieties like Martha Washington's can be cut back to a few stalks and leaves. Once they are cut back and providing they get enough light they will continue to grow over the winter and be ready to bloom again next spring when light levels come up. If you are in doubt about which kind of geranium you have the safest bet is to take cuttings. She doesn't have a black thumb, she was just trying to keep the wrong plant growing.

There's a new gizmo on the market that claims to make good gardeners out of folks that have the affliction of a black thumb. I have a friend that has managed to kill almost every plant I have ever given her. She puts them out in the garden or flowerbed and they somehow end up dead. Help is on the way and is called the Personal Gardening Genius or Botanista. It consists of a few spikes with plastic flowers on the end that you stick into your outdoor garden or flowerbeds and a "potted" plastic flower and a high tech trowel.

The spikes and trowel are not just cheesy ornaments, they are sensors that "collect and store critical plant data including amount of sunlight, temperature and soil composition, pH and moisture level". You pluck one out of the ground and apparently plug it into the end of the trowel to retrieve the information. Data is then uploaded to the web via the plastic potted plant called a "pot dock". Then it's "analyzed in conjunction with current weather patterns and botany databases. Customized information is sent to both the trowel and your e-mail account reminding you when you need to water, buy mulch, or plant seeds". It's supposed to make an expert gardener out of even folks with a severe case of black thumb.

Isn't this cheating though? For what this gizmo costs and what they must charge for the service, i.e. uploading data and sending e-mails etc., wouldn't it be cheaper to buy a couple of good gardening how-to books and actually learn how to grow things on your own? Curing your own case of black thumb with knowledge would be cheaper and more fulfilling wouldn't it? I'm all for technology and anything that will help me to become a better gardener but this gizmo won't teach you any skills. At least consider spending your money to hire a good gardener or gardening service if you just can't for some reason learn the skills required rather than spend it on this gizmo. If this gizmo intrigues you however you can contact the designers, ID-One in Austin, Texas. Unfortunately their website,, is down for some reason but should be back up soon. I think I'll stick to the old fashioned way to cure black thumb, knowledge. A gizmo that tells me what to do takes all the challenge out of it.

I can only hope that the great weather continues and my few remaining flowers will get a little longer to show off their stuff.

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