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(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer says that some of the best gardening advice around may be just down your road.

(Homeyer) Even though summer is here – finally – I’m still purchasing and planting flowers, both annuals and perennials. It’s tough for me to drive by a greenhouse or farmstand without stopping to see if there’s something I need. Or rather, that I think I need.

Recently I stopped at a farm stand in Norwich, Vermont. The woman watering the nursery stock greeted me cheerfully. “What d’ya have that is new and wonderful this year?” I asked. She proceeded to introduce me to a dozen plants, including two new Salvias that I couldn’t resist, one with deep blue flowers, the other with bright red ones.

I love going to family-owned farm stands and nurseries because I always learn so much, and often find little treasures. Even though I read many gardening magazines, I can’t keep track of all the new varieties of flowers- and their individual whims. But the folks who grow and tend them are happy to tell you all about their flowers and their particular needs.

Not all plants of the same species are created equal, by the way. Plants that have been abused will not perform as well as those raised and tended with loving care. Plants whose roots have been dried out repeatedly, or that have been given too much fertilizer in an effort to force growth will not perform well. I only buy from places where I can be pretty sure that the plants have been pampered, which for me translates to family-run greenhouses. The extra care they provide translates into more vigorous plants.

When it comes to buying trees and shrubs I believe that it’s very important to buy those that have been raised here in New England. If you want a forsythia that winters well and blooms reliably, get one such as Vermont Gold or New Hampshire Sun, for example. A generic variety bred somewhere in the south for national distribution through chain stores may be cheaper in the short term, but disappointing in the long run.

Whatever you buy, read the label that comes with it. If it says the plant wants sun, you should have at least six hours of direct sun per day. If the tag recommends rich, well drained soil, then don’t plunk it down into a spot with heavy clay soil – unless you amend the soil with plenty of compost first. Fast-acting chemical fertilizer may be good for hanging baskets, but it won’t make your soil suitable for trees, shrubs or perennials. There is no substitute for good soil.

I’ve heard that gardening is our favorite national pastime, and it certainly is mine. Whether you do a little or a lot, learning about your plants is essential, so be sure to ask questions before you buy. And although gardening books and magazines can be a great help, there is nothing like talking to a knowledgeable plant person. Our local greenhouses are full of them.

This is the gardening guy, Henry Homeyer, in Cornish Flat, N.H.

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