Product Reviews #1
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

July 25, 2010

I like doing reviews- plants, books, tools, just about anything that will help us as we stroll along or work along our garden paths. There is, however, an inherent conflict between the product reviewer and the entity who's product is being reviewed. It's not necessarily a conflict about the goodness or suitability of the item; it appears to be a matter of timing. I understand corporate reasons (and even the author of a self-published book is "corporate" when they're hawking their wares) but often time is the only true indicator of an item's worth.

One organisation that understands this very well is AAS-All American Selections. They send out samples of their winning seeds the season prior to public release. Those of us who receive them have an opportunity to grow them in our own gardens, gaze upon, sniff of, or harvest therefrom and then have a winter season to write our reviews. That's because we're talking about annual flowers and vegetables. Those reviews appear just about the time we're looking at the catalogues, scouring seed houses and planning our flower beds. (I have to tell you, Gentle Reader, that Nona Koivula and AAS have been very generous)

For the most part, it takes time to evaluate what we have to hand. Like you, my tool collection is suited to my tastes, needs and physical abilities. Last year, the Cobrahead® weeder was on the list. It did everything it was advertised to do, and it did it well. But the true test of a tool is not when it is shiny and new. That comes when it has been hung up on the wall or slipped into the toolbox. Over the course of the season, how many times do you reach for that particular tool instead of an alternative? Higher up front costs can easily be rationalized with frequency of use and durability of components.

In this instance, Noel Valdes’ Cobrahead® comes out well. I don't use it that often each year but unless I lose it, it will be a working tool for me for a very long time. So, if I'm reviewing an item that is supposed to last a very long time, it will take me longer than the summer to check that out.

The same idea applies to perennials and woody plants. If I receive a luscious, beautiful, new plant I am as excited as anyone. My responsibility is not to write a glowing exuberant piece of fluff as soon as I get it; it is to grow this plant in my own garden. Then report. Contrary to what some folks think, it is not our job to "test to destruction". It is our job to care for this plant as we would any other plant in our garden. Can we grow it, given reasonable care, as suggested by the company? Once that happens, we can properly review its appropriateness as well as adding all the lavish sobriquets about how much we personally liked it.

One example was the new dwarf butterfly bush, “Lo and Behold“, Blue Chip Buddleia. which appeared in one of last year's columns. I had to over winter it first before I could respond accurately about its survivability. (One plant was exposed to the elements and another was tucked under a birch clump: both came through very well.)

What will you be reading about soon? A non-kinking hose, a plastic utility bucket, some very exciting new plant introductions- Invincibelle hydrangea (from Proven Winners and imported by Garden Import) is just one of them, a few interesting books and probably some new techniques.

By the way, did you know that according to scientific methods, anything that we garden writers tell you is considered anecdotal evidence? When Take Time was being published, the editor requested a citation for a statement that I had made concerning the survivability of a specific viburnum in the Quinte area. It was a tough row to hoe, so to speak, to convince that person that I considered myself an acceptable authority, especially since it has been growing here since time immemorial. Not acceptable, and it would have to be noted as anecdotal evidence. Fortunately, you folk don't read all those scientific reports that are cluttering up your coffee table; anecdotes are just fine.

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